Former Alabama head coach Mike Shula is being mentioned as a possible candidate for the Florida Gators offensive coordinator position. Yesterday, right after Charlie Weis surprised everyone and took the Kansas Jayhawks open head coaching job, Florida coach Will Muschamp said he’d waste no time and get someone who understood the schemes of the SEC.
Before you start laughing, consider that Shula’s acumen as an offensive coach and quarterbacks mentor is well known in NFL circles. Even in some of the darkest days of Alabama’s journey through the sanctions wilderness, Shula was still able to recruit fairly well and develop decent quarterbacks. Two of Alabama’s most pedestrian signal callers—John Parker Wilson and Greg McElroy—both went on to have undefeated regular seasons (after Shula was dismissed). Both are currently on NFL rosters. Also, Shula had Alabama right in the midst of a pitched recruiting battle for Tim Tebow. Had Shula not been the coach at Alabama, that battle wouldn’t have been as close as it was, and from every legitimate indication, it was very, very close.
By the way, look which rookie quarterback is setting the NFL on fire each week. That’s Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers, where Shula is currently serving as the QB’s coach.
On the flip side, you’re always taking a risk when you hire a former head coach as an assistant, especially if you are a younger head coach and you’re hiring a guy known for stubbornness and a big ego. Of all the traits Mike Shula inherited from Don Shula, those last two were probably what sealed his fate.
As evidence of Shula’s creativeness and stubbornness, I provide exhibit A, the Jumbo Package. The play was designed by Shula for use in short yardage and goal line situations and used three backs behind the QB, two blocking backs and a ball carrier. Initially, the play enjoyed success, especially against defenses that hadn’t seen it or were simply not physical enough to handle the additional blocking back. But as always, SEC defenses adjusted to it and instead of trying different plays out of the formation or abandoning it altogether, Shula stubbornly called the play over and over again, until it became a sad joke.
Something else that might scare the Gators off of him—team discipline, conditioning and coaching staff cohesion were constant sources of distraction during Shula’s tenure. Some of that stemmed from being forced to take risks on some recruits. Some of it stemmed from youth and inexperience running a big-time program. But while Shula’s coaching skills are probably as good as any skill-player developer out there, his ability to assert discipline and stay in control is still very much an issue.