2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 7 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Seventh of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — One of the best testimonies to a coach’s prowess is when there’s enough talent among his former players to fill an all-star team without having a significant drop at any position.

Doing so with Nick Saban, though, is different. He’s had so many consensus All-Americans and first-round draft picks that such a compilation would relegate several players to reserve or honorable mention status.

We’ve selected three all-time teams built by Saban.

The Alabama All-Active NFL Team

After Saban’s 10 years at Alabama there could be an NFL team comprised solely of former Crimson Tide players. At the start of training camps, NFL rosters included 53 players who suited up for Saban at Alabama. That’s the number of active players on an NFL roster.

With a little creative thinking, behold the 2017 Lake Burton Beasts, including the starting lineup.

QUARTERBACK | AJ McCarron (Bengals).

It hasn’t worked out that he’s a starter in the NFL yet, but it appears to be a matter of time. With no other Crimson Tide quarterbacks in the league, the problem is behind him. So Blake Sims, who is trying to latch on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a running back, will be the reserve.

RUNNING BACKS | Derrick Henry (Titans), Mark Ingram Jr. (Saints) and Eddie Lacy (Seahawks).

While most NFL teams go three-deep at the position, the Beasts will have a three-headed monster that will punish defenses. They’d get the bulk of the carries, with Kenyan Drake (Dolphins) the third-down back and T.J. Yeldon (Jaguars) doing a little bit of everything.

WIDE RECEIVERS | Julio Jones (Falcons) and Amari Cooper (Raiders).

It would be tempting to have those two take every snap, plus Kevin Norwood (Giants) would be an excellent possession option and rookie ArDarius Stewart (Jets) a nice fourth contributor. The reserves would be Gehrig Dieter (Chiefs) and Richard Mullaney (Browns). DeAndrew White (Texans) is a recent training camp addition, as well.

TIGHT END | O.J. Howard (Buccaneers).

This is spot that will require a little cheating. Jalston Fowler (Titans) will help out as a half fullback and half second tight end, plus a reserve offensive lineman will be utilized in goal-line situations.

OFFENSIVE LINE | Cam Robinson (Jaguars), Chance Warmack (Eagles), Ryan Kelly (Colts), James Carpenter (Jets), D.J. Fluker (Giants).

If there was training camp, Robinson and Fluker would have to hold off Cyrus Kournadjio (Lions ) and Andre Smith (Bengals) for the starting tackle jobs, with Smith a strong sixth-man possibility. Anthony Steen (Dolphins) is the backup center, with Austin Shepherd (Vikings), Arie Kouandjio (Redskins) and Korren Kirven (Chiefs) the other reserves.

DEFENSIVE LINE |  Jonathan Allen (Redskins), Marcell Dareus (Bills), Jarran Reed (Seahawks)/ A’Shawn Robinson (Lions)

Most Alabama defensive linemen end up playing in the interior in the NFL, but this group could play in a 4-3 or 3-4 by going with the hot hand between Reed and Robinson. Regardless, the unit will have a heavy rotation including Quinton Dial (49ers), Wallace Gilberry (Bengals), Damion Square (Chargers), Ed Stinson (Cardinals), Dalvin Tomlinson (Giants) and Courtney Upshaw (Falcons). Good luck running against that group.

LINEBACKERS | C.J. Mosley (Ravens), Dont’a Hightower (Patriots)/Reuben Foster (49ers), Mark Barron (Rams)/Ryan Anderson (Redskins).

This group is so talented and versatile it could excel in any defensive system, with Foster lining up either in the interior or outside as necessary. Reggie Ragland (Bills) is the primary reserve in the interior. Barron and Anderson could rotate, with Barron used more in passing situations and Anderson at the “Jack” hybrid end/linebacker spot that Saban helped make popular. Tim Williams (Ravens) contributes as a pass-rushing specialist.

DEFENSIVE BACKS | Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Packers), Landon Collins (Giants), Dre Kirkpatrick (Bengals), Kareem Jackson (Texans).

Rookies Marlon Humphrey (Ravens) and Eddie Jackson (Bears) are the two inserted for nickel and dime packages when extra defensive backs are needed, so they’d essentially be starters as well. Cyrus Jones (Patriots), Vinnie Sunseri (49ers) and Bradley Sylve (Bills) provide depth and play a lot of special teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS | Carson Tinker (Jaguars), Cyrus Jones (Patriots) and Eddie Jackson (Bears).

Tinker is set at long snapper, Jones and Jackson return punts, with Drake in the mix on kick returns. At kicker/punter there are three options:

  1. Take a page from the All-Madden Team from years ago and never punt.
  2. Find a way for JK Scott to be used as an intern.
  3. Use Steen, who kicked in high school. “I haven’t kicked in years,” he said in 2013.

The All-Decade Team (2007-16)

While it seems logical an all-Alabama NFL team would be similar to an All-Decade Team for Saban, the latter is more difficult to pick due to some key players no longer playing and the overall depth of talent he’s had with the Crimson Tide.

In this case, selections were primarily determined by accolades, and by what a player accomplished at the collegiate level.

Also, the positions are more rigid than the NFL team, per Saban’s preferred schemes. Thus, there are nickel and dime selections in the secondary, but no other defining within a position. For example, offensive tackles are not split into left tackle and right tackle, and the linebackers are not designated by Mike (middle), Sam (strong), Will (weak) and Jack (hybrid end).

QUARTERBACK | AJ McCarron.

The three-year starter was the only quarterback during the BCS era to win back-to-back national titles. He led the nation in passer efficiency in 2012, won Alabama’s first Maxwell Award for most outstanding player and finished second in the 2013 Heisman Trophy voting. Second team: Greg McElroy. Honorable mention: Jalen Hurts.

RUNNNING BACKS | Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram.

You really can’t do better than two Heisman Trophy winners. Second team: Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. Honorable mention: Glen Coffee and T.J. Yeldon. Fullback: Jalston Fowler.

WIDE RECEIVERS | Julio Jones, Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley.

Jones was better than his numbers indicate, with 179 receptions for 2,653 yards, 15 touchdowns and 3,084 all-purpose yards. Cooper won Alabama’s first Biletnikoff Award. Second team: DJ Hall, Kevin Norwood and ArDarius Stewart. Honorable mention: Marquis Maze, Matt Caddell, DeAndrew White and Darius Hanks.

TIGHT END | O.J. Howard.

The 2017 first-round draft pick will be remembered for his 208 receiving yards in the 2015 national championship game against Clemson. Second team: Mike Williams and Brad Smelley. Honorable mention: Colin Peek and Nick Walker.

TACKLES |  Andre Smith and Cam Robinson.

Both won the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman. Second team: Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker. Honorable mention: James Carpenter and Austin Shephard.

GUARDS | Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones.

Warmack was a unanimous All-American as a senior and selected 10th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. Jones won the 2011 Outland Trophy, the 2012 Campbell Trophy (academic Heisman) and Rimington Trophy (best center). Second team: Mike Johnson and Anthony Steen. Honorable mention: Arie Kouandjio.

CENTER | Ryan Kelly.

He won the 2015 Rimington Trophy and was subsequently selected in the first round of the NFL draft despite his position. Second team: Antoine Caldwell. Honorable mention: William Vlachos.

DEFENSIVE LINE | Jonathan Allen, Marcell Dareus and Terrence Cody.

Allen was Alabama’s first player to win the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik awards as the nation’s best defensive player. Dareus was the third pick in the 2011 draft and Cody was a two-time consensus All-American. Second team: Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson and Dalvin Tomlinson. Honorable mention: Wallace Gilberry, Josh Chapman and Da’Ron Payne.

LINEBACKERS | Rolando McClain, C.J. Mosley, Reuben Foster and Dont’a Hightower.

That’s three Butkus Award winners and a player who has won two national titles and two Super Bowls. Second team: Courtney Upshaw, Ryan Anderson, Reggie Ragland and Tim Williams. Honorable mention: Nico Johnson and Trey DePriest.

CORNERBACKS | Dee Milliner and Dre Kirkpatrick.

Both All-Americans were first-round draft picks. Second team: Kareem Jackson and Marlon Humphrey. Honorable mention: DeQuan Menzie and Ramzee Robinson.

SAFETIES | Mark Barron and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Barron was a three-year starter, twice named a team captain and finished his career with 237 tackles, 5 sacks and 12 interceptions. Both he and Clinton-Dix were first-round draft picks. Second team: Rashad Johnson and Eddie Jackson. Honorable mention: Vinnie Sunseri and Robert Lester.

STAR/MONEY (NICKEL/DIME) | Minkah Fitzpatrick and Landon Collins.

Both were consensus All-Americans and too good not to have significant roles. Second team: Cyrus Jones and Javier Arenas. Honorable mention: Simeon Castille and Marquis Johnson.

RETURN SPECIALIST | Javier Arenas.

Arenas finished 10 yards short of setting the NCAA record for career punt-return yards, and his 3,918 total return yards also ranked second all-time. Second team: Christion Jones. Honorable mention: Marquis Maze.

KICKER | Leigh Tiffin.

He’s Alabama’s all-time leading scorer. Second team: Jeremy Shelley. Honorable mention: Adam Griffith.

PUNTER | JK Scott.

He was named an All-American in 2014. Second team: Cody Mandell. Honorable mention: P.J. Fitzgerald.

The All-Saban Team

Saban coached at other places before arriving at Alabama in 2007, so an All-Saban Team would feature numerous Alabama players, but also include some from Toledo (1990), Michigan State (1995-99) and LSU (2000-04).

The criteria for consideration had to be tweaked due to how players might have developed after the coach departed. For our purposes, one had to be all-conference, All-American, drafted by an NFL team or won a major award when Saban was his coach. The time element was factored in with any achievement a year or more later.

QUARTERBACK | AJ McCarron (Alabama).

