College football players generally stay with a program for three or four years, perhaps five if they are redshirted for a year.
The University of Alabama has been fortunate to have coaches with longer tenures, notably Paul “Bear” Bryant, Gene Stallings and the current Hall of Fame coach, Nick Saban. But if you are looking for real long-term stability in the Crimson Tide organization, you look in the broadcast booth. That’s why the summer decision from Phil Savage, who will leave his color analyst role with UA in order to devote himself full time as the general manager of the Phoenix franchise in a fledgling football league, is news. The radio crew just doesn’t change that often.
Since 1969, when Alabama went to the lineup of John Forney on play-by-play and Doug Layton on color commentary (Jerry Duncan became the sideline reporter with that memorable crew in 1971), Alabama has had just three play-by-play “Voices of the Crimson Tide” — Forney, Paul Kennedy and Eli Gold — and three full-time color analysts — Layton, who held the post for 28 years, the inimitable Ken “Snake” Stabler, who spent 10 years in the booth, and Savage, who took over in 2009. Alabama used 11 different color commentators on a weekly rotation basis in 2008 while searching for Stabler’s replacement, relying on former players from Tyler Watts to Bob Baumhower to Antonio Langham in that transitional season.
“Phil didn’t work with us that season, but he auditioned at the 2009 A-Day game and got the job,” Gold said in a telephone interview Saturday.
Gold said he would not be involved in choosing Savage’s successor as his broadcast partner.
“That’s how it should be,” Gold said. “That decision will be made by Greg Byrne (the UA athletics director), Jim Carabin (the general manager of the Crimson Tide Sports Network) and Coach Saban,” Gold said.
“I look forward to working with whoever they select,” Gold said. “It will be a quick turnaround and I am sure we will be smoother on our 100th broadcast than our first one. But that’s just the nature of the broadcast. You develop a working relationship. I’ve been fortunate to work with Doug, Kenny and Phil. They were all different but there was a chemistry there with all of them.”
There will be no shortage of candidates for the assignment. Gold would not speculate on any names, although various lists have been offered in speculation. Most include the names of several former Alabama players who have radio or television experience (one, former Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy, has said he plans to continue spending his Saturdays working with ESPN and the SEC Network.) It might be worth noting that neither Layton, a lifelong radio man, nor Savage, who played for Sewanee, were former UA players. Several ex-players are familiar names with the requisite experience, although mentioning names might come across as an unintended endorsement.
There has been no indication that Alabama might use the same week-to-week rotation that it used in 2008, although it isn’t impossible.
Whichever candidate emerges, though, there is a chance that he or she will occupy the chair for a long time and possibly find their own place in Crimson Tide lore.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.