Mark Gottfried Dropped By Alabama: Program Moves Ahead With Coaching Search

Matt ScaliciCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2009

There aren't many cases where the dismissal of an 11th-year head coach is utterly predictable and expected, but Mark Gottfried's recent departure from Alabama is one of them.

While Gottfried's tenure as the Crimson Tide's head basketball coach was a long one, and at times a successful one, the embattled coach had completely lost the support of the Alabama fanbase before the 2008-09 season even began. Heading into the season, it was not a question of if but when he would be fired.

Many believed that barring a miracle run in the NCAA Tournament, Gottfried would be dismissed at the end of the season, but the departure of senior point guard and former All-American Ronald Steele accelerated Gottfried's demise.

Steele, who has battled injuries throughout his career at Alabama, was perhaps the most heralded player ever to sign with Alabama during Gottfried's tenure. The Birmingham native led his high school team to two state titles and became the first junior ever to win the title of "Mr. Basketball" in the state of Alabama.

Steele quickly lived up to his high school hype at Alabama, setting a new school record for assists in a single game (18) as a true freshman.

But as Steele's injuries and surgeries began to mount, Tide fans became increasingly frustrated with the team's inability to succeed without its star point guard.

After a magical run to the Elite Eight in 2004, Gottfried's teams weren't able to sustain the same level of success on the national stage, making an early exit in the 2005 tournament with a shocking loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, followed by a near miss in the second round in 2006 against UCLA.

Beginning with the 2006-07 season, Gottfried's teams seemed to be cursed with bad luck, from season-ending injuries for Steele to dramatic personal life issues for star forward Jermareo Davidson.

Gottfried was faced with a number of obstacles in his final two-and-a-half seasons at Alabama but was unable to overcome any of them, and as his team seemed headed for its third straight season without an NCAA Tournament berth, the decision for athletic director Mal Moore was a relatively easy one.

Gottfried will ultimately be known as a coach that took his alma mater further into the NCAA Tournament than it had ever been before but was unable to maintain the kind of consistent success needed to build a nationally respected program.

If and when Alabama basketball is able to reach that next level, it will be Mark Gottfried who should be credited with helping the fans and the athletic department understand that Alabama was capable of reaching it.


Top Candidates

This coaching search will be the first basketball coaching search of the modern era for a school that has always put their focus on football. Mal Moore was able to secure one of the biggest coaching hires in the history of college football when he reeled in Nick Saban from the Miami Dolphins. Will he be able to pull off a similar feat for his new basketball coach?

Most believe that Alabama's sights are set a little lower. In the world of college basketball, Alabama is hardly considered a prestigious job, and while the salary would likely be generous, there are a number of challenges that come with the job.

Alabama's basketball facilities are average at best, certainly among the bottom half of the SEC, and while the sport is gaining momentum in the state, football will always be king in Alabama, and most of the state's best athletes continue to choose the gridiron over the hardwood.

For now Alabama appears to have set its sights on three splashy but not overwhelmingly impressive candidates: Anthony Grant from Virginia Commonwealth, Tubby Smith from Minnesota, and Mike Davis from UAB.

Grant, a former Billy Donovan assistant, has led VCU to two strong seasons, including a classic upset against Duke in the NCAA Tournament. Grant was believed to be Florida's choice to replace Donovan during his brief flirtation with the NBA.

Smith made his name at Kentucky, where he led the Wildcats to their most recent national title, and his experience in the SEC in unsurpassed by any head coach working today. Smith would likely command a hefty salary and would be tough to pull away from a Big Ten program where he's beginning to have success.

As a former Alabama player and assistant coach, Davis is an easily identifiable candidate. Davis has already had great success recruiting in the state of Alabama, pulling some of the state's top talent away from Alabama and Auburn, and his experience at Indiana, albeit ultimately unsuccessful, should have him prepared for playing on the national stage.

Other candidates that have been mentioned in connection with Alabama thus far include Missouri head coach Mike Anderson, who brought UAB back to national prominence, Sean Miller, who has had consistent success at Xavier, and Brad Stevens, who may be one of the hottest young coaches in the country after leading Butler to a 48-5 record in his first year and a half on the job.

In hiring its new basketball coach, Alabama won't be looking to make the same kind of statement it made when it hired Nick Saban to head its football program. Right now Alabama's mission is a simple one: Show the fans, recruits, and the rest of the SEC that Alabama is willing to take basketball seriously and make a commitment to having a winning program.