He was Saban’s first quarterback to be named an All-American (but was not a consensus selection). Second team: Greg McElroy. Notable players from other schools include Tony Banks (Michigan State), Josh Booty (LSU), Rohan Davey (LSU), Matt Mauck (LSU) and Russell (LSU).

RUNNING BACKS | Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram (Alabama).

There’s nothing better than two Heisman winners. Second team: Trent Richardson and T.J. Duckett (Michigan State). Notable others include Joseph Addai (LSU), Scott Greene (Michigan State), Sedrick Irvin (Michigan State), LaBrandon Toefield (LSU), Justin Vincent (LSU) and Domanick Williams (LSU).

WIDE RECEIVERS | Josh Reed (LSU), Julio Jones (Alabama) and Plaxico Burress (Michigan State).

Reed caught 94 passes for 1,740 yards in his junior season to win the Biletnikoff. Burress only played two seasons with the Spartans, but had 131 receptions, 2,155 yards and 20 touchdowns before being the eighth-overall selection in the 2000 draft. Second team: Michael Clayton (LSU) and Amari Cooper. Notable others include Dwayne Bowe (LSU), Bennie Brazell (LSU), Nigea Carter (Michigan State), Craig Davis (LSU), Skyler Green (LSU), Herb Haygood (Michigan State), Dervey Henderson (LSU), Rick Isiah (Toledo), Derrick Mason (Michigan State), Muhsin Muhammad (Michigan State) and Gari Scott (Michigan State).

TIGHT ENDS | O.J. Howard (Alabama) and Chris Baker (Michigan State).

Baker made 47 consecutive starts and had a string of 24 consecutive games with at least 1 reception. He set the school record for tight ends with 133 catches, 1,705 yards and 13 touchdowns, and was selected in the third round of the 2002 draft. Second team: Michael Williams and Robert Royal (LSU). Notable others include Jerry Evans (Toledo), Josh Keur (Michigan State) and Vince Marrow (Toledo).

TACKLES | Andre Smith (Alabama) and Flozell Adams (Michigan State).

Nicknamed “The Hotel,” Adams was a three-year starter for the Spartans, two at right tackle and one at left, and named both an All-American and Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year. Second team: Cam Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio. Notable others include Craig Kuligowski (Toledo), Greg Randall (Michigan State), Andrew Whitworth (LSU) and Brandon Winey (LSU).

GUARDS | Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones (Alabama).

Warmack might have been the best blocker Saban has had and Jones won the most awards. Second team: Mike Johnson and Stephen Peterman (LSU). Notable others include Herman Johnson (LSU), Tupe Peko (Michigan State) and Scott Shaw (Michigan State).

CENTER | Ryan Kelly (Alabama).

He was the third Rimington winner that Saban has coached. Second team: Ben Wilkerson (LSU). Notable others include Rudy Niswanger (LSU), Jason Strayorn (Michigan State) and Louis Williams (LSU).

DEFENSIVE LINE | Jonathan Allen (Alabama), Chad Lavalais (LSU) and Glenn Dorsey (LSU).

Lavalais was the SEC defensive player of the year in 2008 and Dorsey won the Outland, Nagurski, Lombardi and Lott (defensive impact) awards during his senior season. Second team: Terrence Cody, Marcell Dareus and Marcus Spears (LSU). Notable others include Howard Green (LSU), Jarvis Green (LSU), Marquise Hill (LSU), Melvin Oliver (LSU), Chase Pittman (LSU), Josh Shaw (Michigan State), Robaire Smith (Michigan State), Dimitrius Underwood (Michigan State), Dan Williams (Toledo), Kyle Williams (LSU) and Claude Wroten (LSU).

LINEBACKERS | Rolando McClain, C.J. Mosley, Reuben Foster (Alabama) and Julian Peterson (Michigan State).

During his two years with the Spartans, Peterson recorded 140 tackles and 25 sacks in only 23 games before being a first-round draft pick. Second team: Dant’a Hightower, Bradie James (LSU), Ike Reese (Michigan State) and Courtney Upshaw. Notable others include Matt Eberflus (Toledo), Trev Faulk (LSU), Ali Highsmith (LSU), Josh Thornhill (Michigan State), T.J. Turner (Michigan State) and Lionel Turner (LSU).

CORNERBACKS | Corey Webster (LSU) and Dee Milliner (Alabama).

Originally a wide receiver, Webster became LSU’s first two-time All-American since 1987 (Wendell Davis). Second team: Dre Kirkpatrick and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Notable others include Darren Anderson (Toledo), Amp Campbell (Michigan State), Travis Daniels (LSU), Chevis Johnson (LSU) and Renaldo Hill (Michigan State).

SAFETIES | LaRon Landry (LSU) and Mark Barron (Alabama).

The No. 6-overall draft pick in 2007, Landry was a four-year starter who broke up 40 passes and made 12 interceptions. Second team: Landon Collins and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Notable others include: Norman LeJeune (LSU), Aric Morris (Michigan State) and Craig Steltz (LSU).

RETURN SPECIALIST | Javier Arenas (Alabama).

Second team: Derrick Mason (Michigan State). Notable others include Domanick Davis (LSU), Skyler Green (LSU), Herb Haygood (Michigan State).

KICKER | Paul Edinger (Michigan State).

He was an All-American and a sixth-round draft pick. Second team: Leigh Tiffin.

PUNTER | JK Scott (Alabama).

He was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award in 2014. Second team: Craig Jarrett (Michigan State). 

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

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2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 6 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Sixth of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s record-setting 2017 NFL Draft was not an aberration. It might have been a beginning.

For years, Alabama football appeared to be on the verge of matching the program record for most selections in an NFL draft — 10 in 1945, when there were 32 rounds. It finally did this spring, and it’s a mark the Crimson Tide could match or top again next year, and the year after that …

A year after Nick Saban arrived in 2007, Alabama didn’t have anyone selected in the draft for the first time since 1970. It’s subsequently had 65 players picked. No program has had more.

“Alabama has always had the name brand, recognition, the historical tradition,” Senior Bowl director Phil Savage said. “It’s always resonates with people, but I also think that it was just a stop on the circuit [for scouts]. There was not a lot of distinction between going to Alabama versus Tennessee, Auburn or Georgia. It was just one of the stops.

“Once Nick Saban got there, honestly in the Southeast it has become the stop.”

Besides the Crimson Tide’s obvious high level of talent, there are three other major contributing factors.

First, Saban’s “process” is comparable to how an NFL team runs things, with schemes that are both complex and pro friendly. Last year former safety Mark Barron went so far as to say that learning the Crimson Tide’s defense was tougher than anything he’s had to do in the NFL, and he’s not only switched teams but positions — from safety to linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams.

“It’s very difficult,” Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans said in agreement. “It just takes time.”

Saban also has an open-door policy to the NFL and is known for being accommodating to scouts, who are often seen on the sidelines during practices. In addition to checking out prize prospects for the next draft, with Alabama having quality players at every position it gives them an immediate baseline by which to evaluate all others that they’ll see.

“When I was the scouting director of the Ravens (1996-2002), one of the first stop I made every in August was the University of Miami,” Savage said. “I knew I was going to see players at virtually every position and now I could start making comparison right away with Ed Reed at safety, Kellen Winslow at tight end, whomever. Alabama is very similar.”

Since Alabama’s 2009 national championship, at least five Crimson Tide players have been selected in every draft. The “low” year of 2011 saw four players go in the first round: Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones, James, Carpenter and Mark Ingram. The fifth player was quarterback Greg McElroy, who went in the seventh round to the New York Jets.

This year, Alabama set NFL records with seven players among the first 55 selections and nine of the initial 79.

Normally when a program has an exceptional draft there’s a dropoff in subsequent years.

Not at Alabama. The only program to be in the College Football Playoff every year has mastered the ability to reload. Overall, the Crimson Tide have had 22 first-round selections during the last nine drafts with another 15 taken in the second round.

Alabama’s first-round NFL selections under Nick Saban

YEAR PICK PLAYER TEAM POS.
2017 16 Marlon Humphrey Baltimore Ravens CB
2017 17  Jonathan Allen Washington Redskins DE
2017 19 O.J. Howard Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE
2017 31 Reuben Foster San Francisco 49ers LB
 2016 18  Ryan Kelly  Indianapolis Colts C
 2015 5 Amari Cooper  Oakland Raiders WR
 2014 17  C.J. Mosley Baltimore Ravens LB
 2014 21  Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Green Bay  Packers S
 2013 9  Dee Milliner New York Jets CB
 2013 10 Chance Warmack Tennessee Titans  G
 2013 11  D.J. Fluker Los Angeles Chargers OT
 2012 3  Trent Richardson Cleveland Browns RB
 2012 7 Mark Barron Tampa Bay Buccaneers DB
 2012 17 Dre Kirkpatrick Cincinnati Bengals DB
 2012 25 Dont’a Hightower New England Patriots LB
 2011 3  Marcell Dareus Buffalo Bills DT
 2011 6 Julio Jones Atlanta Falcons WR
 2011 25 James Carpenter Seattle Seahawks OT
 2011 28  Mark Ingram New Orleans Saints RB
 2010 8 Rolando McClain Oakland Raiders LB
 2010  20 Kareem Jackson Houston Texans DB
 2009 6 Andre Smith Cincinnati Bengals  OT

Saban also had five first-round picks at other schools, giving him 27 total. He’s tied with Woody Hayes for the third most ever, trailing only Joe Paterno (33) and Bobby Bowden (32). If you counted the players he recruited, but weren’t selected in the draft until after he moved on to another job he’d already have the most in history.

Bowden’s best over a 10-year period was 18 first-round picks (1997-2006). Hayes’ was 15 (1970-79), and Paterno’s 12 (1995-2003).

