December 2, 2006

Joe Bama

When the Alabama Crimson Tide returned to the practice field Saturday morning it did so in a rather subdued mood. And why not? For the first time in school history, a bowl-eligible Alabama team entered December without a head coach after Mike Shula was fired on Nov. 26.

So it came as no surprise when the Tide's first workout of the bowl season got off to a solemn start.

The flex period came and went with little in the way of enthusiasm. And then Joe Kines made his on-the-field presence as Alabama's interim head coach felt.

Not that Kines has ever had a problem getting the attention of his players. The elder statesman of the Alabama coaching staff, Kines has the energy (and lungs) of a 23-year-old graduate assistant.

Kines congratulated Prince Hall on the freshman all-america honors bestowed upon the middle linebacker with a terse chewing during Saturday's special teams period.

Hall was not alone. Whether you were a player, assistant coach or manager, you probably heard from Kines during the practice's first 30 minutes. Kines effectively turned what could have been a wake into a wake up call.

It would have been easy for Kines to have mailed it in following Shula's dismissal. After all, the duo have a personal/professional relationship that goes back to Shula's playing days at Alabama. In what was Shula's first show of loyalty to his staff, he stuck with Kines when most fans and media were calling for a change at the defensive coordinator spot following the 2003 season.

While the bond between the two will undoubtedly remain strong, it can't compare to the love Kines has for working with young people. That's why sliding Kines into the interim role was best for all parties involved. Shula's teams lacked inspiration at times, and the last thing this program needed was an uninspired month of practice capped off by a no show in Shreveport.

And let's not kid ourselves, Kines, whose daughter and two grandsons call Tuscaloosa home, would love to be a part of the next coaching staff. Bridging the gap between Shula and the next guy in the classy manner that is Kines' trademark would only enhance the chances of that happening.

For now, though, Kines isn't offering much on his future in the business. He's focused on managing 100-plus players as the Tide prepares for an NCAA-record 54th bowl appearance.

Who knows? Maybe Shula's players would have rallied behind their coach and played lights out in his final game.

As it is, Alabama may not play well in its bowl game, but, under Kines, I'll be shocked if the Tide turns in anything less than an inspired performance.

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