Commentary

Kiffin not first to endure sanctions

Originally Published: June 10, 2010
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

The dawn of Friday will bring the first full day of the rest of USC coach Lane Kiffin's career. Kiffin left Tennessee for an all-you-can-eat Trojan Buffet only to discover that he must survive on 15 scholarships a year for the next three years. Talk about your subsistence diets.

Living with scholarship cuts and bowl bans is as severe as the NCAA intended. Coaches who have endured under those conditions say there are steps that Kiffin and his staff can take that will numb the pain. But it won't go away. Here are the biggest issues:

Bye-Bye Blue Chips

[+] EnlargeMike Shula
AP Photo/Butch DillLane Kiffin can learn something from the Mike Shula era at Alabama.

In 2002, the NCAA stripped Alabama of 21 scholarships and banned the Crimson Tide from the postseason for two years as well. Kansas defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt, who coached at Alabama on Mike Shula's staff from 2003 to '06, said the bowl ban will handicap USC's ability to bring in the top recruits.

"They want to play big-time bowl games and be on TV and reap all the benefits of all that glamour," Wyatt said. "That was the biggest deal we had to overcome. You're going against Florida and LSU and Auburn. They could go to a bowl game and you can't. You try to sell the tradition. You say, 'By your sophomore year, we'll be going back to bowl games.'"

That wasn't enough.

"We could get the good players that you could develop," Wyatt said. "You couldn't get that top-notch guy. They would listen to you. They would visit because of the name 'Alabama.' When it came down to it, they would go somewhere where they had a chance to play a big-time bowl game."

Hello Squatters

Pete Carroll rejuvenated USC by dominating recruiting in the Los Angeles area. Kiffin is going to have to fight a lot of rival coaches coming on to his home turf. During Alabama's two probations over the past 15 years, LSU signed All-American quarterback JaMarcus Russell and All-SEC corner Chevis Jackson out of Mobile.

Tennessee came across the border and signed such stars as quarterback Tee Martin, guard Fred Weary, corner Jason Allen, defensive tackle Arron Sears and wideout Jayson Swain.

Tennessee spokesman John Painter recalled Allen and Swain both saying they would have gone to Alabama were it not for the NCAA probation.

Choose Carefully

NCAA Committee on Infractions Chair Paul Dee served as athletic director at Miami when the NCAA imposed a penalty of 31 scholarships and a two-year bowl ban on the Hurricanes.

"Whenever you limit scholarships, you frankly limit the chances of making mistakes," Dee said. "You have to be extremely careful in your recruiting and only bring in the right people that are going to be able to help you."

SMU Director of Operations Randy Ross served on Gene Stallings' staff at Alabama when the NCAA penalized the Crimson Tide in the mid-1990s.

"We tried to be real sensitive about what issues would make them leave," Ross said. The coaches looked for solid citizens, kids who didn't have girlfriend issues, wouldn't have discipline problems and would make their grades. In 1995 and 1996, Alabama signed corner Fernando Bryant, offensive tackle Chris Samuels and running back Shaun Alexander. All went on to become All-Americans or first-round draft choices.

Recruit For Talent, Not For Need

[+] EnlargeLe'Ron McClain
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesLe'Ron McClain was one of several future Pro Bowlers that Alabama produced while under sanctions.

Most head coaches try to apportion their 25 signees by position. When you have only 15 signees, it seems easy. There are nine position groups. You dock every group one player and do the best you can.

It's not that simple.

"You have to sign a quarterback every year," said Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator Dave Rader, who ran the Alabama offense under Shula. "You've got to have your two groups of linemen. You get a guy hurt, you're really thin where you need to be thick."

VMI head coach Sparky Woods came to Alabama with Mike Price after the 2002 season and remained for four seasons under Shula. Before the 2003 signing date, he said, everyone knew that Tuscaloosa native Le'Ron McClain would be a great fullback. But Price's offense didn't need a fullback.

Sign by position? "You don't have that luxury," Woods said. "You have to have 22 who can play."

The question went around the room of coaches.

"Who wants to give up a scholarship for the fullback?" Woods recalled. Two assistants said no. Who gave one up?

"I was coaching tight ends," Woods said. "It was me. He was right there in town."

McClain is a three-year veteran on the Baltimore Ravens and two-time Pro Bowl selection.

Compliance: Friend or Foe?

The job of the compliance officer in the athletic department is to see that the coaches and the administrators understand the NCAA manual and adhere to it. After Alabama came so close to receiving the death penalty in 2002, Woods said that the compliance officers got so scared they forced Shula's staff to live by the letter of the law.

"I want that compliance person to help me, not break the rules, but I want him to help me do the things I want to do within the rules," Woods said. "The compliance person became the sheriff. He just told you, 'No, no, no.' When problems come up, you want, 'You can't do it that way but you can do this.'"

The Biggest Long-Term Effect: You Won't Survive

Fans understand intellectually that the scholarship cuts will take their toll. Emotionally, they don't care.

"Fans and administrators have a short memory," Rader said. "It becomes very, very difficult. Right now, everybody says, 'This is hard.' In a season, it's forgotten. 'Why didn't you win?'"

Shula, with only 77 scholarship players, led Alabama to 10 wins in 2005. The following season, the scholarship cuts had worked their way to the oldest classes. Alabama had little in the way of senior leadership. The Crimson Tide went 6-6 in the regular season and Shula got fired before the bowl game.

"It's hard for a coaching staff to overcome problems and come out the back end," Woods said. "Now that we're off probation, nobody wanted to hear about it anymore. They had to seize the moment, which they did."

In came Nick Saban. Three years later, Alabama won the national championship.

"They brought in a new coach and they won with our senior class," Woods said.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com