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Start grading Shula now

By Staff
Charles Prince, Sports Editor
Erase last season from your memory, it doesn't count. Act as though it never happened. The year 2003 should not count against Mike Shula as you decide if he's the right coach to bring Alabama football back to prominence.
Your evaluation of Shula should begin now. His first recruiting class has just become official with their signatures. By all accounts his first class of 27 players is impressive, ranked as a Top 20 class by most recruiting services and as high as No. 15 by some. Eight of those recruits have yet to qualify academically for college, so this class may not be as good as expected.
Shula's first spring practice as Crimson Tide head coach will get under way on Feb 21. The first spring practice session will be crucial to his rebuilding job and your assessment of his coaching ability.
When Shula took the job last year he knew he had to identify his starters quickly and get them ready to play. Little time if any was left to work one-on-one with backups and teach them the schemes as extensively as the starters.
With the reserves getting more work this spring, depth could be developed even with the reduced number of scholarships. More depth on the team and suddenly injuries won't have the impact they had on the Crimson Tide last season. If depth does develop this year take this into consideration when judging Shula's performance.
Turning a program around after probation takes time. Take for example the Miami Hurricanes, one of college footballs' great teams in the 80s and early 90s. When probation stuck Miami in the mid-90s he Canes went from feared superpower to just another college team. By the 2000 season Miami was back as a national powerhouse and took home the national title in 2001.
A second example look at Oklahoma, probation led to losing or break even records in 1994 and 1995. It took until 2000 for the Sooners to become an elite program again and capture the national title.
For Alabama to become a major power and national title contender again, one thing is needed. It's the same thing that Mike Shula needs in your evaluation process of his coaching ability-time.
Miami and Oklahoma came back to the top, but it took half-a-decade in each instance-give Alabama and Shula a similar amount of time. Begin forming your opinion now, but don't pass judgement on Shula at least until the incoming recruiting class has reached their senior season in Tuscaloosa.
Drawing conclusions on his coaching ability before then wouldn't be fair considering the shape the program was in when he took over.
Charles Prince can be reached by fax at 773-1953 or by e-mail at