Bama coach Mike Shula’s worth the wait

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Mike Shula’s not afraid to keep them waiting.

While other coaches like to treat the post-game media conference like an old Band-Aid and get it over quickly, Shula takes his time and takes care of business with his team before visiting with the assembled media.

Saturday night’s quintuple overtime game was no different.

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Writers from major media outlets sat bored and waiting, their deadlines ticking away as Shula took his time.

Then the young coach came into the room.

His eyes were moist and red, he looked like he’d just been punched in the gut.

He instantly won the room over again.

I’ve seen Shula speak to the media four our five times now.

Standing behind a scratched and beaten podium that must pre-date Bear Bryant, he’s developed a certain pattern he likes to follow.

He isn’t polished.

Sometimes he stammers, while he thinks how he wants to answer the question. Some coaches, especially after a loss, wait to pounce on a reporter armed with a

dumb question.

Shula, on the other hand, works with them.

After Saturday night, a reporter asked Shula about a play in the first half that seemed to have taken place in another lifetime.

Understandably, Shula couldn’t remember the play, but turned to his assistant for help.

The assistant couldn’t so Shula went back to the reporter for specifics.

That exchange went back and forth a couple of times.

By the end, half the writers in the room we’re trying to help the young coach remember. I can’t imagine that scene taking place in Knoxville, Auburn or Gainesville.

Finally, everyone got on the same page and the coach answered the question.

The moment that stood out for me came when he was asked about the most inspirational in recent Alabama history. The moment

lineman Wesley Britt went down.

In case you went to the moon Saturday, Britt broke his leg in the first half of the game against the Vols.

Britt, who spoke on behalf of Shula’s predecessor, is in many ways the heart of the team.

As the trainers strapped him to an air cast and loaded him onto a cart for a trip to the hospital, the junior lineman pumped up his teammates and the crowd.

It took several trainers to lift the giant. The monster lineman swinging his arm wildly probably didn’t help but Britt cared more about his team than himself at that moment.

While Shula went out to visit the injured player, Britt told the coach how lucky the lineman was to be at Alabama.

There was awe in Shula’s voice and on his face as he told the story.

I found that I like the coach immensely.

I don’t know whether or not Shula will be a good coach.

I don’t have a crystal ball that tells me whether or not he will turn the Tide back to contenders.

But I know he cares deeply about these young men that he’s coached for only a few months.

I know that kind of caring, that commitment to his troops, should pay off.

With so much anger and bad news dominating the college football landscape, Shula’s a breath of fresh air. I know college football could use more men like him, whether they keep me waiting or not.