After a 4-9 season to start his head coaching career in 2003, Mike Shula led Alabama to a bowl game in his second season. But the final 6-6 record was nothing to crow about.
Over the years, Alabama coaches have generally had success in their third seasons. An infamous exception was J.B. “Ears” Whitworth, who lasted only three seasons, the last 2-7-1 in a 4-24-2 career. But at least he made it three years. Dennis Franchione seemed on track to have a nice Crimson Tide career after going 10-2 in his second year. But before he could get to Year III he was on the run, getting out of town under dark of dawn to take a job at Texas A&M and leave behind the players he had convinced to be true to the Tide.
As for Mike Price...
But Wallace Wade’s third season was 1925. Alabama went 9-0 in regular season play and became the first Southern team to go to the Rose Bowl, where the Crimson Tide upset Washington, 20-19, to claim the national championship.
Gene Stallings had an equally good third year. His 1992 Crimson Tide went 12-0 in regular season play, then went to the Sugar Bowl to take on number one ranked Miami. When Bama crushed the Hurricanes, 34-13, it was national championship time again in Tuscaloosa.
Mike DuBose had easily his best season in his third year, going 10-3 (including wins over Florida in the Swamp and against Steve Spurrier’s Gators again in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game).
Bill Curry had a 10-2 season in his third and final year and also won the SEC title. He was so thrilled he took a walk in the woods and then decided he could be a better coach at Kentucky.
Ray Perkins gave Alabama its first losing season in over a quarter century when he coached Bama to a 5-6 record in his second year, but he had a nice rebound with a 9-2-1 mark in his third season.
Frank Thomas had a tough act to follow. After Wallace Wade won the national championship with another 10-0 season, including a 24-0 win over Washington State in the Rose Bowl, Thomas had three losses in his first two seasons. But two of them were to Tennessee and one to Georgia Tech. It was important that Thomas beat those two and he did it in his third year when Bama went 7-1-1 and won the first SEC championship.
Red Drew had a so-so third year in a so-so career. Following Frank Thomas, Drew went 6-3-1 in 1949, his third year, and would have an eight-year career record of 45-28-7.
The greatest and most famous of them all, Paul Bryant, returned to Alabama following the Whitworth debacle. It was perhaps the toughest situation any new Crimson Tide coach had been in. In his third season, 1960, the Tide went 8-1-2 and was soon headed for national championships.
The difficulty Bryant faced may have been topped when Mike Shula was tapped to be Alabama’s head coach in May, 2003. The results were almost predictable. But a two-year record of 10-15 hasn’t stopped the pundits from picking Bama relatively high in pre-season polls. The so-called experts think Shula’s third team could be among the nation’s top 25, maybe much higher.
Only three teams on the 2005 Alabama schedule are against teams that are certain to be more highly-ranked than Bama–Florida, Tennessee, and LSU. And all three are in Tuscaloosa. Some polls will have Auburn ahead of the Tide, but the Tigers have the most severe losses of any team in the nation.
No one could accuse Shula of having lived a charmed life as head coach of the Tide. It is well-documented that Alabama was badly bitten by the injury bug in 2004. Early indications are that some of those stars–quarterback Brodie Croyle, halfback Kenneth Darby, fullback Tim Castille most notably–will be full speed in 2005.
And so it is not unreasonable to expect the third season to be the charm for Mike Shula.