Troubled Bama program turns to one of its own

Friday, May 9th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) _ Mike Shula certainly got Brodie Croyle's attention on his first day as Alabama's football coach.

``You can look in his eyes and tell how hungry he is and how much he wants this job and how much he wants to succeed,'' said Croyle, Alabama's quarterback. ``That's three-fourths of it.''

Alabama hired Shula on Thursday, turning to one of its own to rebuild a program battered by NCAA sanctions and embarrassing scandals. The former Crimson Tide quarterback, the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula, replaces Mike Price, fired Saturday for off-the-field behavior before coaching his first game.

``He's going to make us win,'' Croyle said. ``He's going to be the backbone of this team and we're going to rally around him. It's going to be Alabama football.''

The 37-year-old Shula has spent 15 years as an NFL assistant, including the past three as the Miami Dolphins' quarterbacks coach. He has no experience as a head coach or on a college staff.

``I am obviously excited about this job,'' Shula said. ``There is a bright future ahead for Alabama. ... I am thrilled to once again be a part of Alabama football.''

It will surely be a tough climb for Shula, who was to be officially introduced during a news conference Friday.

Luckily for him, he's well acquainted with being in the shadows of a coaching legend. He's the seventh successor in 21 years to Bear Bryant and Alabama's third coach in six months.

``He knows what it's like to wear that jersey,'' tight end Clint Johnston said.

Shula, who agreed to a six-year deal worth $900,000 per season, is Alabama's youngest coach since Frank Thomas was hired in 1931 at 33. Thomas led Alabama to a national title in 1934.

Shula also becomes the youngest coach in the Southeastern Conference. Shula's youth didn't faze athletic director Mal Moore.

``It was that mix of enthusiasm, experience and ties to the University of Alabama that made Mike the perfect fit for this job,'' Moore said in a statement. ``We talked with Mike Wednesday night and he was able to reach a decision quickly. We are obviously excited to have Mike on board.''

Alabama's recent forays outside the ``family'' didn't go very well. Moore's previous two hires _ Washington State's Price and TCU's Dennis Franchione _ had no previous Alabama ties.

Franchione stuck around only two seasons before heading to Texas A&M. Price was fired some five months into his tenure for off-the-field behavior that became yet another stain on Alabama's program.

Alabama also is one year into a five-year NCAA probation period.

Price's abrupt firing leaves Shula only four months to prepare for the season opener against South Florida and only about three weeks of practice in August to install a new system.

Croyle is already embracing the challenge of learning a new offense. He planned to remain in Tuscaloosa for the semester break beginning next week.

Croyle has high expectations for Shula.

``He's somebody who's going to come in here and start his own dynasty,'' Croyle said. ``And we're going to be the start of it. ... It's going to be a fun ride.''