sports (2007-02)

And Saban is going for the big field goal

Touchdown, Alabama

by Tony Basilio

Although I hate to admit it, Alabama finally got it right with Nick Saban. A once-proud program desperately in need of credibility got it right after a series of comical hires. Veracity aside, Saban (or “Satan” as they call him in Baton Rouge these days) is a proven winner who will take the Tide “Back To The Future!” Mark it down!

How do I know? Look at Tennessee basketball. Yes, Tennessee basketball. There is a bizarre correlation between UT’s hoops hires and the ones perpetrated on the Bama football fan base. Not only so, but the similarities between Saban /Bear Bryant and Bruce Pearl/Ray Mears are uncanny.

The UT hoops-Bama football analogy begins with Don DeVoe and Gene Stallings. Both were six coaches ago at each program. Both were nuts and bolts veteran coaches who preached and taught defense first. Both guys weren’t the most quotable and didn’t care to be. Both enjoyed respectable success in taking their program the furthest in postseason. Stallings won a national title in ’92 by beating Miami in the Sugar Bowl. DeVoe drove UT to the Sweet 16 back in ’81, which represents Tennessee’s best showing in the NCAA Tourney.

Despite all this success by both men, both were pushed out at their respective institutions. That’s hard to fathom with the sports Siberia that exiled both once-proud programs following changing of the guard.

DeVoe and Stallings gave way to Houston and Dubose. As in Wade “The Fade” Houston in Knoxville and Mike “How ’bout a Hug Baby?” Dubose. Houston was exalted as the first African-American head coach in SEC major sports history when he took the Tennessee job in ’89. It was obvious from the beginning that he was in over his head. But you have to hand it to UT. They made a mockery of his tenure, even giving him a raise after a 7-22 season.

Dubose was a completely equal embarrassment who was in over his head from day one as well. Dubose’s tenure unraveled under a sexual relationship gone bad with a subordinate in the athletic department, while Wade Houston’s vice and ultimate undoing was his love of short hours and daytime TV.

As my radio compadre Beano puts it, Houston watched Days of Our Lives while Dubose lived it! Watching coaches jump around with the subterfuge of lies and deceit is another soap operatic aspect of the UT Hoops-Bama football connection.

That’s where Kevin O’Neill and Dennis Franchione are united forever. Both used a competence as measured against a predecessor and a can-do attitude to unite fan bases to fever pitches. Each came from mid-major programs where they were hugely successful. Franchione led Texas Christian to unprecedented success. O’Neill arrived in Knoxville shortly after leading Marquette back to national prominence with a win over Kentucky in the round of 32.

O’Neill and Franchione also vowed loyalty to UT and Bama respectively with pledges of being lifers. O’Neill used to boast about Knoxville being his “dream college job,” even going as far as to say “I will never leave for another college job.” Franchione promised to guide the Tide back to the top of the mountain. Both are wedded to the ultimate collegiate deceit. Franchione fled the inter turmoil of the stupid politics of Tuscaloosa for Texas A&M while O’Neill left UT literally in the cloak of night for Northwestern. At Tennessee and Alabama it was from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Or were the tenures of Mike Price and Jerry Green ridiculous? On the outside looking in, Jerry Green had the most successful run in UT hoops history. He named his boat “Four 20s” in honor of his four 20-win seasons at Tennessee. Mike Price & Jerry Green were liabilities off the field and court. Price exploded with an escapade with a stripper, where she told Sports Illustrated she screamed Roll Tide during intercourse and the grandfatherly looking Price yelled “It’s rollin’ baby!” So one guy put up four 20s and the other put 20s in the g-string of a stripper.

Buzz Peterson and Mike Dubose really didn’t have much in common. Especially when you ignore that both were four-year wonders who were great guys who couldn’t coach in close games. Buzz and Dubose looked the part but couldn’t play it.

So it’s back to the future. Bruce Pearl looks, acts and is hated like Ray Mears. Pearl may not be the Barnum of basketball but his game is show business! Saban, when not espousing the chapter on truth from the Book Of Virtues , is the best football coach in Tide country since the Bear. Like Bryant, Alabama is his fourth college job. Like Bryant, Saban took the job in the midst of a three-game losing streak at his old job. Bryant lost three straight at Texas A&M before taking the Tide job back in (’58).

Old school, Saban hates the press and the rubber chicken circuit. Bear wouldn’t be caught dead sucking up to boosters. With the resurgent interest in UT hoops, Pearl is untouchable. Saban’s $40 million contract means he owns the Capstone. As much as it pains me, Alabama finally got it right. I guess you could say the ball bounced their way.

Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit for more information.