UA's Witt: No regrets about firing Mike Price

Updated: August 6, 2003, 2:51 AM ET

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- University of Alabama president Robert E. Witt said he has no regrets about firing football coach Mike Price and hopes fans will be patient during any "bumps in the road" under Price's successor, Mike Shula.

Witt's comments about the Crimson Tide football program came Monday in an interview with The Associated Press about his first five months at Alabama.

Witt, formerly president of the University of Texas at Arlington, arrived at Alabama on March 1. Within two months he was forced to deal with allegations about Price's night of heavy drinking at a topless bar in Pensacola, Fla. Price had come to Alabama after leading Washington State to this year's Rose Bowl.

Speaking softly and slowly in his wood-paneled conference room, Witt said he has not had any second thoughts about firing Price, who filed a $20 million lawsuit over his dismissal.

"I don't regret the decision," Witt said. "If I have regrets they are tied not to the decision but to the unfortunate consequences for his family, for his sons who moved across the country to be with him. But not the decision."

Price, who has admitted being drunk at the topless bar, has said his actions didn't warrant firing and has called his dismissal at a news conference May 3 a surprise. But Witt said he privately informed Price of his decision shortly before announcing it.

Witt said Shula "inherited a very difficult situation" because of NCAA sanctions stemming from rules violations under former coach Mike DuBose. But Witt expects patience from Alabama fans during what could be some lean years.

"I think there is, on one level, an advantage to having football supporters who are avid and devoted to the program. By and large, they tend to be better informed fans.

"By and large, they know he is starting with a scholarship handicap. I think that will cause the majority of them to understand if there are some bumps in the road, and I believe there will be over the next three years."

While fans can be tough on coaches who lose even a few games in the Southeastern Conference, Witt indicated he would stand by Shula through tough times.

"I believe we have hired an outstanding young football coach and started a coaching dynasty that I'm optimistic will last as long as the coach (Paul) Bryant dynasty," he said.

Athletic director Mal Moore has come under criticism for his handling of the Price scandal, but Witt said Moore's job is secure.

Witt said most of the reaction to Price's dismissal has been positive. He received nearly 700 e-mails and nearly 150 letters about the move within the first week alone.

But Witt also heard from a few critics after firing Price, who was publicly supported by many of the Tide players.

"After the announcement on that Saturday I came back to the office to get some work done and made the mistake of answering the phone," Witt said. "I didn't do that more than once. Basically, as I interpreted the obscenities, he disagreed with the decision."

Although deciding on the future of a football coach may be the most difficult decision for any administrator at Alabama, Witt said it wasn't that difficult deciding what to do about Price's actions.

"It was easy because I believed that it was justified by the facts of the situation. It was easy because I believed the university had to affirm what its values were. It was hard because you were dealing with a human being and his family.

"As I said the day we made the announcement, I believe coach Price is a good coach and a good man. But a terrible mistake was made."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index