Sunday, May 4, 2003

Tide president made the right call



By DAVID CLIMER
The Tennessean

Score one for Alabama in general and Robert Witt in particular. By firing a football coach Saturday, the Crimson Tide finally got with the program.

Specifically, it was Witt, the university president, who put his foot down and exhibited the kind of leadership that has been lacking in Tuscaloosa for so long.

From all indications, Witt ignored the advice of several influential supporters and money-bags contributors who wanted to give Mike Price a second chance. Instead of bowing to pressure from those whose power comes from big checks and name recognition, Witt stood his ground and made the right call.

For a change, it was not monkey business as usual at Alabama. Somebody in a leadership role finally acted the part.

This - not strippers, room service deliveries or cash-and-carry recruiting practices - has undermined Alabama football for the last several years. The Bama Bistro has had too many cooks in the kitchen, each with his own menu and own agenda. The more money you contributed, the louder your voice. And this leadership-by-committee approach is one of the reasons Dennis Franchione fled for Texas A&M last December.

Apparently, though, Witt has been keeping up with current events. In this era of reform, university presidents have been urged by the NCAA to reclaim control of their sports programs from boosters, trustees, even athletic directors. But you'd be surprised how few have heeded the call. They prefer to govern from a distance rather than dirty their hands in athletics.

Not so with Witt. Although he has been on the job in Tuscaloosa just two months, he recognized the need for Alabama to cut its losses by holding Price to a contract that he had not yet signed.

They say the devil is in the detail. If you're being paid a king's ransom to coach a college team - and Price was scheduled to make $10 million over the next seven years - the devil is in the fine print.

Although Price had not signed the deal, there was an agreement in principle. And Witt held him to it.

A standard coach's contract at Alabama includes a portion that says a coach can be fired for "participating in any conduct, committing any act, or becoming involved in any situation, occurrence, or activity that brings Employee into public disrepute, contempt, scandal, or ridicule that reflects unfavorably upon the reputation or the high moral or ethical standards of the University of Alabama."

I'll leave it up to you to decide which key word applies - disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule. All things considered, it seems like Price batted 4-for-4 on one road trip to the Florida Panhandle.

It comes with the turf in a college sports world where football coaches often make double - or more - than the university president and the athletic director who are listed above them on the organizational chart. If you're pulling down that kind of money, you're supposed to be held to a higher standard.

Plus, it's not like the school slipped one past Price by sticking what amounts to a morals clause into the contract. These days, coaches are mini-corporations that have agents and attorneys on retainer to dissect every last detail with a fine tooth comb.

Nor did Price jump into this fishbowl with his eyes closed. Two weeks after taking the job, he told a reporter: "I'll never be able to go out and let my hair down. Here, you always represent the program."

Well, Price let his hair down and, in the process, let the Alabama program down. He leaves Tuscaloosa both undefeated and winless.




FLYING PIG MARATHON
Locals win Flying Pig
Complete results

REDS SUNDAY GAME
Giants 6, Reds 1
Reds Box, Runs

REDS SATURDAY GAME
Giants 9, Reds 6
Reds notebook: Riedling prepared to start
Harnisch putting in his innings
First win of season gives Graves shot of confidence
Aussie takes American game for a kick and a jog
Reds chatter
Reds Q&A

MORE BASEBALL
Fay: MLB power rankings
NL: Pujols, Cards hot
AL: Pedro twirls five-hitter
Notes from Saturday's games
Louisville 4, Buffalo 1
Cy Young vs. Cy Old
Mix up makes Choi the NL rookie of month
Ex-Astro Lugo says he didn't strike wife

KENTUCKY DERBY
Funny Cide up in Derby
Jockey Santos realizes dream with a gelding
Frankel accepts defeat in stride
A win for owners, and their home state
In a N.Y. minute - or two
No fade at finish for humbled Patton

BENGALS
Bengals begin to take shape
Newest receiver should fit right in
Bengals Q&A
Kitna comes out with early praise for Warrick

COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Price fired as Alabama football coach
Tide president made the right call
Alabama players upset by coach's firing

PREP SPORTS
Daugherty: O.J. Mayo
Prep Insider
Prep results, schedule

BASKETBALL
Cronin's goal is to outfox ex-employers UC, U of L for recruits
Pictures worth 1,000 words for Missouri English major
Court: newspaper may be entitled to Knight records
Duncan to repeat as MVP

AUTO RACING
Ky. Speedway still hoping for Cup race
Driver Nadeau critical but improving

HOCKEY
Giguere pulled in loss to Stars
Clones lose finale

GOLF
Verplank maintains 3-shot lead

TENNIS
Venus advances

BOXING
De La Hoya stops Campas

SUNDAY SPORTS SPOTLITE
Ignorance is bliss for Thomas More
Some college coaches can't be trusted
'I made some very, very poor decisions'
Division II Lewis beats BYU for NCAA title
Top Of The Second power rankings

PLAN YOUR DAY
This weekend's sports on TV, radio