In his first major act as University of Alabama director of athletics, Greg Byrne received Oscar-level reviews. He has been described as “bold” and “decisive,” praised for not being a penny-pincher or a procrastinator. He certainly projected a strong, professional image at Wednesday’s press conference to announce the firing of head baseball coach Greg Goff.
As drama goes, it’s a role that Byrne hopes he never has to play again in a sequel.
That’s not to say that Goff is the last coach Byrne will ever have to remove at Alabama. Byrne would certainly like that to be the case, but that’s not the way of modern-day college athletics. It’s a tough, competitive world. Still, this was such an unusual set of circumstances that even Byrne couldn’t help falling into the paradox that inevitably accompanies the firing of a head coach less than a year into his tenure.
Part of Byrne’s presentation was to discuss the firing of Goff after one year. Another part was to discuss the future of the baseball program. It sounded like this:
“I really think it’s important as a program, as a University and as a fan base (that) whoever our next coach is, that we’re patient through the process,” Byrne said. “We have to have stability in our coaching staffs going forward. That’s very important. This is very unique, but this is very important going forward that we have that in mind going forward in what we do.
“Coaches are going to make decisions that sometimes aren’t going to be popular to everybody. They might not be popular to the team, the fan bases or the families — and that’s OK. There will be some of that as well, and we need to be patient through those processes.”
There’s a good bit to ponder there, but there’s not much argument that it’s a precise description of exactly what did not happen in Goff’s case. Why was that? What exactly triggered Byrne’s decision that this situation was “very unique?”
Asking the question doesn’t mean Byrne was automatically wrong in firing a coach after one season. Part of his job as the athletic director is to conduct triage, with the overall goal of saving the program even at the cost of a drastic cauterization. There has been a great deal said about Goff’s tenure off the field, much of it revealed through diligent work by Tuscaloosa News reporters Ben Jones and Aaron Suttles. Those issues go beyond the boxscore, or wins and losses. Byrne didn’t just randomly mention the concerns of “the team, the fan bases or the families.” Clearly, he heard from all those groups and listened to them. Just as clearly, he sent a message that they won’t be calling the shots in the future.
How much fan patience will there actually be, as Alabama brings in its third baseball coach in three years? Next season, the new staff will get a free pass on anything, even if they don’t win a game. There’s already a building buzz that the talent level, which was assumed by some to have been that of a .500 team in SEC play without “terrible coaching” is now so bad that a single league victory will be progress of sorts. But it doesn’t matter if Alabama fields a team wearing oven mitts and rompers next year, as far as criticism goes. After all, even if you acknowledge that this firing was a “very unique” circumstance, the odds of two “very unique” circumstances in a row are incalculable. So will it be two years, or three, or four before fans start to squirm? Given all the current restrictions on baseball scholarships (and the new rules about cutting players that Alabama intends to follow) and the might of the SEC in baseball, it could easily take that long. But “a long time” is better than “never.” Byrne clearly thought that baseball prominence was never going to happen with things as they were, nor was he going to play “wait-and-see” with an unpopular coach that he did not hire.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.