Alabama fires Shula, names Kines interim coach

Updated: November 28, 2006, 9:50 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Long famed for titles, bowls and Bear Bryant, Alabama is gaining a reputation for something far less complimentary: coaching turnover and turmoil.

Ivan Maisel: Ebbing Tide
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Shula took an impossible job, replacing a scandalized Mike Price in May 2003. He went 26-23 while trying to rebuild a roster depleted by NCAA penalties. Shula, hired by Alabama despite his lack of head coaching experience, didn't learn quickly enough to suit his employer. He couldn't overcome his poor record against the Tide's archrivals. His last victory over Auburn came in 1985, when he played quarterback.

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"It's what Alabama is known for right now," defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. "One day we're going to find the right fit who's going to come in here and turn the program around."

The Crimson Tide are once again in the market for a head coach, their fourth in six years, after athletic director Mal Moore announced Mike Shula's firing on Monday. Moore said he would look for a "proven winner" and that defensive coordinator Joe Kines would serve as interim coach for the bowl-eligible Tide.

Alabama thought for a time it had the right fit with Shula. While he had no previous head coaching experience, he was a former Crimson Tide quarterback and heir to a famous pro football name. And the Tide rewarded Shula with a lucrative new contract following last year's 10-2 season, clearly believing things were looking up heading into his fourth year.

Mike Shula
AP Photo/Butch DillMike Shula was 0-4 against Auburn during his tenure at Alabama.

But a 6-6 season, ending in three straight losses -- to SEC weakling Mississippi State along with LSU and Auburn, two Western Division rivals Shula never could beat -- signaled the end. Shula was a combined 0-for-8 against LSU and Auburn and is the only Tide coach to lose four straight to Auburn.

Moore and university president Robert Witt decided late Sunday afternoon to fire Shula and start over again.

Moore praised Shula on Monday for providing "stability for our program through four years of NCAA probation" that ends Feb. 1, 2007.

"However, we did not make progress on the field this season and have not been able to maintain the positive momentum necessary to return Alabama football to a place among college football's elite programs," Moore said.

Moore didn't name any potential candidates but said he was beginning a national search. The most high-profile names on Tide fans' wish list -- South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and the Miami Dolphins' Nick Saban -- both said Monday they were staying put. Tuesday, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino also took his name out of the hat, saying he's not a candidate anywhere.

"They're aiming high on this thing," a source close to the situation told ESPN.com's Pat Forde.

The same source shot down speculation that Alabama spent the last week covertly scouting out its next coach and waited to fire Shula until locking in on his successor. The Crimson Tide is not in position to name a new coach at this point and has not been conducting interviews with candidates.

Mike Shula's Record at Alabama
Year
W
L
Bowl Result
2003
4
9
None
2004
6
6
Music City: L 20-16 vs. Minnesota
2005
10
2
Cotton: W 13-10 vs. Texas Tech
2006
6
6
TBA
Totals
26
23
1-1

"We're not at that stage yet," the source said.

Said Moore, "I have not talked with any coach, but that process will begin in the next day or so."

Meanwhile, Kines said he hopes the school gets to go to a bowl this season.

"This group wants to go," he said.

Shula, 41, said he was "deeply disappointed" in Moore's decision. He maintained he left Alabama in better shape than the program he inherited, which was weakened by NCAA sanctions, when he replaced a fired Mike Price in May 2003.

"From my very first day on this job, I had a single mission: To return the Crimson Tide to its place among the elite programs in college football," he said in a statement. "Although I maintain that we were moving steadily in that direction, I regret sincerely that I will not be given the opportunity to finish the job I was hired to do."

Shula's six-paragraph statement was partly defiant but mostly complimentary of Alabama and the players. It concluded with "Roll Tide."

That 10-win season, he said, "was no fluke, it was evidence of a program on the rise."

Moore said he and Shula discussed the status of the program during the season, but the coach's fate wasn't decided until a meeting with Witt and school trustees late Sunday afternoon. He didn't inform Shula of the decision until after the coach had already spoken to his players that evening.

"His leadership has provided our program with much-needed stability during the past four years, and we appreciate that, as our coach, he has demonstrated impeccable character and class in every way," Witt said in a written statement. He attended an afternoon news conference but did not speak or field questions.

Shula, who went 26-23 in four seasons, started his first head coaching job in difficult fashion. He took over the proud but troubled program less than four months before the 2003 season after Price was fired following spring practice for his off-the-field behavior -- mainly a night of drinking at a Pensacola, Fla., strip club. Price got the job after Dennis Franchione bolted for Texas A&M after just two years.

Moore spoke to the players about Shula's firing at noon Monday. Shula was not present.

Moore said most of the candidates would likely be coaching in bowl games, and that the search could take a while.

"I will respect their ability to work with their teams," he said. "This will take time."

Shula, son of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, spent 15 years as an NFL assistant before he took the Alabama job.

He received a new six-year contract in May worth $1.55 million per year. The deal extended his contract two years through early 2012, with a raise of $650,000 plus a $200,000 signing bonus. The buyout tab comes to some $4 million.

The firing of Shula means Alabama is looking for a head coach for the fourth time since 2000. The Tide has had seven coaches in the 24 years since legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's last season in 1982. Bryant had directed the Alabama program for 25 years.

Center Antoine Caldwell seemed bemused that his coach could be fired so soon after that successful 2005 season.

"I just feel like coach Shula had everything in place," Caldwell said. "I feel like he had complete, 100 percent control of this football team. I feel like he had our program on track. It's almost like we didn't go 10-2, we didn't finish ranked No. 8 in the country -- like that didn't even happen."

The 62-year-old Kines has experience as an interim coach for a Southeastern Conference program. He held the same post at Arkansas after the Razorbacks fired Jack Crowe one game into the 1992 season, going 3-6-1.

Tide players said he won't let them be distracted or lax in their workouts.

"Coach Kines is one of the most respected coaches we've got on our staff," Caldwell said. "The guys are going to follow his lead. When Coach Kines talks, you listen."

Kines' defenses have been one of the strong points for the Tide in recent seasons. Alabama led the nation in scoring defense last season and had been No. 2 in total defense two straight years.

He had to replace seven starters this season, including All-America linebacker DeMeco Ryans, but still guided the defense to top 5 league rankings against both the pass and the run.

The Tide are scheduled to return to the practice field on Saturday and would receive one of the SEC's eight bowl bids if the league places two teams in the Bowl Championship Series.

The likely postseason destination if that happens is the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

Kines addressed the team on Monday.

"There's probably every emotion known to man running through their minds," he said. "But the one thing about young people is they're real resilient. They'll go where the leadership takes them."

ESPN.com senior writer Pat Forde and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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