There’s news coming out of Tuscaloosa tonight that doesn’t involve Nick Saban (although Utah’s demolition of the Tide a month ago may have led to this unrelated breaking news). No, the crimsontided stepchild of Alabama’s athletics program is the one driving the needle tonight – Mark Gottfried’s Philip Pearson’s basketball program. Er, formerly Mark Gottfried’s basketball program.
Today Alabama announced that Mark Gottfried, arguably the second most successful coach in Bama history (behind the irascible Wimp Sanderson), resigned amidst criticism over the state of his program in light of Ronald Steele’s decision to leave the school last week. (although if you believe in msg board chatter, using the word “resignation” is irresponsible; Gary Parrish concurs…) From the AP report:
Gottfried, who played at Alabama, said he quit during a meeting with athletic director Mal Moore. “It has been a wonderful decade for me and my family, and I love the University of Alabama, but I feel that it is in the best interests of everyone involved,” Gottfried said in a statement released by the university. Gottfried’s teams have missed the NCAA tournament the last two years, and the coach was criticized over the recent departure of point guard Ronald Steele, a preseason first-team AP All-American pick two years ago, who later was hit by injuries. The school blamed Steele’s departure on a recent injury, but Steele said there was more to his decision than that.
There’s absolutely more to it than this. A generation ago, a coach in the SEC with the success of Mark Gottfried could have stayed for thirty years and eventually had a practice facility named after him (Dale Brown comes to mind). No longer. Today in the era of million-dollar salaries and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately performance evaluations, even in the football-centric SEC (minus Vandy, Kentucky and Arkansas), “good enough” is no longer good enough. Just last year, LSU canned John Brady, an Xs & Os charlatan who two years prior had parlayed a couple of great recruits into a very unlikely Final Four run. They replaced him with a well-respected rising star in coaching, Trent Johnson (at $1.2M per, reportedly, of course). At South Carolina, Dave Odom was invited to retire after he had taken the Gamecocks to two NIT titles and an NCAA Tournament in the last five years. Darrin Horn already has matched the win total (14) of Odom’s last season with virtually the same roster. Over in Athens at Georgia, Dennis Felton is currently walking the Bataan death march with his 310th most efficient offense and is expected to be replaced at the end of this season even after his unprecedented run in the SEC Tournament last year.
A sea change in philosophy is moving through the SEC in basketball. Mark Gottfried is a competent head coach. He recruits fairly well, his players generally stay out of trouble and graduate, and he occasionally had a good enough team to make a little noise in March, but nobody would ever have confused him for Hank Iba. That used to be good enough for a football school like Alabama. Or LSU. Or South Carolina. But times are changing, and those schools have seen how all-inclusive athletic prowess can build a national “brand” such as at Florida, Ohio St. and Texas that benefits the entire athletic program (and school at-large). Basketball is a key component of that equation, and therefore it doesn’t surprise us in the least that Gottfried is now gone (before he got a chance to make a late-season run and “save” his job).
Memo to VCU’s Anthony Grant, you might want to answer any calls that come from The 205 this spring.