Before we get too far into 2010 (that's "Twenty Ten," not "Two-Thousand Ten") and into the next decade of the 21st Century, I want to look back at the 00s and give you my list of the Top 10 College Sports Stories of the Decade in Alabama.
Of course, the football programs at Alabama and Auburn dominated the storylines, but not always on the field.
Without further ado, here's my list.
1. Alabama hires Nick Saban: Saban repeatedly denied he was leaving the NFL's Miami Dolphins to return to coaching college football a few years after he led LSU to a national championship. Alabama thought it had an agreement with Rich Rodriguez, but after he spurned the Crimson Tide to remain at West Virginia (turned out to be for only one more season before he bolted to Michigan), the Tide landed Saban. He was their first choice all along after it had fired Mike Shula at the end of the 2006 season. Now, in his third season, Saban has a 32-8 record at Alabama and has the Tide playing for the national title.
2. Tommy Tuberville resigns: Tuberville had enjoyed remarkable success at Auburn, compiling an 85-40 in 10 season with the Tigers, including a 13-0 record in 2004 when the Tigers finished No. 2 in the nation and won the Southeastern Conference title for the first time in 15 years. He also put together a six-year winning steak against arch-rival Alabama, but when Auburn slipped to 5-7 in 2008 and was routed 36-0 at the end by the Tide, Tuberville stunned the Auburn faithful by resigning.
3. Alabama advances to the BCS Championship Game: After going 12-0 during the 2008 regular season and being ranked No. 1, the Tide lost to Florida in the SEC Championship Game and to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. That only gave Saban and the Tide added incentive for the 2009 season and they turned their disappointing finish in 2008 into a perfect 13-0 season, including a 32-13 spanking of Florida in the SEC title game, to earn a berth in the national championship game against Texas Thursday in Pasadena, Calif. If the Tide beats the Longhorns, this story could join the Saban hiring as co-No. 1.
4. Auburn's Jetgate: Two days before Auburn played Alabama at the end of the 2003 regular season, Auburn athletic director David Housel and school president William Walker boarded a jet and flew to Louisville, ostensibly to lure Bobby Petrino to the Plains to replace Tuberville. But when word leaked out about the trip, the resulting controversy led to Housel's retirement as AD and Walker's resignation. Tuberville, then in his fifth season, survived.
5. Mark Ingram wins the Heisman: In its storied football history, Alabama had never had a Heisman Trophy winner, but that changed when Ingram, a sophomore running back, captured the 2009 award in the closest vote ever. Ingram set Alabama's single-season rushing record with 1,542 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and scored 18 touchdowns. With the exception of Auburn (a 30-yard rushing performance), he came up big in the Tide's biggest games, including rushing for 113 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries and catching two passes for 76 yards in the SEC Championship Game against Florida. His heartwarming, teary-eyed, emotional acceptance speech still resonates.
6. Mike Price fired without coaching a game at Alabama: When Coach Dennis Franchione unceremoniously left Alabama without even talking to his players to accept the head coaching job at Texas A&M at the end of the 2002 season, the Tide lured Price away from Washington State. But his penchant for loose living and a trip to a strip club in Pensacola, Fla., embarrassed the school and cost Price his job after only four months - before he ever coached a game. Alabama brought in Mike Shula as head coach to save face.
7. Alabama's problems with the NCAA: In 2002, the Tide was placed on five years' probation, and also hit with a two-year bowl ban and heavy scholarship reductions because of a recruiting scandal in which boosters were accused of paying money for high school players. The violations occurred under former coaches Mike DuBose and Gene Stallings. The main focus of the NCAA investigation was an allegation that booster Logan Young agreed to give the coach of Memphis defensive lineman Albert Means $115,000 to get Means to sign with Alabama. Then in 2009, 16 Alabama athletic teams were placed on three years' probation for their involvement in improperly obtaining free textbooks for other students and the football team was ordered to vacate 21 wins between the 2005 and 2007 seasons. Seven football players were named in Textbooksgate. Alabama appealed the NCAA ruling to vacate the wins, but no decision has been made on the appeal.
8. Auburn finishes 13-0 in 2004, but not No.1: A year after he had almost been dumped, Tuberville guided Auburn to an undefeated season, including a 16-13 victory against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Future NFL running backs Carnell "Cadillac" Williams (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Ronnie Brown (Miami Dolphins) and Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell were the offensive stars and current Tigers' head coach Gene Chizik was the defensive coordinator. But because Auburn seemingly came out of nowhere, they didn't get to play for the national championship because the convoluted BCS rankings matched USC (rightly so) against (undeserving) Oklahoma.
9. Auburn wins six consecutive Iron Bowls: While Alabama was beset by NCAA probation and a seemingly never-ending coaching carousel, the Tigers took over as the No. 1 football program in the state. They dominated their arch-rivals, winning six consecutive Iron Bowls from 2002-2007, their longest winning streak in the rivalry. It included three wins in Tuscaloosa at the Tide's Bryant-Denny Stadium.
- Alabama hires Anthony Grant as basketball coach in March 2009. He became the school's first black head coach in a major sport.
- Head football coach Dennis Franchione leaves Alabama after two only seasons for Texas A&M (see No. 6 above).
- Auburn hires Gene Chizik to replace Tuberville, despite Chizik having a 5-19 record in two years as head coach at Iowa State.
- Alabama reaches the Elite Eight in the 2004 NCAA Tournament for the first time before eventual men's basketball national champion Connecticut ended the run
- Mark Gottfried resigns as Alabama's basketball coach, leaving in the middle of his 11th season in 2009.