Rue's Rant on College Sports in Alabama

September 1, 2009 5:39 PM

Does anybody care about UAB football?

Neil Callaway’s comments were telling.

Any other head football coach coming off two losing seasons in his first two years at a school might be feeling some heat, but not Callaway, despite going 2-10 in 2007 and 4-8 in 2008 at UAB.

The only heat Callaway was feeling Monday during the Blazers’ first media luncheon of the 2009 season was from the bright lights of the video cameras of a few Birmingham television stations.

“There’s always pressure,” Callaway said, “but I think it’s self-inflicted. There’s not any outside pressure.”

Perhaps, that’s because UAB fans are not passionate about their football program and justifiably so. The Blazers have done little in their 18 years, including the past 13 at the Division I-A level (now called the Football Bowl Subdivision, FBS), playing football to make folks care.

They had a chance to create some enthusiasm a few years ago, starting 5-1 in 2004 with the only loss coming to Florida State, but they struggled down the stretch, finishing 7-5. They did earn the school’s only bowl berth in history that season, losing 59-40 to Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl.

The following season UAB opened with a narrow loss at Tennessee, 17-10, and generated some excitement by winning their next three games for a 3-1 start. But they won only two more games and finished the 2005 season with a 5-6 record.

Talk about buzz kill. What followed was even more demoralizing.
The 2006 season was a total disaster. After a 3-3 start, the Blazers lost their final six games to finish 3-9, leading to a nasty divorce with head coach (and athletic director) Watson Brown. Brown disgustedly resigned after 12 seasons, only three with a winning record.

Pat Sullivan, who had been the offensive coordinator under Brown, figured he would be elevated to head coach, but when it became apparent he wasn’t he bolted to take a head coaching job across town at Samford University.

In stepped Callaway, who had never been a head coach before, but had been an assistant at the two schools, Alabama and Auburn, that have made football a religion in the state. Callaway also had been an offensive coordinator at Georgia for six seasons prior to coming to UAB.

Unfortunately, the low-key Callaway was not the kind of dynamic coach who could inflame the passions of the dwindling UAB faithful. Attendance at home games has averaged below 20,000 in his first two seasons, including a mere 16,706 in 2007.

But Callaway is optimistic about 2009, particularly the kind of team that will take the field when UAB plays host to Rice in its opener in a Conference USA game on Saturday at Legion Field in Birmingham.

"We're going to be a much improved football team,” Callaway said, “but at the same time, I think we have a lot of work still to do. We have closed the gap somewhat. We are more athletic this year. We're bigger, stronger, and I think we have more team speed than we've had.

"I remember when we played Michigan State (2007) the first game our staff was here. I asked our guys to stand up if they had ever played in a college football game, and there may have been about a dozen of them. We are certainly past that point now. We're gaining on it, and we're heading in the right direction.”

Whether anybody notices and joins them on the journey remains to be seen.

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