Alabama has a current streak of nine consecutive drafts with at least one first-round pick. It’s tied Florida (1983-91) for the second-longest consecutive streak with at least one player selected in the first round of the common draft era (since 1967).

Miami holds the record of 14 (1995-2008), which is getting close to being within reach.

Alabama’s overall NFL selections under Nick Saban

YEAR PICKS 1ST-ROUND
2008 0 0
2009 4 1
2010 7 2
2011 5 4
2012 8 4
2013 9 3
2014 8 2
2015 7 1
2016 7 1
2017 10 4

While the Hurricanes averaged 6.0 draft selections over that 14-year period, the Crimson Tide have had 7.2 over the last nine years.

Despite being in the process of replacing half of its starters again, Alabama could match or top Miami’s top total of 11 in 2002 next year.

Consider this season’s seniors:

  • OL: Bradley Bozeman
  • WR: Robert Foster and Cam Sims
  • DL: Da’Shawn Hand and Joshua Frazier
  • LB: Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans
  • DB: Anthony Averett, Tony Brown and Hootie Jones
  • P: JK Scott

That’s 11 and while a couple need a few things to fall into place this season to be drafted, they all have the potential.

Moreover, Alabama has numerous juniors who could consider leaving after the 2017 season, including DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, DT Da’Ron Payne, WR Calvin Ridley and RBs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris.

While it’s too early to speculate on their chances, the program has regularly had a couple of early departures, including Humphrey, tackle Cam Robinson and WR ArDarius Stewart last year.

All signs point to not just next year’s draft being Alabama heavy, but the subsequent three as well. The Crimson Tide’s roster includes 17 players rated as consensus 5-star recruits. Only four are going into their senior year — Brown, Evans, Foster and Hand.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 5 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Fifth of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Before Nick Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, the Crimson Tide’s individual honors on a national level were few and far between.

No one had won a Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award or Walter Camp Award for player of the year, nor a Chuck Bendarik or Bronko Naguski trophy for defensive player of the year.

Of the 25 major college football awards that ESPN.com lists on its awards page, an Alabama player had won five:

PLAYER AWARD YEAR
Cornelius Bennett Lombardi 1986
Derrick Thomas Butkus 1988
Antonio Langham Thorpe 1993
Chris Samuels Outland 1999
DeMeco Ryans Lott 2005

Now the reverse is true. There are only five awards an Alabama player has never won: Davey O’Brien (quarterback), John Mackey (tight end), Lou Groza (kicker), Ray Guy (punter) and Paul Hornung (most versatile). The Hornung Award has only been around since 2010.

Alabama has won so many trophies during the last decade that the display cases on the second floor of the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility have seemingly been in a constant state of expansion.

They include:

  • Heisman Trophy (outstanding player): Mark Ingram Jr. (2009), Derrick Henry (2015)
  • Maxwell Award (outstanding player): AJ McCarron (2013), Derrick Henry (2015)
  • Walker Camp Award (player of the year): Derrick Henry (2015)
  • Doak Walker Award (running back): Trent Richardson (2011); Derrick Henry (2015)
  • Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (outstanding senior quarterback): AJ McCarron (2013)
  • Fred Biletnikoff Award (receiver): Amari Cooper (2014)
  • Outland Trophy (interior lineman): Andre Smith (2008); Barrett Jones (2011), Cam Robinson (2016)
  • Chuck Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year): Jonathan Allen (2016)
  • Bronko Nagurski Award (defensive player of the year): Jonathan Allen (2016)
  • Dick Butkus Award (linebacker): Rolando McClain (2009), C.J. Mosley (2013), Reuben Foster (2016)
  • Rotary Lombardi Award (lineman): Jonathan Allen (2016)
  • Ted Hendricks Award (defensive end): Jonathan Allen (2016)
  • Rimington Trophy (center): Barrett Jones (2012), Ryan Kelly (2015)
  • Campbell Trophy (top scholar-athlete): Barrett Jones (2012)
  • Wuerffel Trophy (community service): Barrett Jones (2011)

Add the Joe Moore Award for best offensive line in 2015 and one could take all of the trophies and play a game of checkers on a very, very large board (especially since the Moore weighs approximately 350 pounds).

Throw in some major coaching honors and the Disney Spirit Award for overcoming adversity following the 2011 tornado and you’d have enough pieces to play chess.

That’s unparalleled in college football history.

So is the diversity of the awards as Alabama isn’t just known for one or two position groups. That’s why the Running Back U moniker doesn’t fit. Everything U would be more appropriate.

Nevertheless, two awards stand out during Saban’s tenure: the Outland Trophy and the Dick Butkus Award. Three Crimson Tide players have won each over the last decade.

“It was fun,” left tackle Cam Robinson said about joining such an exclusive club last season. “That was my first time doing anything kind of like that. When it comes to the Outland, that was tremendous.

“I didn’t know if I would win it or not. I couldn’t put it into words, but I wasn’t surprised. It was a great honor, it was shocking, it was hard to fathom … it’s hard to put into words.”

Excellence at linebacker has become a Crimson Tide trademark. In six of the last eight seasons, Alabama has had a consensus All-American at the position (four unanimous), easily topping the nation.

Alabama also boasts Thomas, Bennett, Lee Roy Jordan and Woodrow Lowe in the College Football Hall of Fame, a foursome that can stand with any program’s heritage at linebacker

“It was an honor to win that award,” said 2016 Butkus recipient Foster. “That’s Dick Butkus, like a hard hitter — or a hard-head knocker.”

Allen became the third player under Saban to win so much hardware that he couldn’t hold all the trophies at once, joining offensive lineman Barrett Jones and running back Derrick Henry.

In addition to the Bednarik and Nagurski Trophy honors, Allen also snared the Ted Hendricks Award as the game’s best defensive end, and the Rotary Lombardi Award as best lineman.

“He has a lot of great attributes as a player,” Saban said about Allen when he got Heisman buzz despite being a defensive player. “I think he would be a great candidate for it.”

Going back to those 25 major awards, Alabama’s coaches won only two. Kirby Smart was honored with the Frank Broyles Award in 2009 as the game’s best assistant coach, and Saban landed the Home Depot Coach of the Year honor in 2008.

The only coach of the year award Saban has won during a national championship season at Alabama was the Bobby Bowden Award, which has since been discontinued.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 4 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Fourth of 10 Parts

At some point, you probably were suckered by the trivia question: “Which college football program has won the most Division I national championships?”

It’s a bit of a trick question. Before college football evolved into the game we know today, it was primarily known as a regional sport in the Northeast, dominated by the Ivy League schools. Regardless of consensus or non-consensus status, Princeton can claim 28 championships, Yale 27 and Harvard 12.

Their success was naturally reflected in All-American teams, which date to 1889. With such a head start, it was widely believed that no program would ever be able to match that kind of success.

Only 100 or so years later, Alabama under coach Nick Saban is posting comparable numbers.

Back then, Caspar Whitney and Walter Camp were the primary selectors. Nowadays to be recognized as a consensus All-American, a player must be named first-team by the majority of the services recognized by the NCAA: American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp Foundation, The Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America and Sporting News.

Since 2008, Saban’s second season — when Alabama had its first showdown with Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer and Florida in the SEC Championship Game — the Crimson Tide have fielded 29 consensus All-American selections earned by 25 players.

 

YEAR CONSENSUS ALL-AMERICANS
2008 C Antoine Caldwell, DL Terrence Cody, OL Andre Smith*
2009 DB Javier Arenas, DL Terrence Cody, RB Mark Ingram*, OL Mike Johnson, Rolando McClain*
2010 None
2011 DB Mark Barron*, LB Dont’a Hightower, OL Barrett Jones*, RB Trent Richardson*
2012 C Barrett Jones, DB Dee Milliner*, CB C.J. Mosley*, OL Chance Warmack*
2013 DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, OL Cyrus Kouandjio, LB C.J. Mosley*
2014 WR Amari Cooper*, DB Landon Collis*
2015 RB Derrick Henry*, C Ryan Kelly, LB Reggie Ragland*, DL A’Shawn Robinson
2016 OL Cam Robinson*, DL Jonathan Allen*, LB Reuben Foster*, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
*—Denotes unanimous selection

 

That’s more than California, Clemson and Wisconsin have had during their entire football histories.

It also nearly tops every other team all time in the SEC West Division.

 

SEC WEST SELECTIONS PLAYERS
LSU 32 28
Auburn 30 28
Texas A&M 28 26
Arkansas 25 21
Ole Miss 12 12
Mississippi State 2 2

 

The SEC East’s all-time selections: Tennessee 40, Florida 32, Georgia 31, Missouri 13, Kentucky 10, Vanderbilt 6, South Carolina 4.

“Twenty-nine? Wow,” said College Football Hall of Fame coach and former executive director of the American Football Coaches Association Grant Teaff.

“For me it all goes back to the root value, of who he’s bringing in, the way he and his staff evaluate young people both in athletic talent character issues, academic ability to be there in four years and graduate in four or five. It all goes back to fundamental things.

“I’d say Coach Saban is the cream of the crop.”

Overall, the Crimson Tide have had 68 consensus All-Americans, won by 64 players, which is eighth on the all-time list.Yale leads with 100, won by 69 players.

Alabama also didn’t have its first player honored with that distinction until Fred Sington in 1930, five years after winning its first national title (1925).

