TideSports.com presents “The Road to Saban,” a nine-episode podcast series looking back at the seven Alabama football coaches between Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant’s legendary career and Nick Saban’s current run of dominance.
Cecil Hurt and Ben Jones of the Tuscaloosa News are joined by Taylor Watson, curator of the Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa. They discuss the end of the Bryant era and the history of the program from 1983-2006 before Saban’s arrival in 2007. Key topics covered during the series include the hiring process and other candidates considered, high points and low points for each coach, lessons learned during the 24 years, the best players and more.
Episode 1 – The End of the Bryant Era
Ben Jones and Cecil Hurt begin a new series of podcasts looking back at the coaches at Alabama between the Paul W. “Bear” Bryant era and the Nick Saban era. In the first podcast, they discuss the state of the program in the final years under Bryant after Alabama won the 1979 national championship. They discuss the best players of that time period, Alabama’s competition in the SEC and around the nation and what the perception was when Bryant retired.
|1980||10-2||5-1||Defeated Baylor in Cotton Bowl, finished No. 6/6|
|1981||9-2-1||6-0||SEC championship, Lost to Texas in Cotton Bowl, finished No. 6/7|
|1982||8-4||3-3||Beat Illinois in Liberty Bowl, finished No. 17/UR|
Episode 2 – Ray Perkins succeeds Bryant
Ray Perkins was the first Alabama coach to succeed the legendary Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. Taylor Watson, curator of the Bryant Museum, joins Ben Jones and Cecil Hurt to discuss the Perkins era. They talk about the highs and the lows, what worked for Perkins and his struggles to overcome the shadow of the coach that preceded him. They also discuss the best players of the era and other coaches considered for the job.
Key points of Perkins’ tenure:
- Named successor before Bryant passed away.
- Arrived with NFL head coaching experience but only one year as a college assistant.
- Controversy arose when he removed Bryant’s tower from the practice fields.
|1983||8-4||4-2||Defeated SMU in Sun Bowl, finished No. 12/15|
|1985||9-2-1||4-1-1||Defeated USC in Aloha Bowl, finished No. 14/13|
|1986||10-3||4-2||Defeated Washington in Sun Bowl, finished No. 9/9|
Episode 3 – Bill Curry bails for Kentucky
The “Road to Saban” series continues with a look at Bill Curry’s three seasons as Alabama’s coach. Taylor Watson, curator of the Bryant Museum, joins Cecil Hurt and Ben Jones. They talk about how Curry came to be Alabama’s coach from former rival Georgia Tech, why the coach felt unappreciated and his departure for Kentucky. They also talk about some of the best players of his tenure and the talented roster he left behind.
Key points of Curry’s tenure:
- No previous ties to Alabama, came from rival Georgia Tech.
- Finished 0-3 against Auburn.
- Recruited some key pieces that played a role in Alabama’s 1992 championship
|1987||7-5||4-2||Lost Hall of Fame Bowl to Michigan, unranked.|
|1988||9-3||4-3||Beat Army in Sun Bowl, finished No. 17/17|
|1989||10-2||6-1||Lost to Miami in Sugar Bowl, finished No. 7/9|
Episode 4 – Gene Stallings returns Alabama to the top
The “Road to Saban” series continues with a retrospective on Gene Stallings‘ seven seasons as Alabama head coach. He won a national championship in 1992 and won 70 games before retiring. Cecil Hurt, Taylor Watson and Ben Jones review the high points of his tenure, some early struggles, and Antonio Langham’s NCAA issues. They also discuss how important the 1992 championship was in Alabama history and the lessons learned when Alabama found Stallings, its most successful coach between Bryant and Saban.
Key points of Stallings’ tenure:
- Former player for Bryant at Texas A&M, former assistant at Alabama under Bryant.
- Won a championship 13 years after 1979 and 17 years before Alabama’s 2009 national title.
