NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Brandon Deadrick won't show you the scar. In fact, Alabama's senior defensive lineman doesn't know what all the fuss is about anyway.
Five days before the beginning of Alabama's season, Deadrick was shot in the hip during a robbery attempt. Two days later, he was back at practice. On opening night, he played a handful of snaps against Virginia Tech and went on to start nine games in 2009.
"I don't know why everybody should be so depressed after being shot," Deadrick said. "I feel you should be happy that you didn't die."
Either Deadrick is the toughest SOB in pads or he's a slam dunk for a unique job, if Alabama ever decides to create it: 'Bama football historian, 21st century division. That which has not killed the program lately has made it stronger. Literally, it turns out.
And there have been more than a few self-inflicted wounds in Tuscaloosa lately.
While it has been 17 years since Alabama won a national championship, the past 10 years have been some of the most shameful, disheartening and lawless in the program's glorious history. If the 2000s were a race, Alabama football was running uphill run through the mud with weighted boots in the rain.
On the field, Auburn punked the Tide for six consecutive years. There were non-conference losses to the likes of Central Florida (2000), Hawaii (2003) and Louisiana-Monroe (2007). Mere flesh wounds, Deadrick might call them. The real hard stuff came off the field. There were five coaches in an eight-year span -- six if you count interim Joe Kines.
Coaches came and went at such a dizzying pace that the likes of former receiver Matt Caddell became alumni and survivors. Caddell committed to Dennis Franchione, was a part of the team under Mike Price and played for both Mike Shula and Nick Saban.
"You want some kind of consistency being a college player," said Caddell, whose last season was 2007. "You kind of get recruited all over again [after coaches leave]. I still wanted to go to Alabama."
As did scores of prospects who ignored two scarlet letters from the NCAA (two major football probations in the decade) and paid more attention to the other scarlet letter. The script "A" that stands for Alabama football.
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Only recently have the skies cleared with the Tide finally getting up that hill to the BCS title game Thursday against Texas. Credit AD Mal Moore for being the guy to hire the guy. Credit Saban for clearing the decks of muck so quickly.
But before that, blame Alabama a lot for being Alabama.
Who could forget the immortal words of former NCAA infractions committee chairman Tom Yeager, who reminded Alabamans everywhere their program was "staring down the barrel of a loaded gun" in 2002. That's code for the NCAA considering giving Alabama the Big Haircut, eliminating football because the school was a repeat rules violator.
By all accounts, former Memphis high school coach Lynn Lang was dealing in human trafficking, auctioning off talented defensive lineman Albert Means to the highest bidder. Alabama booster Logan Young bit, allegedly paying $150,000 to Lang for the coach to steer him to Alabama.
Before the case was over, the NCAA had been sued, the FBI was involved and Alabama suffered the loss of 21 scholarships along with a two-year bowl ban.
The program was more outraged than ashamed. Of course, it appealed. And of course, it lost.
Even now, two days away from playing Texas, Alabama is on NCAA probation for a case involving the misuse of textbooks. Again, it is appealing the vacating of 21 victories from 2005-2007. Alabama's NCAA violations have been so frequent lately the American Football Coaches Association officials found themselves explaining why Alabama should be in the coaches' poll.
"Alabama was really over the abyss," noted author and Alabama historian Keith Dunnavant said. "It very nearly fell into this free-falling existence of a former power. It was very much in the situation that Oklahoma was in before Bob Stoops. You have to ask yourself the question, how many more chances were they going to get?"
|Alabama is 25-2 the past two years under Nick Saban. (US Presswire)|
"You either ball up or [give] up," Deadrick crowed Tuesday at media day. "I manned up. A program like Alabama is not going to stay down long."
Under Saban, the Tide are 25-2 the past two seasons. While scandal hasn't evaporated altogether, it's no longer a main talking point. Those who knew him say nice things about Shula -- the roster contains about 20 seniors he recruited -- but everybody knows Saban was the missing ingredient.
There are only a handful of schools that could turn things around so quickly. Oklahoma went from the worst coach in its history, John Blake, to a national title in two years under Stoops. Florida did the same, getting to a championship in two years after hiring Urban Meyer.
But neither of those programs is under the constant, everyday scrutiny as much as Alabama. Almost 28 years after his death, coaches still try to live up to Bear Bryant's legacy. Gene Stallings provided the only national title post-Bear in 1992. He was run out after seven years. It still bothers Caddell that Franchione couldn't stand the noses pressed up against the window. Coach Fran, who wanted everyone to pull on the same rope, left without telling his players.
"He didn't give an explanation," Caddell said. "That was the hurtful part of the situation."
Price had his date with destiny. Shula followed. He could assemble talent but couldn't take the next step.
"You wondered if you were ever going to climb out of the bottom of the barrel playing in the Independence Bowl," linebacker Cory Reamer said. "I couldn't imagine then if we would be sitting in California playing for the national championship.
We've been on probation so many times, I can't remember ... That was a long time ago, it seems like forever. We've been through so many coaches."
Thursday, then, is less about how the program sunk so low and more about how it got to here. In three short years, Alabama has gone from 7-6 in Saban's first season to the brink of another national championship.
"If you look a little bit deeper, the untold savior of the Alabama program is the tradition itself," said Dunnavant, who ought to know. He is debuting a new website (CrimsonReplay.com) that will deal in nothing but Alabama history.
"The tradition is very much an intangible and yet a source of tremendous strength. The inherent power of the Alabama program is so many people care about it. Without that, there would not have been a Saban."
Former coach Bill Curry has said it on more than one occasion. There will always be great players and there will always be top coaches at Alabama. Lately, it's just been a matter of uniting the two at the same time.
"If you're good, you're good," said the toughest SOB historian in recent times at Alabama. "It really doesn't matter if your coach leaves or not. [Alabama's] always going to come back."
Brandon Deadrick, scar still hidden, was not smiling.