That leads us to two more head-turning statistics:

  • • With six players named before arriving at Alabama in 2007, Saban has coached more consensus All-Americans than anyone in college football history (35). The previous leaders were Joe Paterno (33), Bobby Bowden (31) and Tom Osborne (30).
  • • Of the programs with the most consensus All-Americans over a 10-year span, Alabama is ahead of anyone since the first national polls were held in 1934. In terms of all-time it only trails the three previously-mentioned Ivy League powers.
  • Most consensus All-Americans in a 10-year period
Yale (1900-09) 40
Yale (1889-98) 33
Harvard (1892-1901) 32
Princeton (1889-98) 30
Alabama (2008-2016) 29
Florida State (1991-2000) 22
Oklahoma (2000-09) 20
Penn (1895-1904) 20
Notre Dame (1964-73) 19
Ohio State (1969-78) 19
Oklahoma (1971-80) 19

 

Note that Saban didn’t have any All-Americans in 2007, his first season at Alabama. Thus, he still can add to his decade total this season.

Should Saban match his nine-year average (3.2) he’ll have 32 consensus All-Americans — 10 more than anyone else during a 10-year span over the last century.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 3 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Third of 10 Parts

It’s no mystery to peers of Nick Saban why the University of Alabama has consistently competed for the national championship.

“Just check their recruiting,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said before taking his first shot at college football’s biggest prize at the end of the 2015 season.

That’s the starting point for Saban every year, regardless of how the previous season ended. Since 2008, every Crimson Tide recruiting class has gone on to play for the crown, with the 2016 group being the only one that can’t claim one — yet.

Swinney also mentioned Alabama’s top-notch coaching staff, but he had the basic formula correct. Saban is just as good at recruiting as anyone else in the sport, if not better.

Steve Spurrier went so far as to call Saban the “greatest recruiter in the history of college football,” during SEC media days in 2014. “As long as they can recruit like that they’re always going to be the favorites.”

Few would argue against that, but what isn’t commonly mentioned is how Saban’s far-ranging influence has affected the recruiting and player evaluation landscape as a whole.

Specifically, he essentially created a player personnel department, similar to what many NFL teams have, pinpointing what Alabama covets at each position. It’s worked so well, scores of college football programs are desperately trying to copy it.

“You have guys that you’ve never heard of that work at Alabama for a year or two, or three or four years, and have now gone on to other schools or to the NFL, who are part of the Saban genealogy,” said Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, who writes about it in his upcoming book with Ray Glier: 4th & Goal Every Day: Alabama’s Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.

“From a personnel standpoint, he sort of gets zero [recognition]. It’s about the coaches he’s produced. He’s produced a number of these young guys that will end up being the director of recruiting, scouts, or directors at the NFL level.”

Even so, recruiting success isn’t just about identifying and targeting top talent around the state, region and nation. With every major decision he makes, Saban considers the impact.

It’s the real reason why Alabama built a new weight room that’s the envy of even NFL teams. It’s why the football building has been renovated so many times and is currently adding a new dining facility (after the NCAA decided to allow unlimited meals for athletes). It’s a big part of every staff move.

The emphasis on recruiting was also one of the things that led to his being targeted and hired by former Director of Athletics Mal Moore.

“He really knew that Saban was the guy when Saban told him, ‘There are a lot of guys who are good coaches out there, but I’m a guy who can also get good players,’” said Steve Townsend, Moore’s former special assistant and author of the 2014 book: Crimson Heart: Let Me Tell You My Story.

“Obviously, he went out and got them.”

The results have been unparalleled.

With Saban’s latest batch of prospects, who signed in February, Alabama’s string of having the consensus No. 1 class of incoming players reached an unprecedented seven consecutive years.

Saban’s Alabama recruiting classes

YEAR 247 SCORE RANK
2017 322.48 1
2014 319.71 1
2013 319.50 1
2015 311.10 1
2012 310.09 1
2016 307.05 1
2011 298.50 1
2008 291.61 3
2009 288.63 3
2010 284.20 4

 

The 2017 group might be his best yet, too. Alabama landed 12 players rated a 5-star prospect by one of the major services — 247Sports, ESPN, Rivals and Scout. That includes Elliot Baker, Isaiah Buggs, VanDarius Cowan, Najee Harris, Jerry Jeudy, Alex Leatherwood, Dylan Moses, LaBryan Ray, Henry Ruggs III, Devonta Smith, Tua Tagovailoa and Jedrick Wills.

Six were consensus selections. The 247Sports composite had them listed as 3. Harris, 4. Leatherwood, 13. Moses, 21. Jeudy, 26. Ray and 32. Tagovailoa. Willis just missed at No. 34.

Another 13 were judged to be consensus 4-star talents.

“You know the Alabama name sticks out, and Alabama only recruits the best and gets the best,” said Buggs, one of 16 players in the signing class who enrolled in time for spring practices.

“I know if I’m at Alabama I’m here for a reason. It’s either go hard or go home. It’s Nick Saban. He’s going to recruit the best to get the best.”

It’s been that way since Saban’s first full recruiting class with the Crimson Tide, 2008, which set the tone for the program. Five players went on to be named consensus All-Americans, two twice, and five developed into first-round draft picks. The names include running back Mark Ingram Jr., wide receiver Julio Jones, defensive linemen Marcell Dareus and Terrence Cody, offensive lineman Barrett Jones, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Mark Barron.

That’s a tough group to top.

Overall, Saban has landed 41 consensus 5-star players over the past decade, with 17 currently on campus. Not only is that the most in college football by a wide margin, but they account for 20 percent of the 85-man roster.

That’s one of every five players.

The only position groups that don’t have a 5-star prospect are tight ends, where such designation can be rare, and special teams. But Alabama might have the nation’s best punter with JK Scott.

It lends credence to the idea of if you want to be the best, you need to be with the best and learn from the best.

“I think it probably intimidated some people, it probably discouraged some people away,” said offensive tackle Jonah Williams, a consensus 5-star addition in the Class of 2016. “Anyone who would sign here I already have a little bit of respect for because they’re willing to come to an environment like this, where you’re expected to be the best.

“I think that’s what we live for, it’s what we work for here.”

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 2 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Second of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Rece Davis had the right answer to the question.

It was just before Texas A&M visited his alma mater last season, when the host of ESPN College GameDay was asked if the 2016 Alabama football team could already be considered among the best in history.

“Not yet,” he said because the Crimson Tide had only played seven games at that point. “There are categories of teams at Alabama, ones that won championships and ones that didn’t. The ones that didn’t don’t get compared, or should be compared, to the ones that did.

“We have to wait until the end to have that type of conversation. To me, all that talk is premature.”

Because championships represent the pinnacle in major team sports, they’re also the most important measuring stick in terms of gauging coaching greatness.

With five national titles, four at Alabama and one at LSU, Nick Saban is already at the highest of levels. He came within a second of winning another last season and has the Crimson Tide poised to continue challenging for more championships.

The College Football Playoff should just go ahead and name the trophy after him, like the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the Super Bowl winner in the NFL. No one’s been so adept at continually competing for it.

With Bob Stoops recently stepping down at Oklahoma, Saban is one of just four active coaches to have won a national title, including Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher. It takes all three combined to match Saban’s five.

“I find it hard to believe Alabama would have been as dominant as it has been under Saban with some other coach, even Urban Meyer (who I think is No. 2),” said Scott Rabalais, columnist for The Advocate in Baton Rouge. “Clearly, he is the best coach in college football, and no one else is close to that. Even LSU fans who hate him now believe that deep down.”

Paul “Bear” Bryant is recognized as having won the most national titles with six. That includes three split and three when the final polls were conducted before bowl games. Saban’s five were secured during a tougher era.

In addition to scholarship limits and a brighter spotlight, major college football now includes more regular-season games, conference championships and the Bowl Championship Series/College Football Playoff.

Saban is 12-2 in title games — 7-1 SEC and 5-1 BCS/CFP after the loss to Clemson in January. The only SEC Championship Game loss came in 2008 to Tim Tebow’s Florida team that won the national championship.

Bryant also never won more than three national titles during any 10-year period. Saban’s notched four since 2009, which fellow ESPN announcer Todd Blackledge called “the finest display of coaching in college football that we’ve ever seen.”

Most national championships in a decade

TEAM TITLES SEASONS
Alabama 4 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015
Miami (Fla.) 4 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991 (AP)
Notre Dame 4 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949
Nebraska 3 1994, 1995, 1997 (Coaches)
Notre Dame 3 1973 (AP), 1977, 1988
Alabama 3 1973 (Coaches), 1978 (AP), 1979
USC 3 1972, 1974 (Coaches), 1978 (Coaches)
Texas 3 1963, 1969, 1970 (Coaches)
Alabama 3 1961, 1964, 1965 (AP)
Oklahoma 3 1950, 1955, 1956
Minnesota 3 1936, 1940, 1941

 

Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy was the first to win four in a decade during the poll era (1934), but he didn’t coach the Fighting Irish for 10 straight years. After he went into the Navy during World War II, Ed McKeever took over the program in 1944 (8-2), and Hugh Devore filled in for the 1945 season (7-2-1). Leahy returned and won three of the next four national titles while compiling an amazing record of 36-0-2.

The Fighting Irish were voted No. 2 in 1948, and only went 4-4-1 in 1950.

Miami also had three different coaches during its dynasty, but each won a national championship. Howard Schnellenberger did it first, followed by Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson won two.

Meanwhile, Meyer also won national championships at two different schools, and all within a 10-year span: Two at Florida (2006 and 2008), and one at Ohio State in 2014.

Alabama’s ‘greatest era ever’

But Saban’s unparalleled success is reflected in numerous other ways, like Alabama having been ranked No. 1 at some point of the season a record nine consecutive years. Leahy’s teams did it five straight seasons (1946-50), and Miami reached seven (1986-92).

“He’s been obviously the most consistent coach that we’ve had in our profession in a lot of years,” said College Football Hall of Fame coach and former executive director of the American Football Coaches Association Grant Teaff. “Year after year, after year, after year, he’s there.”

Consequently, College GameDay has become a regular fixture around the Crimson Tide. The Texas A&M game was its 37th broadcast before an Alabama kickoff, and 28th since Saban arrived in 2007.

