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The Heir to Bear?

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The college football tradition in Tuscaloosa is unparalleled in the world. The only program that even comes close is the one in South Bend, but even that is up for debate. So with the bar set so high, is it any wonder that the Crimson Tide have been unable to fill the enormous shoes of one of college football's most celebrated personalities?

Paul "Bear" Bryant is still at the pinnacle of college football coaching. Despite his record for career wins (323) being surpassed by both Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden, no one has enjoyed the kind of success with a program that the Bear did with Alabama.

The numbers speak for themselves -- a career record of 323-85-17 with four schools (Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama), six national championships (1961, '64, '65, '73, '78, '79) all with the Crimson Tide, and three National Coach of the Year awards (1961, '71, '73).

Paul Bryant
Paul "Bear" Bryant is still at the pinnacle of college football coaching.
There have been six men to step up and try to fill the void left when Bryant's brilliant career came to a close in 1982. First up was Ray Perkins, who went 32-15-1 from 1983-86. Bill Curry gave it a shot from 1987-89, going 26-10 in his three campaigns.

The closest to reach for that bar came next, as Gene Stallings went 62-25 in seven seasons with the Tide (1990-96), including a national championship in 1992.

Finding an adequate replacement for Stallings has been difficult to say the least, while finding someone to return Alabama to the top of the college football world has been impossible.

Mike DuBose walked the sidelines for four seasons (1997-2000), but after winning the SEC title in 1999, his team went just 3-8 in 2000, while his personal life (an affair with his secretary and subsequent sexual harassment suit) invaded Tuscaloosa and ended his reign at Alabama.

The team would find a hard-working straight-liner in Dennis Franchione in 2001 and 2002, but he has had a history of jumping from program to program of late and did just that when he ironically took the vacant Texas A&M job, the exact opposite path that Bear Bryant took.

Enter Mike Price.

Athletic Director Mal Moore made what seemed to be a safe choice in the former Washington State mentor. Price led the Cougars to two Rose Bowl appearances in his tenure in Pullman and seemed to be a solid candidate for the job. However, scandal certainly wasn't far behind, as the new coach never took to the sidelines at Legion Field or Bryant-Denny Stadium for real, instead embarrassing himself and the university with his recent antics at a topless bar in Florida last month where he was at a pro-am golf tournament.

Mike Price
Mike Price is the sixth man in the revolving door that is now the Alabama head coaching job.
New university president Robert Witt wasted little time, as Price was fired, even before he actually signed a contract with the school. Price agreed in principle to a seven-year, $10 million deal, but the language of the contract had yet to be finalized. Reportedly in that contract was a "morals clause," perhaps an area of debate, that prevented the contract from being signed.

That point is now moot, however, as Price is the sixth man in the revolving door that is now the Alabama head coaching job.

Where do Moore and Witt go from here? The tarnished image of Alabama football will certainly take some time to repair.

The logical choices are perhaps those with ties to the Alabama program. Stallings' name has been thrown around and really who better to give the program instant credibility than the man who last had a great deal of success there.

Perhaps, however, it is time to move in a different direction. NFL assistants Mike Shula, Sylvester Croom and Richard Williamson are interesting candidates, as all three are former Alabama players. Any of them could be the necessary bridge to gap the past, present and future of Alabama football. Shula, a former Alabama QB, is now with the Miami Dolphins, while Croom, who was an All-American center under Bryant in the '70s, would also be the first African- American head coach in the SEC. Williamson has actually been a head coach before (Memphis State) and played under Bryant in the '60s, not to mention joining the Bear's staff after his playing career.

Still, other candidates include former Boston College and Jacksonville Jaguar coach Tom Coughlin, who pulls no punches and is as straight-laced a coach as there is -- something the Crimson Tide desperately need.

Could Dennis Green be lured out of the non-coaching ranks to man the sidelines once again? He is familiar with the college ranks, having success at Stanford and could represent the kind of forward progress that Alabama is in desperate need of, again becoming the first African-American coach in the SEC.

The names continue to swirl, including Carl Torbush (former North Carolina head coach and Alabama assistant under Franchione) and Jim Donnan (former Georgia coach, who obviously is familiar with the SEC).

There are others to be sure, but these names may just be the best of the bunch.

There is certainly no room for error this time around.

For the Alabama brass, they must think outside the box for a change and make the right decision, not necessarily the logical one.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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