Bama’s Mike Shula still has ‘butterflies’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 31, 2003

After entering the crowded convention room Wednesday morning with an armed state trooper and a flock of photographers trailing in his wake, the boyishly handsome Mike Shula fidgeted nervously as the pack jostled for position.

After taking a quick drink of water he stepped to the podium at SEC Media Days in Birmingham, his first as head football coach at the University of Alabama.

Looking and sounding more like a frat boy than the newest coach to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, Shula proceeded to charm the assembled writers, coming across as nervous, earnest and honest all at once.

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“I’d be lying if I said I was used to this,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. But those are positives.

If I don’t get butterflies, or nervous, I probably ought to do something else.”

Shula, the second youngest head coach in Division 1-A, was a four-year letterman at Alabama (1983-1986) as a quarterback.

The son of the NFL’s all-time winningest coach, Don Shula, Mike coached in the NFL at Miami and Tampa Bay as an assistant.

After the Mike Price disaster, Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore turned to Shula to lead the Tide back from the embarrassments of the past few years.

“As an alumnus, you feel for your school.

All the things that happened the last few months tore at you,” Shula said. “We have a chance to do something, to surround ourselves with good people and win with class.”

Shula had to hit the ground running.

He put together a staff early in the summer and is installing a new offense without a spring practice. He also had to win the confidence of his new players, many of whom showed emotional loyalty to Price.

“Some of these seniors are on their fourth head coach, three this year,” Shula said. “I told them (that) I come to work every day, show up and will be in their corner.

I will work as hard as I can every day to get our team ready and prepared the best way I know how.”

In response, the Tide players have rallied to their new coach.

“It’s going to be a smooth transition for the team,” linebacker Cornelius Wortham said. “I can’t wait to get to practice and learn his terminology and how he runs a team.

We wanted the best guy to come in here and that’s coach Shula.”

Running back Shaud Williams, who broke down in tears after Price’s firing, was also supportive.

“Coach Shula seems like a nice guy and a great offensive coach,” said Williams who later added that Alabama will run a two-back system this year under Shula. “He told the team that he was there to help (us) succeed both on and off the field and build a relationship to help the players.”

One of the first moves Shula made was to close practice and he’s been quiet about exactly what the Crimson Tide will look like on offense this season.

“A lot of people (are) saying why so secretive? The number one thing is we’ve got to find out who the players are who will make plays for us,” Shula said. “Once we do that, we’ll get those guys on the field and put them in position to make plays.

That’s our job as coaches.”

Shula’s hiring set off another controversy as the school was criticized for considering, but not hiring former Alabama center and current NFL assistant coach Sylvester Croom, who is black.

“First of all, with Sly, I consider myself to be a good friend.

He was my coach when I was here,” Shula said. “We coached together three years at Tampa Bay with coach (Ray) Perkins.

I know this was a tough decision. I felt honored to be a candidate along with Sly.”

As if the challenges he faces coming in so late in the year weren’t enough, Shula must deal with the school’s scholarship reductions due to NCAA infractions committed several coaches ago.

“As far as materially speaking, there’s not much we can do,” he said. “We have to really hit on these kids, be exact on character and ability.

That doesn’t happen all the time.”

With games like South Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, Oklahoma and LSU on the horizon, Shula and his Tide team won’t have an easy road.

But Alabama’s players are getting used to fighting through the tough times.

“I’ve been amazed and awed at the resiliency of this football team, (after) all they’ve been through,” Shula said. “Any player of this senior class could have transferred without losing eligibility, none did.

That speaks volumes about Alabama football and what it means to play for the Crimson Tide.&uot;