Gottfried ready to unwind, move on

January, 29, 2009

Mark Gottfried went on a field trip with his fifth-grade son to a science center Wednesday.

"I had a blast," Gottfried said Thursday.

Thursday afternoon, Gottfried was in line with all the other parents for an afternoon pickup at the elementary school. How often has that happened during his 10-plus years as coach at Alabama?

"Not in the afternoon," Gottfried said.

Less than a week removed from his resignation, Gottfried is at peace with the decision. He said he and athletic director Mal Moore talked over the weekend and came to the mutual understanding that a change was needed. Who initiated the conversation? Gottfried said he did, but "it's not important. We sat down, we visited and came to that conclusion."

Gottfried refused to be negative about his "resignation." He said he has and will have zero negative things to say about Alabama. He played for the Tide for four years, coached for 10-plus years and "loved the place."

"We had some tough luck recently," Gottfried said. "We weren't as good the past year, and that's my responsibility. I hold my head high. But I want to coach again."

Gottfried said he stands by his record of one Elite Eight, two SEC West championships and, he said, seeing 26 out of 27 seniors who finished their eligibility with him graduate.

"I want to be aggressive [in a coaching search]," Gottfried said. "I have a passion to coach. I'll evaluate every opportunity, but at this point I'm still recovering."

Gottfried said he encouraged assistant and good friend Philip Pearson to take over for him once Pearson was asked to do so Monday. He told him to "coach your butt off and learn from the experience. I told him to put your stamp on it. I told every player to play their butt off."

Gottfried said any issue with Ronald Steele, who stopped playing because of plantar fasciitis, is dead. There were reports that Steele didn't want to come back from the injury because of Gottfried, but these haven't been substantiated.

Gottfried acknowledged that a mid-season coaching move is a trend.

"It's what's happening; you can't deny it," Gottfried said, hours after fellow SEC coach Dennis Felton of Georgia was fired. "We like to think we're different than professional basketball. We're becoming a lot more aligned."

SEC commisioner Mike Slive said he doesn't see it that way.

"I don't see a trend. I think it's very hard to evaluate what a particular institution is doing at a particular time," he said. "Do I have an overall view? My first reaction was, what impact does it have on the student-athletes? Did the coach and the institution come to a mutual understanding? How does it affect the student-athletes?"

• Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins said that he doesn't think athletic directors would make a mid-season coaching move without having the financial resources for a buyout in place. He said the money can come from annuities that are tucked away for a rainy day instead of from buyout money that must be sought from boosters. But he also said none of these decisions to terminate come from the AD alone. He said the president has to be involved every step of the way.

Perkins said athletic directors who make these moves are looking to get ahead of the coaching search. He said athletic directors aren't supposed to talk to coaches during the season but the process gets started through coaching searches.

"College athletics has become a big business and the pressure of winning is part of it," Perkins said. "The decisions now are business decisions, and ultimately, as an athletic director, you're responsible for balancing the books. If you look across the country there are a lot of empty seats in arenas. But you shouldn't fire someone unless you have someone who can change the program."

Memphis coach John Calipari, who was fired early in a season with the New Jersey Nets, said the firing of a college coach in the middle of the conference season can have a lasting effect on a team.

"You're dealing with young people, and you don't know the effect that it will have on them," Calipari said.

• Miami's Frank Haith and VCU's Anthony Grant are expected to be candidates at both SEC openings. UAB's Mike Davis, an Alabama alumnus, would take the job if offered, according to a source close to Davis.

• Minnesota's Tubby Smith made it clear in the local papers in Minneapolis that he intends to stay put despite reports that the SEC schools and Arizona could come calling.

• Kansas' Cole Aldrich broke his nose against Nebraska, but KU officials don't expect him to miss any games.

• Bracket Buster day announcements will come out Monday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU. The home-road determinations have already been made for the Feb. 20-21 games. A select number of teams from the America East, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, MEAC, Missouri Valley, OVC, Patriot, Southern, Summit, West Coast and WAC are participating. The key is to find matchups between potential NCAA-tournament teams. They may not make or break a bid, but it could help in the selection process.

Here are my suggestions for the games that should happen:

Butler at Davidson: The kings of the Horizon League and the Southern Conference, respectively. These two teams should get into the NCAAs, regardless of winning the conference tournament.

Utah State at Saint Mary's: This would pit the leader of the WAC that few in the country know about against one of the top two teams in the WCC. Gonzaga doesn't participate in the event, so this is the perfect matchup for Utah State to get some national recognition.