That was seven more than any other team over the past decade (Oregon) even before it followed the Crimson Tide to LSU two weeks later, and then to the College Football Playoff title game. Moreover, ESPN’s GameDay has already announced that it will open the 2017 season in Atlanta for Alabama vs. Florida State.

It might be a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, with the Crimson Tide possibly extending the No. 1 streak to an unparalleled 10th year in a row.

“I know with some of the older guard at Alabama this is not particularly popular,” Davis said, “but this is the greatest era of Alabama football ever.”

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

2018 Best Game Story: John Bohnenkamp, The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

Comment by the judge: Writer did an excellent job in pointing out not only was it an upset, but the surprising number of points Iowa scored on Ohio State. Good historical facts on most points Iowa scored in the series and how long it had been since Hawkeyes scored so many points. Also Iowa’s recent history of upsets at Kinnick Stadium. Very good quotes to back up the facts.”

By John Bohnenkamp

The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

IOWA CITY — It was over in eight seconds.

The first offensive play of the game, Iowa safety Amani Hooker roared in front of a pass from Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett for a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown, the first points in the Hawkeyes’ 55-24 win over the third-ranked Buckeyes…

Wait, wait, wait.

Fifty-five points?

Against Ohio State?

Really?

“We were having fun out there,” running back Akrum Wadley said. “You’re doing the right thing when you’re having fun.”

But 55 points, from an team that had scored just 27 in its last two games — 10 in a loss at Northwestern, 17 in a home win over Minnesota?

Really?

Wadley remembered when he was interviewed about the game earlier in the week, when he was confident that something big was coming..

“You guys were looking at me like I was (crazy),” he said. “We believe in this.”

Saturday’s win was another one of those November shockers by the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium, who have knocked off four top-five teams here in their last five tries.

Magic in autumn’s gloom is in the eyes of the ones pulling off the upset.

“What stands out,” said Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, who threw for 226 yards and five touchdowns, “is how well we played as a team.”

“When we execute in every phase of the game, we’re going to play a game like this,” linebacker Josey Jewell said.

“It’s got the Kinnick curse, or whatever you want to call it,” Ohio State center Billy Price said.

It was only the fourth win for the Hawkeyes (6-3 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) over the Buckeyes (7-2, 5-1) in the last 30 years — they don’t play each other much, though, this was the first matchup since 2013.

It’s the most points scored by an Iowa team ever in the series, the most points scored by the Hawkeyes against a ranked team since a 55-17 win over Texas in the 1984 Freedom Bowl.

Ohio State was favored by double digits — the line had pushed to 20 in the hours before the game.

“We came into this game heavy underdogs, and for good reason,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Ohio State is a tremendous football team. But the big thing is our guys really believed in themselves all week long. They had a good week of preparation, and then most importantly came out and really played with great energy, great effort, a lot of grit, and played opportunistic football, and that’s important in a game like this.”

“We didn’t care who they were,” said Wadley, who rushed for 118 yards. “From my point of view, if you keep thinking about stuff like that, if you overrespect somebody, you get nervous. I try to think everybody is the same.”

It’s a defeat that will prove fatal to the Buckeyes’ national championship hopes.

It was only the second road loss for coach Urban Meyer since he came to Ohio State.

Someone asked him if there were any signs that a defeat like this was coming.

“No,” he said.

The sign came eight seconds in. The Hooker interception was the first of four for Barrett — he had only one all season coming in — with the other three going to cornerback Josh Jackson.

“I definitely think it set the tone,” Jewell said. “Sometimes you start off slow and you don’t want to do that. But in this game, it started off right.”

“All eyes are on J.T. Barrett,” Wadley said. “He’s the QB, first play, they think it’s supposed to be easy money for Ohio State. Then, boom, Amani Hooker.”

The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes traded scoring drives — it was 17-17 before Iowa finally took control with 31 unanswered points.

Barrett, a Heisman Trophy candidate coming in, was rattled at times, thanks mostly to an ever-changing Iowa defense.

“It was a little bit of everything,” Jackson said.

“They just played very well against us,” Meyer said.

Someone asked Meyer if he was stunned.

“Yeah,” he said.

He wasn’t the only one.

Stanley, a sophomore making his ninth start, was as poised as ever. He threw two touchdown passes each to tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, and added another to fullback Drake Kulick. Eight different Hawkeyes caught at least one pass.

“A lot of big throws for him,” Ferentz said.

On the last touchdown pass to Hockenson, Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard had grabbed Stanley’s foot, but he still made the play.

“I think probably my favorite play is the one where he’s got the guy bringing him down and he finds a way to get the ball in the end zone there for a touchdown,” Ferentz said.

It was a game that, really, was over in eight seconds, but the party lasted for 3 hours, 33 minutes, ending with a field storming by most of the 67,669 in attendance.

The Hawkeyes are bowl-eligible again, the 16th time in the last 17 seasons, with another November victory notched.

Hooker was asked about that first play.

“I couldn’t draw it up any better than that,” he said.

There was no question about it. The same could be said for the whole day.

John Bohnenkamp

John Bohnenkamp

Age: 52

College: Iowa

Background: John Bohnenkamp is sports editor/colleges writer at The Hawk Eye newspaper in Burlington, Iowa. He is a 1988 graduate of the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He worked at the Daily Gate City (Keokuk, Iowa) from 1988 to 1991 before moving to The Hawk Eye, where he was a preps reporter for two years before becoming assistant sports editor from 1993 to 1999. He has covered University of Iowa basketball, along with Western Illinois University football and basketball, since 1993. He added the Iowa football beat in 2014 after the death of long-time beat writer Susan Denk. He added the minor-league baseball beat this season, covering the Burlington Bees, the Class A Midwest League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. He has won 16 APSE top-10 writing awards, along with seven United States Basketball Writers Association top-5 awards. This is his second FWAA honor.

2018 Enterprise Winner: Christopher Walsh, SEC Country

Comment by the judge: “Expansive and thorough story on the current Alabama football dynasty. Extensive research went into the  reporting of this story. Excellent presentation by the writer.”

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

First of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It all goes back to the plane and the day that changed Alabama.

On Jan. 3, 2007, Tuscaloosa’s airport was overrun by giddy football fans who had flocked to welcome their new coach, Nick Saban. They did so with chants of “Roll Tide!” and loud cheers that only began to demonstrate their excitement.

In a part of the country where the word “savior” is frequently used, Saban was immediately viewed as being the football equivalent by University of Alabama followers. After years of mediocrity and a fair dose of humiliation, they longed for adulation again and hoped for greatness.

What they got was a whole lot more.

When Alabama last played on Jan. 9 it came a second short of winning the 2016 national championship, which would have been its fifth under Saban. Regardless, it concluded a decade unlike any in college football history.

The numbers and the accomplishments both on the field and off are staggering, especially for an era in which such sustained success was thought to be impossible. Dynasty was no longer a sufficient description.

Consequently, Crimson Tide football is nothing like it was in 2007. Neither is the university, Tuscaloosa nor the state of Alabama.

“Attitude,” Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox said is the biggest thing Saban brought to Alabama. “It’s a belief that we can win, and sustain it. So every year brings real expectations of success. It’s something that you can feel. It’s something that people want to be a part of.”

Prelude: The decade before Saban

That feeling didn’t exist during the previous 10 years, when the Crimson Tide became just another team on the college football landscape.

From 1997 to 2006, Alabama had more losing records (four) than 10-win seasons (three), one of which had to be vacated. The program endured a major investigation and subsequent NCAA sanctions, the Mike DuBose affair, Dennis Franchione’s stunning departure following the 2002 season, the Mike Price scandal, and numerous other incidents and symbolic black eyes. It was a mere shadow of its glory years under Paul “Bear” Bryant and the other championship coaches.

“It dates back to the Wallace Wade era,” said Steve Townsend, a special assistant and close friend of former athletic director Mal Moore. “That tradition of being considered a premier program in the country, and even when that languished after Gene Stallings left, the expectation level among the fans didn’t diminish.

“Among Alabama fans, a lot of them didn’t understand the impact of the probation. They still expected to win on a level where it probably would have been hard for anyone to have won at a high level.”

It took former university president Dr. Robert Witt and Moore to make football a priority again, and nearly every athletic facility was upgraded, including Bryant-Denny Stadium with the north-end zone expansion for $45 million.

Without that initial undertaking, Alabama never would have lured Saban from the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

“This has been a university commitment,” ESPN college football analyst Tom Luginbill said. “Not an athletics commitment, not a football commitment. That university has committed to athletics as a whole and as a result everything on the campus, from enrollment to things that have nothing to do with athletics have benefitted.”

The transformation ratcheted up when Saban proclaimed during his first press conference, “We want to be a champion in everything that we do.”

The players started to catch on that something special might be happening when despite being shorthanded they destroyed No. 20 Tennessee 41-17. The fans followed suit after a top-notch recruiting class was signed and a 32-10 win against No. 9 Clemson in the 2008 season-opener. For the national media, it was a jaw-dropping 31-0 first half at No. 3 Georgia.

“That helped a lot,” Townsend said. “That served as a calling card that we weren’t going to sit on our butts. Alabama had sat on its reputation, of ‘We’re Alabama and players will come here.’”

The ripples really started to spread when Saban and Alabama won the 2009 national championship. Some have been so wide-ranging that they simply can’t be adequately measured, even economically.

“It’s so hard to quantify, because the impact is so large,” Maddox said. “I’m fearful that I may underestimate it, the true magnitude.”

Here are three:

1 | The University of Alabama

Before Saban arrived, the school had already begun an enrollment push, topping 20,000 in 2003 (20,333), and reaching a then-record 23,878 for the 2006-07 academic school year. For that fall, it received 15,761 applications.

For the fall of 2016, it received 42,802 applications. Enrollment was 37,665.

