Bill Campbell's college football notebook

Thursday, August 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

On Sept. 19, 1999, a column written in The Birmingham (Ala.) News was headlined, "Barring a miracle, DuBose won't be back."

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Maybe that explains why Mike DuBose, coach of the No. 3-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, invokes "the work of the good Lord" whenever he speaks of last season's resurrection.

The Tide had just lost to Louisiana Tech – for the second time in as many tries in DuBose's three years – and had fallen to .500 since he took over for Gene Stallings.

Football has its Hail Marys and miraculous receptions, but the only thing biblical DuBose had achieved at Alabama before Sept. 19, 1999, looked more like a plague than a feeding of the masses.

Barely a month before, he had confessed to having an inappropriate relationship with an athletic department employee.

For that – and supposedly not the 14-11 record his teams accrued in 1997 and '98 – DuBose amended the five-year contract he received a few months earlier to a three-year deal.

Still, until the Louisiana Tech loss, moral indignation was the basis for most of the unrest on the Capstone.

By the following Monday, Alabama trustees were ready to fire athletic director Bob Bockrath and were deciding at which moment they would dispose of the carcass of the faltering coach.

Would they fire DuBose, too, the next week, after an anticipated loss to Arkansas? Or the next, after what surely would be a humiliating defeat at Florida? Would they let DuBose finish the year before he was whisked away?

All options were debated behind closed doors and in public forum.

"DuBose has yet to prove he is qualified to be the head football coach of the University of Alabama," wrote the Birmingham columnist.

But another meeting took place that Monday – one that made no headlines and went unnoticed by most. But not by DuBose.

"That Monday was the best team meeting we had all year," said DuBose, whose Tide opens the season at UCLA on Saturday.

"No one gave us the opportunity to win. But our players vowed that they would not give up. Probably for those seniors, that was the defining moment of the season.

"They don't realize it, but it was probably the defining moment for this program."

The rest of the story involves victories over Arkansas and Florida, an 8-2 finish, and – isn't it too perfect – a contract extension for DuBose.

You know it's been a special season when the coach's contract is extended, shortened, then extended again in the same year.

In retrospect, DuBose said he is humbled to have endured, and eager for what lies ahead for a team with 17 starters returning.

"I think most people thought it was just a matter of time," DuBose said.

He was referring to his firing. Turns out, time was all DuBose needed to bring Alabama back into the national championship race.

Volunteering for QB

Tennessee might soon have to learn how the other half lives.

For the first time in six years, the Volunteers have a shaky and inexperienced leader at quarterback.

Sophomore Joey Mathews takes over in the position that made Peyton Manning famous and Tee Martin among the nation's elite in the second half of the 1990s.

Mathews won the job last Friday in the final formal scrimmage before Tennessee's opener Saturday against Southern Mississippi. He will start, but freshman A.J. Suggs has been promised playing time by offensive coordinator Randy Sanders.

Sanders was not complimentary of either quarterback, though, after their showdown scrimmage. He told reporters that it looked as if neither wanted the job.

The words failed to rattle Mathews. "Why would anyone not want to win the job?" he said. "They're coaches. They can say what they want."

Now, if he can only stay as calm against the Southern Miss rush ...

Must-see TV

Looks like this Thursday night thing is catching on – even for teams that won't be playing on TV. Twenty-two games are scheduled for Thursday.

Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, though, said the Thursday start is effective only early in the season.

He likes playing the opener, which will be against Western Michigan and televised, by ESPN2, on Thursday for several reasons.

"We get some people who wouldn't be here Saturday because it's a holiday weekend," Alvarez said. "I like playing at night; our atmosphere is electric. Plus, it allows you to have a couple extra days before the next game."

Alvarez isn't nearly as wild about playing Big Ten games on Thursday, even for a national TV audience.

"I'd be real reluctant to do it in October or November," he said, "unless we had an open date somewhere."

Opening the season against a conference opponent is a rarity, and not something many coaches are eager to do. But there's a price tag on everything, and Fox Sports found the right numbers to convince Stanford to open at Washington State at 8:15 p.m. Saturday.

Each team will earn $244,000, a result of the Pac-10's commitment to rewarding teams willing to move games or play marketable non-conference games.

The Pac-10 pays 591/2 percent of its revenue for each televised game to the school or schools competing. The rest is divided among the other nine schools.

"We tend to get games televised that way," said Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen. "We favor participating teams quite a bit in the way we pay."

UCLA will be paid $330,000 for its ABC appearance Saturday against Alabama.

"Coaches generally would prefer to play a non-conference game first – unless they think their team is more prepared," Hansen admitted. "You know how coaches are."

Missing hardware

Something's been missing when Notre Dame's George Connor shows off his souvenirs from his Outland Trophy-winning 1946 season.

He has no trophy.

The Outland Trophy was rotated annually, like hockey's Stanley Cup, until 1989. But the Football Writers Association of America, along with the Downtown Rotary Club of Omaha and the Omaha Sports Committee, has made its mission to award each of the winners with his own trophy. Connor will receive his before Saturday's Notre Dame-Texas A&M game.

Quote of the week

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, 70, had heaps of praise for Brigham Young coach LaVell Edwards, 69, who is retiring after this season. After duly praising Edwards' contributions to the game, Bowden said, "LaVell's one of those guys I've always enjoyed being around. I just wish he wasn't so old."