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Witt: Price warned before trip about his behavior

Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Mike Price was fired by Alabama without coaching a single game because of behavior including a night at a topless bar -- another embarrassment for a once-proud football team.

University president Robert Witt said Saturday that Price failed to live his "personal and professional life in a manner consistent with university policies."

Price, hired away from Washington State in December, lost his job because of his conduct on a trip to Florida last month for a pro-am golf tournament. Witt disclosed for the first time that Price was warned before that trip about his public behavior.

"To the university and the entire 'Bama Nation, I admit making mistakes and at times inappropriate behavior, but I also ask for your forgiveness," Price said.

I don't think the punishment fits the crime. I strongly feel that I was the man that could have put this behind us. I think President Witt is making a mistake.
Mike Price

He isn't the only college coach whose conduct away from games has been under scrutiny. Iowa State men's basketball coach Larry Eustachy was suspended last week for being photographed at a student party after an away game. The school's athletic director recommended that Eustachy be fired.

Alabama has won six national football championships, but it can't seem to keep a coach lately and is under NCAA probation.

Reports emerged during the week that Price spent hundreds of dollars at a topless bar and, the next morning, a woman ordered about $1,000 of room service and charged it to his hotel bill.

The 57-year-old Price, his wife and the two sons he hired for the Alabama coaching staff sat with the media for a brief public session with university trustees Saturday.

After Witt announced the firing, a tearful Price was alternately apologetic and defiant in speaking to an auditorium packed with reporters and fans. He said he asked Witt for a second chance, but the president declined.

"I don't think the punishment fits the crime," Price said. "I strongly feel that I was the man that could have put this behind us. I think President Witt is making a mistake. He's not breaking the law, but he's making an error in judgment."

Witt called Price "a great coach, a good man," but the president added that Price failed to live up to responsibilities that come with the job of head coach at Alabama.

Before trustees went behind closed doors, pleas were made to retain Price.

"Everybody makes mistakes," quarterback Brodie Croyle said. "You can rest assured it won't happen again." He later hinted some players might transfer.

The previous coach, Dennis Franchione, left abruptly after last season for Texas A&M. The team's probation stems from rules violations under coach Mike DuBose, who was forced out in 2000 during a 3-8 season.

Price led Washington State to consecutive 10-win seasons and a Rose Bowl berth last season. He was to have been Alabama's sixth head coach since Bear Bryant retired after the 1982 season.

The late Bryant set the standard -- and lofty expectations -- for all future Alabama football coaches, winning five AP national championships and establishing a since-broken record for Division I victories.

The only other Alabama coach to win a national title was Gene Stallings in 1992.

With Price clearly in trouble this week, and the program in turmoil, there has been talk among Alabama fans that Stallings might be called on to take over on an interim basis.

Witt denied that, though, saying he will meet with athletic director Mal Moore on Sunday to begin the search process.

Price agreed to a seven-year contract worth $10 million with Alabama but never signed it. The deal had a clause saying he could be fired for any behavior "that brings (the) employee into public disrepute, contempt, scandal, or ridicule or that reflects unfavorably upon the reputation or the high moral or ethical standards of the University."

The gregarious Price brought a new feel after Franchione's businesslike approach, ending some practices with trick plays, including having 300-pound linemen throw downfield to other linemen.

When Price was hired by Alabama, he immediately showed deference to Bryant's legacy while emphasizing his own style.

"I want to be the second-best coach in the history of Alabama football," Price said then. "If I could do that, I think that would be wonderful. It probably isn't going to be done the way Papa did it, the way Coach Bryant did it. It's going to be the way I do it. To walk on the same sidelines that he walked is a huge honor."

Price never got the chance.

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