Normally when a school significantly expands the quality of its student applications dips. That wasn’t the case at Alabama. The average ACT score went from 24.2 in 2006 to 27.07 a decade later. The average GPA for the incoming freshmen rose from 3.4 to 3.69.

The geographical makeup of the student body also has changed dramatically. In 2004, 72 percent of freshmen came from within the state. Just four years after Saban arrived the university had more students from out-of-state for the first time.

That’s a huge boon in the bottom line. In 2006, tuition was $4,864 in-state, $13,516 for those from somewhere else. Following a steady stream of tuition hikes, the latest announced just last month, it’ll be $11,580 in-state, and $28,900 out-of-state for the 2017-2018 academic year. Room and board is another $13,224.

Alabama’s become more of a national destination for top athletes as well.

“Young people want to be a part of something exciting,” men’s golf coach Jay Seawell said. “When they’re choosing schools, what Coach has done and what he brought to the university is a great attraction to 18-year-old kids. That’s why I believe kids from all over the country are interested in Alabama. There’s a lot energy on our campus because of what Coach has done.”

Pre-Saban, Alabama’s gymnastics team under Sarah and David Patterson was the only program other than football to win a national championship. In the wake of a devastating 2011 tornado, which helped bring numerous Crimson Tide teams and the Tuscaloosa community closer together, gymnastics (2011-12), men’s golf (2013-14), women’s golf (2012) and softball (2012) all won titles.

So many things must go right for a team to win a championship that they’re almost always due to a variety of factors and key decisions. Nevertheless, nearly all of the athletes involved in those triumphs were recruited after Alabama won the 2009 national title in football.

“Winning is infectious,” Seawell said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all our championships all kind of ran there together.”

2 | The City of Tuscaloosa

Saban always comes up when people talk about Tuscaloosa.

“You have to go to Moody’s and S&P in New York and defend the city’s credit rating so people will buy city bonds,” Maddox said. “In those credit analysis meetings, Coach Saban’s always brought up when you start talking about Tuscaloosa. It’s a very positive thing for us because the guy’s a winner and he chooses to live in our community.

“It’s made my task as mayor much easier.”

Before Saban, the Tuscaloosa area enjoyed two obvious growth spikes due to the Mercedes-Benz International assembly plant, which commenced production in 1997 and completed a $600 million expansion in 2005.

In 2000, the population was 77,925 in the city and 164,875 in the county, which in 2006 had grown to 86,158 and 175,339, respectively.

Despite the 2011 tornado, which destroyed 12 percent of the city and forced a lot of people to relocate, the U.S. Census estimated the population to be 99,543, and 206,192, on July 1, 2016.

That obviously translated into growth and development. For example, when Saban’s plane landed in 2007, Tuscaloosa didn’t have a Barnes & Noble bookstore. Starbucks could only be found at a stand in the student union or at Target. Now there are so many coffee shops around town that one can sit and watch many of the fast-rising condominiums being built.

From hotels to the new federal courthouse, the changes have been eye-popping. According to the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, Tuscaloosa has seen more than $3 billion in new construction since 2005. Like with the football team there are no signs of slowing down.

“There have been all kinds of business and opportunities that benefit from success on the field,” said Ken Gaddy, Director of the Paul W. Bryant Museum. “Our attendance here reflects that. We can chart it pretty easily, up years and down years.”

3 | The State of Alabama

According to the UA Center for Business and Economic Research, the university had a statewide economic and fiscal impact of $1.8 billion in 2006-07.

In 2015-16, it was $2.597 billion.

The breakdown is as such: 13,217 jobs (up from 9,000), $25.1 million per home football game ($21 million), and $128.3 million in taxes ($71.8 million).

Most of that is specific to the Tuscaloosa area, which gets a financial boost of $19 million for every game at Bryant-Denny Stadium (up from $13.9 million).

The financial windfall was even more extreme considering that Alabama still played some home games at Legion Field in Birmingham until 2003. When the Crimson Tide played only four games at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2000, the economic impact in Tuscaloosa was just $42.2 million ($10.6 million average).

While Crimson Tide football doesn’t rank among the state’s top industries (the Alabama Department of Commerce reports that distinction goes to automakers as for the second straight year more than one million cars and light trucks were produced in 2016), it still stands out:

  • •Alabama football reported $103.9 million in revenue for 2016, with $47.7 million profit — $18.7 million after helping fund nearly all other Crimson Tide sports.
  • • In media rights alone the school made $42.4 million.
  • • In terms of wholesale licensing sales, Alabama went from netting $41 million in 2006-07 to $100 million in 2012-13. It hasn’t been able to match that figure since (it came close with $95 million in 2015-16), and retail sales are usually twice that of their wholesale counterparts.How much of that is a result of Saban?But with Saban in tow Alabama didn’t wait to start construction. Even after bumping capacity from 92,138 to 101,821 when the nation was in a recession, the wait list for season tickets topped 32,000 by the 2014 season with an estimated wait time of 10-12 years.There’s no telling what kind of impact Saban might make by then.“The moment that plane touched down, Tuscaloosa changed.”
  • “I just think the airport scene puts it all into perspective, of who he was and what people thought of him before he even got here,” Seawell said. “But I don’t think they expected like what we’ve had.
  • That’s why Witt told 60 Minutes in 2013 that Saban was the best financial investment the university ever made. Saban received a contract extension in May that will pay him at minimum $7.125 million a year and more than $65 million should he stick around through the 2024 season.
  • Alabama almost certainly would have hired a pretty good coach had Saban turned Moore down. Things like the south end-zone expansion of Bryant-Denny Stadium still probably would have happened eventually.
  • Consequently, the Crimson Tide brand has never been stronger.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

Christopher Walsh

Christopher Walsh

BamaCentral.com (stories appeared on SECCountry.com)

Age: 50

College: New Hampshire

Background: After graduating college I was so determined to be a sports journalist that I rode a 10-speed bike to two part-time jobs, including as the agate clerk of the News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla.  I find myself thinking back to that a lot recently as the last three jobs I’ve had over the past four years the entire staff was let go. So I’ve decided to be my own boss and recently started the first college football site on the Maven platform, BamaCentral.com. Like most things in my life, my career has been somewhat backward as I covered three NFL teams and other pro sports before college football. Since moving to Tuscaloosa in 2004 to cover Alabama I’ve authored 25 books, got married and last season celebrated the birth of our first child, Evelyn. My wife, Megan, also made me have hobbies other than work and hockey, so I started collecting signed first-edition books and record albums (again). What goes around, comes around.

2018 Best Feature, Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com

Comment by the judge: “The sweat and blood – and pain – dripped off this story. It could have been written in a weight room. Great development of a profile on legendary strength coach Dave Redding.”

By Dennis Dodd

CBSSports.com

BUSH ISLAND, Neb. — Sitting before you is the end of political correctness.

On more than one occasion, Dave Redding asks if you want a drink. Never mind that it is early afternoon. Behind the 64-year-old lounging in his favorite chair is a cardboard cut-out of John Wayne.

The Duke almost seems to be looking over the shoulder of a man who reflects his American hero ethic. Everything here on the wide open Great Plains seems to be bigger, broader, more profane.

“If I don’t take any of these pills,” Redding says. “I wouldn’t be able to do any of this shit.”

In other words, to simply live as normally as possible.

Redding is still well enough to play in a front yard populated by a 150-pound French Mastif named Dug and loyal black lab named Jak.

An in-progress wood carving of Lakota warrior Crazy Horse graces his land. Before the day is out, Redding will pull out a Super Bowl ring, a Big Eight conference championship ring, a gold-plated Winchester rifle.

Colorful stories from a career in strength and conditioning are sprinkled with F-bombs. In a quiet moment, the ultimate man’s man curses his fortune.

“I’d do anything,” Redding says quietly, “to have my health.”

But he doesn’t and that sucks. What Dave Redding does have is Parkinson’s Disease. It’s obvious now. The chronic, degenerative neurological disorder is characterized by muscle tremors.

Doctors will say you don’t necessarily die from Parkinson’s. But as symptoms worsen, it can cause choking and falls that lead to death.

Redding has chosen to live with his affliction in quiet dignity out here on the banks of the Platte River.

You need to know Dave Redding and his plight at this moment. For more than three decades, he was a college and NFL strength coach. More than that, he helped invent and refine the profession that is a staple of the modern game.

If you follow or play football, you probably either know him or know of him; if not, shame on you, because you should.

Now retired, the former Nebraska defensive end was the first strength coach at Washington State (1977), Missouri (1978) and for the Cleveland Browns (1982).

For nine teams, the man both sculpted All-Pros and counseled college kids about their deepest fears. The NFL’s strength coach of the year in 2006 is a USA Strength and Conditioning hall of famer.

“You’re the only one on the staff that handles every player every day,” Redding explained. “Even trainers don’t do that. You have to be mother, father, best friend, worst enemy and the fine line between kicking them in the ass and patting them on the back.”

All in the name of bigger, stronger, faster, better.

“He was a wild one,” said Boyd Epley, Nebraska’s assistant athletic director in charge of strength and conditioning. “He wasn’t a choir boy, but he was a lot of fun to be around. Very loyal, very good guy.”

The cabin Redding and his dad built could be a man cave showroom. It’s also so isolated Epley and a couple of buddies got lost trying to find it.

Redding dug the well himself. He and 19 other neighbors own 2,000 acres on what is an actual island in the middle of the Platte.

There are deer, coyotes, bald eagles, turkey, ducks and pheasant. If the reason for his retirement wasn’t so sad, the beauty would make you swear Robert Redford and Brad Pitt were around somewhere in a scene for “A River Runs Through It.”

Redding gets around with the help of crutches — converted Louisville Slugger baseball bats. He even drives. His speech is quiet, sometimes slow, but always convicted.

