Dubose deserves his second chance

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 9, 2002

Sports Columnist

A year and a half doesn’t seem like such a long time in the grand scheme of things. But when you’ve spent that amount of time away from something you love, something that has been such a meaningful part of your life, for the majority of your life, it seems like forever.

Mike Dubose can tell you something about how that feels.

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He returns this year to the game that has meant so much to him since his boy hood days in Covington County. He expressed in a recent interview, after being named head coach at Northview High, the difficulty he had watching football games last year despite his great love for the game. Not because of any bitterness over his unceremonious dismissal from the head coaching position at the University of Alabama but because he missed it so much.

I recall how difficult it was to go to a game and merely sit in the stands that first year after I ended my high school playing days. I was not a star ­ far from it ­ but even I found it very difficult to be that far from the action. No longer a participant, but an observer. I can only imagine the agony that someone with as successful a football career as Mike Dubose must have gone through.

Yes, I said successful.

His personal and professional shortcomings of his last few years in Tuscaloosa notwithstanding, Mike Dubose’s life has been one of tremendous success in the game of football.

A defensive standout for the Opp Bobcats, he was recruited and signed by none other that Paul "Bear" Bryant to play linebacker for the Crimson Tide. Originally given the No. 57, he coveted the legendary No. 54 previously worn by All-American Lee Roy Jordan, a jersey Bear reserved for only the best. Dubose was awarded the jersey in his junior year and set about proving he was worthy of it.

During the early 70s, the Bama teams Dubose played on went 32-4 while winning three SEC championships and one national title. For his part, Dubose had 129 tackles, 71 assists, and 26 tackles behind the line during his 3 years with the Tide. He is tied for fifth all time in career tackles behind the line and career fumbles caused, and second in career recoveries.

His success didn’t cease with his playing days either. After coaching in the high school ranks and later as a college assistant, Dubose returned to Alabama as a defensive line coach under Ray Perkins then as defensive coordinator under Gene Stallings. Since his return to Alabama in 1990 his defenses were ranked at least eighth in the nation against the run four times, including the country’s best 55 yards a game in the Tide’s national title year of 1992.

Dubose coached five NFL first round picks in Emanuel King, Jon Hand, Cornelius Bennett, John Copeland, and Eric Curry. Bennett and Curry finished in the top 10 for the Heisman Trophy.

Yet, after all that success, all those impressive stats, even being named SEC Working Coach of the Year in ’91 and ’94 and SEC Coach of the Year in ’99, there are those out there, and more than a few, who think the folks at Northview High are nuts for hiring this guy. They refuse to put the disastrous 2000 season where it belongs ­ in the past ­ as Dubose wants so desperately to do.

Alabama fans and detractors alike will, unfortunately, most likely always remember his tenure in terms of recruiting violations and an extra-marital affair. Many of them said "good riddance" after his 2000 team fell completely apart amid scandal and rumors of impending NCAA sanctions.

But let’s face it, the off-field shenanigans weren’t what ended Dubose’s "dream job" at Alabama. It was the fact that he lost, and lost often, that last season. If it were the other things he would have been fired soon after those things surfaced. The unfair part is that Dubose was the one saddled with all the blame.

There were signs all along of the Tide’s collapse. In-fighting, favoritism among the players, divisiveness among the coaching staff ­ all led up to the wheels eventually coming off.

Mike Dubose didn’t suddenly forget how to coach one year after being named the best coach in the best conference in the country. His downfall probably was, after years of being an assistant coach, not dealing with the disciplinary problems that had cropped up within the locker room he was now the man in charge of.

And whether you choose to believe it or not, Dubose is likely not responsible for the NCAA violations that took place during his head coaching stint. Look all you want and I don’t believe you will find Mike Dubose implicated in any of the infractions that got Alabama in the mess it’s in today. You will find boosters and assistant coaches named but again it points to a lack of discipline and loyalty among the staff as a whole.

It’s time to leave the man alone and let him get back to what he’s good at ­ really good at ­ coaching football. Northview, which went winless last season, is tickled pink to have him and they reportedly have more players going out for spring training because of it. Gene Stallings, the man who knows first-hand what kind of coach Dubose is, gave Northview a glowing recommendation, saying he would hire him in a minute if he was still coaching.

Mike Dubose, from all indications, is at peace with himself and is ready to resume his coaching career. Let’s let him coach and judge him on that.