Northeastern at Siena: The Huskies are the class of the CAA at this juncture, having beaten VCU on the road and taken out George Mason at home. Siena is unblemished in the MAAC. This may sound regional, but these are two teams that have enough talented scorers to win a first-round NCAA game.

A few undercard suggestions:

Northern Iowa at Long Beach State: No need to scoff at this one. The Panthers are leading the Missouri Valley, but it's not like they are a national name. This game would pit the two leaders of two conferences -- the Valley and the Big West.

Cleveland State at Portland State: This is a bit of a logistical reach, but you can pit two upset-minded programs, both Vikings, against each other. Cleveland State won at Syracuse, while Portland State won at Gonzaga.

Bradley at UIC: A solid in-state matchup.

Illinois State at Nevada: The Redbirds have slid, but you can't go wrong playing the Wolf Pack in Reno for a quality matchup.

Boise State at San Diego: The Broncos are below Utah State and the Toreros a step below the Gaels and Zags, so this makes sense.

Buffalo at Vermont: The Bulls may be the best squad in the MAC, but the problem is finding a quality road team for them to play. This is a regional matchup against a Vermont team that has enough talent to win the America East.

VCU at Creighton: The Bluejays have dropped lately, but this would still give the Rams a tough road game against a name opponent.

George Mason at BU: The Terriers are on a roll and deserve a decent opponent. George Mason would fit the criteria.

Morgan State at Drexel: Todd Bozeman's crew upset Maryland and could win the MEAC against the surging Dragons in the CAA.

• Oklahoma sophomore forward and leading national player of the year candidate Blake Griffin does his own mailbag on the Sooners' Web site. He's quick with his wit. Keaton Homer of Eagle River, Alaska, asked him a question, and Griffin's response was: "Wow, a question all the way from Alaska. I've always wondered … can you see Russia from there?"

• At least one former infractions-committee member told me that the fact that others were on the conference calls that Kelvin Sampson had with recruits will make it hard for him to prove that he was wronged in his appeal. And while Sampson came out and said he doesn't want to coach again in college, the consensus is that another institution wouldn't touch him within the five-year show-cause. Athletic directors and presidents don't want to mess with having to defend a hire and see what sanctions would follow to a committee on infractions.

• The NCAA confirmed that Gene Keady can't be on the selection committee for the newly created postseason tournament and the NIT. The battle for teams between this venture and the CBI for the teams not selected by the NIT could get very interesting.

• Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell said he isn't putting a must-win tag on the weekend's home stand against Washington and Washington State. But he fully understands how critical these two games are to the Wildcats' chances of getting back into at-large status. Arizona still has wins over Gonzaga and Kansas that will carry weight in a potential at-large situation if it can right itself quickly from its 2-5 Pac-10 start.

• Looks like I won't have to eat crow on Providence and Villanova. I have said on the air and here in this space how much PC and Villanova needed to win a quality game against a Big East team that is a lock for the NCAAs. PC got its win against Syracuse, while Villanova beat Pitt.

• Georgetown's slide to 3-5 after losing at Cincinnati raises similar questions to Notre Dame at 3-5. Watching Georgetown, one would think there is no way the Hoyas don't deserve to be in the NCAA tournament. But the Hoyas will still need to win more games. Georgetown has lost four in a row and plays at Marquette on Saturday. So the slide could hit six. Road games at Syracuse and Villanova remain, too. The Hoyas may need to get to 10-8 to feel safer about a potential bid.

• The Nick Calathes-Jodie Meeks SEC player of the year race should be quite a chase. Calathes put up a triple-double for Florida in the Gators' win over Georgia, which ended the reign of Dennis Felton. Calathes scored 20 points, grabbed 13 boards and dished out 10 assists.

• Doesn't it feel like Florida State always plays North Carolina and Duke tough in Tallahassee but has one devil of a time beating either in the final possession?

• Saint Joseph's continued its usual undefeated run in the A-10 after a subpar nonconference schedule. The Hawks beat Richmond on Wednesday.

• Missouri can't be expected to beat all similar teams in the Big 12. But the Tigers probably can't afford to lose by 16 to Kansas State if they want to be taken seriously for a bid, unless they start knocking off Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.

• Nebraska coach Doc Sadler looked positively drained after the Huskers couldn't get past Kansas with a few chances late in the game. Teams like the Huskers get few opportunities for statement wins like they had Wednesday.

• Can we stop hyping a No. 1 team's losing when it falls to a team that was just ranked No. 1? Wake Forest was No. 1. The Demon Deacons beat No. 1 Duke. Wake also beat North Carolina. So Wake's beating a No. 1 team shouldn't be hailed as some monumental event.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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