“It’s hard to be seen like this [going] from cock of the walk,” Redding laments, “from Silverback [gorilla] to cripple.”

Two nephews drop by on a regular basis to check on the  legend nicknamed “Red Man.” Not many other folks call these days.

Around 10 on a regular basis, Redding said. Green Bay Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of them.

Redding says he’s probably had the affliction for 20 years. He was diagnosed in 2004. In 2009, he joined the Packers. Three years later, in 2011, Redding had enough service time to get NFL bridge insurance and was lucky enough to get that Super Bowl ring.

It’s clear there is still more resolve than pity sitting in that comfy chair under John Wayne’s gaze.

“Aaron Rodgers, the first time I saw him, I said, ‘When are you going to drop another nut and lead this team? It’s your team. You gotta start manning up,'” Redding said.

That 2011 season remains Rodgers’ career year — 45 touchdowns, six picks, more than 4,600 passing yards.

Current Packers strength coach Mark Lovat a member of Redding’s inner circle. He visits Bush Island twice a year.

“Dave is my best friend in the world …,” Lovat said. “Dave is real. He would probably be more proud at his building of men than his building of muscles. That sums it up, I would say. Someone paid him that compliment at one time. That’s one of the things he was most proud of.”

Lovat isn’t cavalier calling his friend “a pioneer.”

“He was the man,” USC strength coach Ivan Lewis said, “mystical almost.”

Lewis was a raw intern in 2004 when he saw Redding take over a Chargers’ team that included Drew Brees. The season before, Redding and wide receiver David Boston were involved in what ESPN called “a run-in.”

“Him and I got in a fight,” Redding said flatly. “He wanted to sue me and all that shit.”

Boston was suspended.

Redding’s dad is said to have brought weight training techniques back from Europe during World War II.

George “Crump” Redding coached North Platte (Nebraska) High to the 1962 state championship. Crump and Nebraska legend Bob Devaney were friends.

“This was our dinner table,” Redding said from the kitchen of the cabin. “My dad built this table. Devaney used to be sitting here with all the Nebraska coaches. I was just a kid.

“My mom used to call the state patrol on my dad when Devaney came to town. Devaney used to run the streets with my old man.”

Those emerging strength techniques were refined at Nebraska where Redding was a one-eyed defensive end who played under Devaney, Tom Osborne and Epley, who became the nation’s first paid strength coach in 1969.

“Born without sight in my right eye,” Redding said. “I was a sucker for left hook.”

There apparently have been a few of those. Redding admitted to training punches with pro players he has trained.

But he was always been one to live up to that guy code. One former player sprinted across the field after a game to kiss him. Redding had adhered to the code, refusing to tell the head coach the player had clocked him.

“He never would have had a job in the NFL again had I told,” Redding said. Never mind that “I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t shit, I couldn’t laugh,” because of the pain.

It’s worth asking how Redding would fit into the modern NFL, since he helped shape it.

“I don’t like it,” Redding said. “They keep bitching. They make all these goddamn rules about head shots. You put a weapon on my head. A sophisticated f—– like that, it’s only natural.

“Take your helmet off and see who wants to play football. Take their facemask off.”

Redding points to the top of a stairwell. Hanging there is the leather helmet he played in at North Platte High.

You’ll never see this on a strength coach resume: In 1967, Crump was involved as a community leader luring a Broncos-Raiders AFL exhibition game to North Platte.

Little Dave was punched in the face by a fan trying to retrieve a ball in the stands. That simple act essentially led him to the big time.

The Broncos receivers coach at the time was Sam Rutigliano. Out of instinct, Redding gravitated to the coach’s side on the sideline for safety’s sake.

Fifteen years later, then-Browns coach Sam Rutigliano interviewed Redding for that strength coach job.

“Do you remember that little boy hanging onto your pant leg that day in North Platte?” Redding asked Rutigliano. “That was me.”

Rutigliano cancelled all his interviews and had his strength coach. During his time with the Browns, Redding became not only a witness to The Fumble and The Drive, he was a participant.

Redding became responsible for signaling in plays from the defensive coaches in the box. He claims to have a tape reflecting the complete confusion on the sidelines and in the defensive booth as John Elway worked the Broncos downfield in the 1987 AFC Championship Game.

“People don’t know it, but I’ve still got it in my safe. I’ll sell it to HBO one of these days,” Redding said.

At Missouri, Redding coached hall of famer Kellen Winslow. The quarterback on those teams, Phil Bradley, played in the MLB.

Back then, he was making $3,500 as a glorified position coach without a strength coach title. The philosophy: “Slap it on a wall, see if it sticks. Go like hell.”

You have to understand the politics and power in a weight room.

“You smell them, in every way, when they come in fresh,” Lovat said. “You smell their burps, their farts, their sweat. You get to know them at a raw level. They’re being stressed at a physical way. They kind of reveal themselves to you.”

Redding said he once threatened to walk if former Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas was paid a $250,000 offseason participation bonus. Thomas had missed it by one day.

At that time, Thomas owned the town, the team and hearts of Chiefs fans. He didn’t get his bonus.

“What do you mean you’re going to kick my 52-year-old ass?” he once told one would-be weight room challenger. “I’ve got nothing to lose. You’ve got everything to lose. Let’s go have a beer.”

Bones have literally been broken in those conflicts. But a broken rib Redding is nursing at the moment came from a fall.

That’s what Parkinson’s can do you, too.

Redding sadly reflects on comedian Robin Williams, who committed suicide two years ago after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

“Funniest guy on Earth,” he said quietly. “It f—- you up.”

Redding proudly points to the portraits of his brothers, Bobby and Dan, who he says both died at the age of 37 from AIDS.

Both left the Midwest for Hollywood. Bobby designed album covers and liner notes for the likes of Chicago and Barbara Streisand.

Redding has saved some of their work. It is spectacular.

At the end of this visit, Redding reflects on a life well-lived. Crazy Horse overcame long odds, too. The Indian hero beat Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

This is also the 140th anniversary of Crazy Horse’s surrender and death at the hands of the U.S. military six hours from here in Fort Robinson.

Redding sits at that table his father built and produces that vial of pills he takes to get through the day.

“I’ve got two hours of freedom and two hours of hell to pay,” he says of the medicinal cycle ahead.

At this moment, who cares about political correctness?

Dennis Dodd

Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com

CBSSports.com

Age: 61

College: Missouri

Background: Four decades in the biz have taught me there are no absolutes — except for the Cardinals and Blues. As a native St. Louisan, it is absolutely imperative the Cardinals get to the World Series each year and the Blues win the Stanley Cup — once. I’m going on 50 years and counting as a fan.  Cardinal fan, but a lifer (living in Kanas City).  After stints at the Kansas City Star, St. Louis Sun, The National and Omaha World-Herald, I became an on-line guy in 1998 with CBS SportsLine (now CBSSports.com). This was at a time when some schools questioned whether I/we were supposed to be credentialed. Things got better. In 2018, I celebrated 20 years with the company. I live in a house divided if they ever resurrect the Missouri-Kansas rivalry. My daughter graduated from Missouri and my son is on his way to a journalism degree at Kansas.  On my winning entry: For years, I wanted to write a story on Dave Redding, who is a legendary figure in strength training. When I heard he had Parkinson’s and was living alone, I called to see if I could come see him. About 80 miles west of Lincoln, there he was in a two-story cabin on an island in the Platte River outside Marquette, Nebraska. I have checked on him every few months since I wrote to story. “Red Man” would be pleased his story has resonated.

 

2018 Best Column: Mark Schlabach and Edward Aschoff, ESPN.com

Comment by the judge: “Excellent look in front of the microphone and behind the scenes of the end of the road for Jim McElwain as coach at Florida.”

By Mark Schlabach and Edward Aschoff

ESPN.com

GAINESVILLE, Florida — On Oct. 23, five days before Florida’s annual rivalry game with Georgia, Gators coach Jim McElwain addressed media members during what was supposed to be a routine Monday press conference.

He began by praising the Bulldogs, addressing injuries and offering his continued support for starting quarterback Feleipe Franks. What he said next took Florida officials completely by surprise. In response to a question about his team’s perseverance during a disappointing 3-3 season, he said players had received threats and members of his family had received death threats.

“There’s a lot of hate in this world, and a lot of anger,” McElwain said. “And yet it’s freedom to show it. The hard part is obviously when the threats [are] against your own players, the death threats to your families, the ill will that’s brought upon out there.”

Florida officials were caught off-guard by the remarks, and after meeting with McElwain following Monday’s practice, the university released a statement that raised eyebrows for how it appeared to distance the university from its coach’s remarks: “The University Athletic Association takes the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and families very seriously. Our administration met with Coach McElwain this afternoon, and he offered no additional details.”

The episode was the latest source of tension between McElwain and the administration that multiple sources told ESPN had been brewing since early in his tenure at Florida. Over the course of the past week, ESPN spoke with multiple sources within the Florida administration, as well as those close to McElwain.

They offered details about the sequence of events that led to the third-year head coach and Florida parting ways on Oct. 29, in what UF athletic director Scott Stricklin described as a “mutually agreed-upon decision.” According to these sources, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, what appeared to be a swift resolution to a bizarre week in Gainesville was the culmination of longstanding disputes and disagreements.

Prior to the start of the Georgia game, ESPN reported that Florida officials had begun discussing whether they could fire McElwain for cause as a result of his remarks. Stricklin released a statement addressing reports concerning McElwain’s job status, saying the school had not had any conversations with McElwain or his representatives regarding a buyout of his contract.

Twenty-four hours later, after a 42-7 loss to the Bulldogs, that changed, as the two sides began discussing a mutual separation. The university and McElwain agreed to part ways after school officials asked him to accept less than his $12.76 million buyout and step down as Gators coach. Final terms of the buyout are still being negotiated.

