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Paying a high Price

National | No wonder one of the University of Alabama's mascots is an elephant.

Issue: "Cool hot spots," May 17, 2003

No wonder one of the University of Alabama's mascots is an elephant. Recent times at the Capstone have more closely resembled a circus than a football program. Or a soap opera. Call it As the Tide Turns. Officially, head football coach Mike Price's record at Alabama was 0-0. But that doesn't mean it was uneventful.

In December, Alabama coach Dennis Franchione spurned the Crimson Tide after a short tenure and left for the head coaching position at Texas A&M. Many pundits reasoned Mr. Franchione left Tuscaloosa because of the school's troubles with the NCAA. Turned down by a number of coaches, Alabama finally introduced former Washington State coach Mike Price as the Crimson Tide's next coach. He promised to become the second-greatest coach in Tide history, winning over fans immediately with his deference to former Crimson Tide boss Bear Bryant, who has achieved mythic stature in Alabama.

But Mr. Price failed to win over the school's administration. Reports surfaced of the coach buying students drinks and visiting Tuscaloosa strip clubs, and the athletic department warned Mr. Price several times to tone down his conduct. Then on a trip to Pensacola, Fla., Mr. Price, a husband and father of three, visited a strip club and brought a woman back to his hotel. The woman charged $1,000 of room service to the coach's account.

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That was enough for university president Robert Witt, who went against public sentiment and fired Mr. Price, who found himself not only out of a job, but also out of $10 million. The fallen coach had not yet signed his contract.

Alabama fans, who have a keen sense of history, may remember the early months of 2003 as the darkest times for the program. But the hurting probably isn't over for Alabama. As long as each new coach is judged next to the memory of The Bear, they're set up for failure. But who knew Mr. Price would fall so quickly?

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