State of the Capstone: The contrast between the Alabama and Auburn basketball programs in 2019

After four long seasons, averaging just over 18 wins per season, Alabama parted ways with head coach Avery Johnson two weeks ago and brought in former Buffalo head coach Nate Oats. Alabama essentially fired a coach who was coaching in the NBA in 2012-13, for a coach who was coaching at Romulus High School in 2012-13.

While, there are obvious unparalleled differences between high school, college, and the NBA, Oats appears more suited for the Alabama job than Avery was. When Avery Johnson was hired in the spring of 2015, there was an abundance of joy, as most Crimson Tide fans – including myself – thought that by hiring a former NBA Coach of the Year, it would bring immediate success to the Capstone. Four years later, Alabama’s hoops program is only baby steps ahead of where it was in January 2015, while Auburn will play in its first Final Four in school history this weekend.

Many thought that Alabama made a move to fire Anthony Grant in 2015 due to the fact that Bruce Pearl’s rise in the SEC was imminent, and a Tigers’ run to the semifinals of the SEC tournament before falling to then-undefeated Kentucky was the first sneak peak.

We’ll fast forward to a few years later and we’ve washed our hands clean of another head coach, while Pearl has taken Auburn to greater heights than the program has seen before. There is a small contingent of fans that wanted to see Pearl hired as Alabama’s coach in 2014, or at least they now venture as to wish in hindsight.

The truth is that no Alabama supporter would truly admit that they were an advocate for Bruce Pearl to come to Tuscaloosa in the spring of 2014. The maligned former-Vols head coach was coming off a three-year show-cause penalty that cause the coach to sit out of coaching for three years. When Auburn hired Pearl in March of 2014, the coach technically was not allowed to recruit for the first five months, as his show-cause penalty did not end until August 23, 2014.

At that point in time, Auburn appeared in a win at all cost mode, which is the mode that Alabama would like for their program to be in at the moment. The Tigers’ program was in such shambles from the Lebo/Barbee eras that it took Pearl three years to hit his stride and make the NCAA tournament, but  now the show is on the road.

There were certain Alabama fans that wanted athletic director Greg Byrne to hire his own Pearl-like hire and go after Rick Pitino, another coach that was recently exiled from college hoops by the NCAA a couple of years ago. The name Thad Matta came up as well, as some wanted to see the Tide hire the two-time Final Four coach.

In the end, Alabama made a good hire, but one that still leaves a question mark. Much of the SEC has now hired proven, successful coaches who have won at the highest level, while many will obviously say that the verdict is still out on Alabama and the Oats hire, primarily because of the bad taste still left in Alabama fans’ mouths over how the Anthony Grant era ended.

Grant was hired from mid-major Virginia Commonwealth and he and the Tide had success early in his tenure, advancing to the 2011 NIT championship before falling to Wichita State and making the 2012 NCAA tournament, falling to Creighton in the first round.

However, Grant was unable to build and sustain any momentum, missing the NCAA tournament in his final three seasons in Tuscaloosa. The same seemed to happen with the last coach, Avery Johnson, as he seemed to be stuck on 18 regular season wins for four years. After making the 2018 NCAA tournament and defeating Virginia Tech for Alabama’s first tournament win since 2006, the Tide appeared to be trending in the right direction. That is until the late-season swoon this past year, and having senior Donta Hall come out and question the team’s commitment and drive, followed by an opposing Norfolk State player stating that he noticed a lack of energy from the Crimson Tide in warm-ups.

Alabama fans wanted the administration to pull a Pearl and risk it all for guaranteed success, but instead, the Tide got Oats. I am, by no means, stating that I have not been an advocate for Oats all season, had Alabama indeed made a coaching change, but just by hearing murmurs from around the program, Alabama was starved for a sure-thing hire they were supposed to be getting when hiring Avery, but will have to wait a little longer to see how the Oats era kicks off in Tuscaloosa.

Oats advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons, beating 4-seed and popular Final Four pick Arizona in 2018 and defeating former Buffalo head coach Bobby Hurley, who gave Oats his first job as an assistant, before falling to Texas Tech, an eventual Final Four team. The 6-seed was the highest seed ever awarded to a Mid-American Conference team before, as the Bulls finished the season 32-4 and won the MAC regular season and tournament, while spending most of the season ranked in the Top 25.

Meanwhile, Auburn is on a runaway train and gaining momentum with each win, while the Tide program has been left behind for miles, to be only a speck in the rear view. Each round that the Tigers advance in the tournament makes Tide fans’ nightmare get worse. What happens if Auburn wins the national championship? One can only imagine. For more articles you might enjoy, check out this link.

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