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Stallings’ Legacy Remains Incomplete

November 26, 1996

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) _ The callers to Gene Stallings’ weekly radio talk show sounded more like they were praising a war hero than saying goodbye to a football coach.

One caller _ from Auburn of all places _ thanked Stallings for his ``seven years of loyal service.″ Another said the state of Alabama wouldn’t be the same without such a great leader.

There’s no doubt Stallings was a success on the field, but he will also be judged on where the program stands in a year or two, when the sting of probation and scholarship reductions really start to hit the Crimson Tide.

The only black mark in the Stallings era came in 1995, when the NCAA put Alabama on its first probation for its handling of the Antonio Langham eligibility case. The program lost nearly half its scholarships over a two-year period.

Before his retirement announcement, Stallings admitted the reductions hurt his recruiting, which could affect the program the next few years.

``We’ve gone two years with 11 and 15 scholarships,″ he said. ``That makes a difference. For example ... we needed a quarterback _ we like to bring one in every year _ but with four already on scholarship we couldn’t address that.″

Stallings’ grind-it-out formula doesn’t put a premium on the aerial shows of quarterbacks, and blue-chip prep passers may be reluctant to sign with Alabama unless the new coach makes a significant shift in offensive philosophy.

But in the short run, the effects of the probation could be worse if athletic director Bob Bockrath goes outside the system to hire a coach who likes to pass. Because of the light recruiting years, and Stallings’ priorities, a Rick Neuheisel or Butch Davis will almost be forced to wait a few years before fully implementing their systems.

Freddie Kitchens, whose so-so year got a lot better after the Auburn win, will probably return as the starting quarterback no matter who the coach is.

He’ll be backed up by option quarterback Warren Foust and sophomore John David Phillips, who Stallings touted all year but rarely played.

They’ll be working with a corps of good but not spectacular receivers and two solid running backs in Dennis Riddle and Shaun Alexander.

At first, the new coach will have to depend on a good defense to keep the team in games.

This year’s unit is ranked sixth in the country in total defense. It will lose between four and seven key players, depending on what underclassmen Dwayne Rudd, Michael Myers and Fernando Bryant do _ a decision that could be affected by who Bockrath picks to succeed Stallings.

``It’s going to be hard for me to stay until my senior season if they bring in someone from outside the coaching staff,″ Bryant said, echoing the thoughts of some other underclassmen.

But the unit should have enough solid players to remain tough thanks in part to Stallings’ recruiting focus and the system installed by defensive coordinator Mike Dubose, one of the in-house candidates for the job.

``The cupboard is in pretty good shape,″ Stallings said. ``I wouldn’t leave it any other way.″

On his radio show, Stallings said his talk about retiring last season was real. Alabama’s season-long appeal of the probation took its toll and he had become tired of the controversy.

But the coach told listeners he wouldn’t have felt right about leaving with things on shaky footing after last season.

Then he got a call from another admirer who said he and his buddies had taken to calling the departing coach ``Bear Junior.″

Stallings, whose .817 winning percentage is second only to Bear Bryant’s, said he didn’t deserve that kind of praise. But no matter what happens after he leaves, it was the loyalty he showed _ and the wins he produced _ that easily made him the most popular coach since Bryant left in 1982.

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