- Stallings and his family helped develop the RISE program on Alabama’s campus.
|1990||7-5||5–2||Lost Fiesta Bowl to Louisville, unranked|
|1991||11-1||6-1||Won Blockbuster Bowl vs. Colorado, finished No. 5/5|
|1992||13-0||8–0||Won Sugar Bowl vs. Miami, SEC and national champs|
|1993||9-3-1*||5-2-1||Won Outback Bowl vs. UNC, finished No. 13/14|
|1994||12-1||8–0||Won Citrus Bowl vs. Ohio State, finished No. 4/5|
|1995||8-3||5–3||Ineligible for postseason, finished No. 21|
|1996||10-3||6-2||Won Outback Bowl vs. Michigan, finished No. 11|
Episode 5 – Mike DuBose makes mistakes
The “Road to Saban” series continues with a look at the four seasons at Alabama under head coach Mike DuBose, who took over after Gene Stallings‘ retirement. Cecil Hurt discusses his tenure with Taylor Watson, curator of the Bryant Museum, and Ben Jones. They discuss Alabama’s 1999 SEC championship but also the discipline issues, friction among coaches, the off-field mistakes by DuBose and the NCAA scandal that crippled the program after he was fired.
Key points of DuBose’s tenure:
- Had no head coaching experience when he succeeded Stallings.
- Albert Means scandal occurred during his time as head coach.
- Fired during 3-8 season in 2000 after team was top 5 in preseason.
|1998||7-5||4-4||Lost Music City Bowl to Virginia Tech, unranked|
|1999||10-3||7-1||Lost Orange Bowl to Michigan, finished No. 8/8|
Episode 6 – Dennis Franchione arrives; the NCAA hits hard
The “Road to Saban” series continues with an examination of the two seasons Dennis Franchione coached at Alabama. Cecil Hurt discusses the 2001 and 2002 seasons and aftermath of the Albert Means scandal with Ben Jones and Taylor Watson, curator of the Bryant Museum. The NCAA would hit Alabama with heavy sanctions after Franchione arrived, and he left for Texas A&M after publicly denying interest in the job in 2002.
Key points of Franchione’s tenure:
- Arrived with 18 years of head coaching experience at five schools.
- NCAA sanctions were not yet announced when he was hired.
- Left for Texas A&M after two seasons, informing the team via video teleconference.
|2001||7-5||4-4||Won Independence Bowl vs. Iowa State, finished No. 13|
|2002||10-3||6-2||Ineligible for postseason|
Episode 7 – Mike Price’s hiring and firing
The “Road to Saban” series continues with a look at the tenure of coach Mike Price. He succeeded Dennis Franchione and had led Washington State to back-to-back 10-win seasons but never coached a game at Alabama. He was fired in spring of 2003 after university president Dr. Robert Witt determined his off-field behavior was unacceptable. Cecil Hurt and Taylor Watson of the Bryant Museum discuss whether this was the low point for Alabama football after the retirement of Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant.
Key points of Price’s tenure:
- Had coached 14 years at Washington, leading Cougars to back-to-back 10-win seasons.
- Off-field conduct led to dismissal by President Robert E. Witt.
- Fired at Alabama without ever coaching a regular season game.
Episode 8 – Mike Shula returns under dire circumstances
The “Road to Saban” series continues with Mike Shula’s return to Alabama in 2003 after Mike Price’s abrupt firing. Cecil Hurt and Ben Jones are joined by Taylor Watson, curator of the Bryant Museum, to discuss the final head coach between Paul W. “Bear” Bryant and Nick Saban. Shula took over a program with significant NCAA sanctions and a recent off-field scandal with no head coaching experience. He won 10 games in 2005 but was fired in 2006.
Key points of Shula’s tenure
- Arrived during offseason after Price’s firing without coaching during spring practice.
- Finished 1-11 against rival schools Tennessee, LSU and Auburn.
- Was 9-0 with healthy Brodie Croyle and Tyrone Prothro, 8-8 when one or both was injured.
|2004||6-6||3-5||Lost Music City Bowl to Minnesota, unranked|
|2005||10-2||6-2*||Won Cotton Bowl vs. Texas Tech, finished No. 8/8|
|2006||6-7||3-5*||Lost Independence Bowl** to Oklahoma State, unranked|
*2005 and 2006 wins later vacated.
**Interim coach Joe Kines coached bowl game.
Episode 9 – The search for Saban; answering listener questions
Cecil Hurt and Ben Jones wrap up the “Road to Saban” podcast series with a look back at the coaching search that led to Nick Saban. They discuss Rich Rodriguez, Steve Spurrier and the process that led Mal Moore to hire Nick Saban as well as some of the lessons learned through the 24 seasons between Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant and Saban. They also answer reader questions about former Alabama assistant Bill Oliver, the brick in Bill Curry’s office and the possibility of hiring Pat Dye or Les Miles to be coach at Alabama.
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