By Jess Nicholas
March 15, 2015
Sometime over the last week, Anthony Grant’s job went from being safe for the 2015-2016 season, to being over.
Make no mistake about it: Until Alabama fans got behind a last-minute effort to convince Athletic Director Bill Battle to make a change, a change was probably not in the cards. But after Alabama got bounced in the first round of the SEC tournament and fans who had lived through six years of Grant’s tenure – with only one, single-round NCAA Tournament appearance to show for it – put the pressure on, Battle had no other choice.
It’s a sad moment for Alabama basketball, because success on the court was really the only thing Anthony Grant lacked. There were never any complaints about behavior, NCAA trouble or poor graduation rates. He was a good ambassador for the school and conducted himself with class.
But Alabama also made the NCAA tournament only once, and the direction of the program had picked up a decidedly stale flavor. It wasn’t that Grant didn’t recruit well enough – although he wasn’t lights-out by comparison, either – it was that Alabama never developed its players, especially its big men. Grant’s teams could be counted on for solid guard play outside and a walking disaster inside.
But Grant also failed to deliver on something that needed to be done and still needs to be done – program-building. Grant never put any effort into marketing Alabama basketball, despite it having a decent history with which to market. And it didn’t help Grant’s cause that Bruce Pearl, perhaps the king of program marketing, has brought his traveling road show to cross-state Auburn.
It also certainly didn’t help Grant that Auburn went on a run deep into the SEC tournament before ultimately falling to the nation’s best team, Kentucky.
There were a myriad of other issues that ultimately brought down Grant, perhaps chief among them the decision to push Trevor Lacey away from the program. Lacey ended up at North Carolina State, coached by Grant’s predecessor, Mark Gottfried, and blossomed. With Lacey on the 2014-2015 Alabama team, the Crimson Tide might very well have made the NCAA Tournament and saved Grant’s job.
The issue for the next coach, whoever it will be, is that the so-callled “Power 5” conferences aren’t being patient anymore in regards to their revenue sports. It’s one thing to not be competitive against the Kentuckys, Dukes and Ohio States of the sport; it’s another to not be able to compete with mid-major (or smaller) schools. There is simply too much money in and around today’s game, too much pressure from television partners to put a good product on the court.
The SEC as a whole (with the exception of Kentucky, of course) has slipped in recent years. Even Florida’s program has begun to flail at shadows a bit. But while Alabama has traditionally been the SEC’s second-best program to the Wildcats, the last 20 years shook up the pecking order, and the Crimson Tide has fallen from its former perch.
It’s interesting, therefore, the outpouring of fan angst these past couple of weeks, and their effect on the evaluation process of Grant’s job. Had Alabama fans simply stayed away, or quietly moved on to spring football with just some nominal grousing, Anthony Grant would all but certainly have been invited back for a seventh go-round. But Alabama fans have showed some unexpected – but much-appreciated – fire over the state of their program, and it may very well have caught the program brass off-guard.
So where does Alabama go from here? Unlike the football program, Alabama’s basketball program can’t command the attention of the best coaches in the sport, unless they’re so motivated by money that Alabama can throw enough of it at them to draw a look. Alabama will likely have to take a chance on a former head coach with issues (Ben Howland, Rick Stansbury), this year’s hot mid-major name (Gregg Marshall, Archie Miller) or an assistant from the college or pro level looking for his first big break.
Whatever direction Alabama chooses, at least Alabama is choosing a different path from the one it was previously traveling. While Anthony Grant deserves a proper send-off, he simply didn’t deserve to continue to pilot the ship.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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