“It was never the right fit,” a Florida source said of McElwain’s head coaching tenure in Gainesville. “It was an odd fit from the beginning. He never embraced being here and being part of a team.”

When UF officials initiated negotiations that Sunday, they advised McElwain’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, that they intended to fire McElwain with cause and believed they did not owe him any part of his buyout because McElwain failed to alert university officials about the alleged threats against players and coaches.

McElwain’s wife was allegedly the recipient of a threatening message on Facebook, and McElwain himself also allegedly received threatening messages but did not provide evidence of them to Florida officials. At least one player allegedly received vulgar and racist messages that resulted in the player’s mother contacting Florida coaches. When pressed by Florida officials to elaborate or provide additional details, McElwain declined. He has told people close to him that he regrets talking about the threats publicly and that he did not want to drag family members, players or staffers into further controversy.

Several days after first making the comments, McElwain met with University of Florida police, according to sources both at Florida and close to McElwain. He informed them that he was fine and did not wish to take further action.

Following the loss to Georgia, McElwain was asked about his comments and said, “When you look back, I’ve made mistakes in my life. And yet I stand by everything that occurred. It is what it is.”

Stricklin addressed the media the following day to explain the decision to part ways with McElwain.

“I appreciate Coach McElwain,” Stricklin said, “the way he has handled this. We had constructive conversations. I like Coach Mac. I think he is a good man. I want to thank him for his time and his effort serving as our football coach.

“This is more than just wins and losses. I’ll leave it at that.”

McElwain ended his tenure as the Gators coach with a 22-12 record and back-to-back SEC East championships. Defensive coordinator Randy Shannon was named interim coach.

When McElwain arrived at Florida after three seasons at Colorado State, he expressed displeasure with the state of the Gators’ football facilities, which had fallen behind those of other SEC programs such as Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M. Florida did not have an indoor practice facility for football until its $17-million facility opened in 2015.

“One of the biggest problems at Florida is that [former head coach] [Steve] Spurrier never asked for anything,” a source said. “He told [former athletic director] [Jeremy] Foley he’d just go beat everybody with less.”

McElwain had pushed the administration for a standalone football facility, just as former Gators coaches Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp had done before him. While these comments irked Foley, sources close to McElwain say he was trying to modernize the program in the image of Alabama, where he had been an offensive coordinator under Nick Saban. The school finally announced a $100-million master facility plan in February, which would also include upgrades to the baseball and softball stadiums.

The new 130,000-square-foot football building, which would cost an estimated $60 million, would have all the bells and whistles that other SEC programs enjoyed. It was scheduled to open in June 2019. However, Florida ran into issues locating an area in which to build the facility because there isn’t much vacant land around Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and the other athletics facilities. A decision was reached to delay construction of the new football facility by a couple of years.

McElwain had butted heads with Foley in his first season at Florida in 2015, and he hoped to start anew in working with Stricklin, who was hired from Mississippi State in September 2016. After Florida’s 30-3 win over Iowa in last season’s Outback Bowl, McElwain was asked what the bowl win meant for the direction of the program. While he mentioned the consecutive SEC East titles and new facilities, his remarks were not well received by people inside the athletic department.

“We’ll look for the commitment that we get from the administration moving forward, see where that’s at,” McElwain said.

At the time, McElwain had recently agreed to a contract extension and a raise with Stricklin, who had been on the job for only two months. Stricklin felt betrayed by McElwain’s comments.

“He was the kind of guy who would pull you close and then rabbit punch you,” a UF source said. “He never let you in and tried to keep you off balance.”

Stricklin believed McElwain had earned a contract extension because he’d guided the Gators to back-to-back SEC East championships, but the administration still had serious concerns about the direction of Florida’s offense and strength and conditioning program.

UF administrators had urged McElwain to turn over the staff in the Gators’ weight room because they believed workouts were unorganized and players weren’t being adequately developed under Mike Kent, the director of strength and conditioning, who had followed McElwain to Florida from Colorado State.

They also wanted McElwain to consider replacing offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who eventually received a contract extension this summer. Nussmeier is one of his closest friends and succeeded McElwain as Alabama’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2012 and spent two seasons there before leaving for Michigan in 2014.

McElwain hired Nussmeier three weeks after he landed the Florida job, and their partnership has been unsuccessful. The Gators ranked 111th in total offense in the FBS in 2015, 116th in ’16 and 112th this season.

The Gators have struggled mightily at quarterback since McElwain’s arrival. Current West Virginia starter Will Grier, who is tied for fourth nationally with 3,068 passing yards and second with 30 touchdowns, was arguably McElwain’s most talented quarterback at Florida, but he transferred after he was hit with a year-long suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. He went 5-0 as Florida’s starter, throwing for 1,204 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.

The inability to develop Franks, a redshirt freshman, has been a major disappointment. ESPN’s No. 65 recruit in the Class of 2016 has struggled all season and has an SEC-low QBR of 48.7, throwing for just 928 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions in eight games.

With the Gators trailing 21-0 at the half in their eventual loss to Georgia, Spurrier walked through the press box and asked a handful of reporters, “What happened to the forward pass?”

Spurrier also lamented Florida’s offensive woes during an interview with The State (South Carolina) newspaper last week.

“The offense has been so bad, everybody knows it,” Spurrier said.

Spurrier, who works as an ambassador and consultant at Florida, offered UF coaches plenty of advice this season. On the morning after Florida’s season-opening 33-17 loss to Michigan, Spurrier walked into a meeting with Nussmeier and the other offensive assistants. He sat down and said, “I have some ideas on how you can throw the ball.”

Spurrier told The State he tried to help as much as he could.

“Oh, yeah, I did that every week or so,” Spurrier said, “just with Nussmeier and his staff, and they look at it. He’s put some of them in. He’s put a few in. I’ll walk through there and give them a play every now [and] then, one or two plays, say, ‘What’d you think about this? This was good for us.’ Sometimes they actually use them, and sometimes it’s foreign to them. Our offense was so much different from what they do here.”

Those close to McElwain insist the coach was not bothered by Spurrier’s presence. But having Foley, his influential and opinionated former boss whom he clashed with at times, still involved as emeritus athletic director was challenging. Multiple sources told ESPN that even though Foley was no longer the AD, it was clear he was still involved in athletic department matters.

Despite the offensive struggles and the internal and external distractions, McElwain still became the first SEC coach to make it to the SEC championship game in each of his first two seasons. He won more games (19) in 2015 and 2016 than any SEC coach not named Nick Saban and tied Spurrier for the second-most victories by a Florida coach in his first two seasons. He was also outscored 58-15 in two games against Florida State and 83-31 in his two SEC title game matchups against Alabama, fueling fan discontent.

McElwain felt underappreciated and bristled at Florida fans’ frustrations about the team’s offense.

“I mean, it’s obviously one of those things that you have to constantly evaluate and get better at,” McElwain said heading into the 2016 SEC title game. “I was also brought in here to get to Atlanta. How many years have I been here? OK.”

Stricklin even came to McElwain’s defense when he sat down with ESPN this spring.

“We’re a Presbyterian game being canceled away from [McElwain] having back-to-back 10-win seasons in his first two years,” Stricklin told ESPN. “I don’t think he gets credit for that. … There’s a lack of appreciation for what he’s done.”

In the end, though, frustration boiled over — a culmination of issues over facilities, on-field performance and, ultimately, McElwain’s recent comments about alleged death threats — and Florida is looking for a new football coach, its fifth since Spurrier retired in 2001.

“There were a lot of issues, and last week was kind of the tipping point of, ‘This was not going to work,'” a UF source said.

Edward Aschoff

Edward Aschoff

Age:  32

College:  University of Florida

Background: Edward grew up in lovely Oxford, Mississippi, with two educators and cooks as parents. His father, the late Peter Aschoff, taught an array of different classes at the University of Mississippi and cooked unbelievable Asian delicacies. His mother, the late Patricia Aschoff, was the director of the Domestic Violence Center in Northeast Mississippi, before becoming a well-respected special education teacher in the Oxford School District. Her fried chicken and mac & cheese were second to none. Edward mostly grew up reading about dinosaurs and stalked around the house imitating his idol — Godzilla. He played soccer and baseball and decided he wanted to become a sports writer after being captivated by the late, great Stuart Scott in middle school. Edward attended the University of Florida from 2004 to 2008. He started covering Florida football, recruiting and UF’s Olympic sports for The Gainesville Sun in 2007. He was hired by ESPN in 2011 to cover SEC football, but has sense been shipped off to Los Angeles to cover college football nationally. You can find some of his work online, but he has taken a new role this season which will plaster his face on TV more, as he joins the immensely talented Marty Smith as a college football reporter for ESPN’s SportsCenter. He chooses to wear suits to every sporting event he covers, even in 95-degree southern heat. Edward lives in the canyon of Echo Park, just north east of downtown LA, and while he doesn’t currently have any children, he thinks his ability to raise an over-stimulated cat for the last nine years has given him all the preparation he needs to eventually welcome a human child into his life. This is the second FWAA writing award he’s received. In 2016, he and Adam Rittenberg won first place for their enterprise story on race in college football, centering on the racist bus incident involving an Oklahoma University fraternity and the powerful, viral response from Sooners linebacker Eric Striker.

Mark Schlabach

Mark Schlabach

AGE: 45

SCHOOL: Georgia

BACKGROUND:  College football columnist and reporter for ESPN.com. He joined ESPN in 2006.  He previously worked nine years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he covered Georgia, the SEC, the NFL and NASCAR and also at the Washington Post for two years where he covered college football and basketball and boxing. Schlabach has authored numerous books, including several New York Times Best Sellers. One of those is “Called to Coach: Reflections on Life, Faith and Football” with former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. He lives in Madison, Ga., with his family.