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May 26, 2012

Hard to pick UA's Coach of the Year

Sometimes when there is no controversy, it's best not to create one. Still, it's fun to at least speculate on tough questions - and in the wake of this weekend, it's hard to think of a tougher one than this.

Who would be the University of Alabama's Coach of the Year for the 2011-2012 school year?

The bar has never been set so high. Three UA programs - football, gymnastics and women's golf - already have national championship hardware, and two more - softball and men's golf - still have better than a fighting chance.

That would be five nominees: Nick Saban, Sarah Patterson, Mic Potter, Patrick Murphy and Jay Seawell - in a sort of Academy Award Best Performance By A Coach In A Starring Role scenario.

And perhaps we should just take the Meryl Streep approach and say that to be nominated is to win (and to recognize that some excellent performances by Jenny Mainz and Anthony Grant and others missed the nominations because of the national title hurdle).

It is futile to debate which sport is "tougher" to win, and while we aren't talking about a career achievement award, it's worth noting that several of the programs have been built from the ground up - or rebuilt, in the case of football on a glorious foundation that was starting to creak and totter.

It is also worth noting that in every case, football and gymnastics, golf and softball, the UA administration has supplied the necessary tools.

A decade ago, the golf programs were dodging mountain goats at the old Harry Pritchett University Course. Today, the facilities are excellent, and while there is a lot more to winning than having a nice facility, it certainly doesn't hurt.

Furthermore, there is so much involved in "coaching" that it is hard to narrow it down. Is it the seasonlong honing of a gymnastics routine?

Is it six weeks of strategy and preparation that led to the undressing - wait, let's change that to "exposing" - no, let's just say the rematch win against LSU?

Is it a simple moment like Potter walking alongside Stephanie Meadow as she struggled through a five-bogey start on Friday's final NCAA Championship round, calming her nerves and correcting her putting to put her in a position to contribute to a title. It's all coaching, after all.

While the coach award is almost impossible to give, the Best Director honor clearly goes to Mal Moore. Not every sport at Alabama is performing at NCAA-championship level, but whether it is a "new" facility for women's basketball (technically, Foster Auditorium isn't new, but might as well be) or a new coach for swimming, UA is trying to upgrade every sport to that level. (Many eyes are watching to see what will be done to bring baseball back into Omaha contention.) Clearly, this year's three titles show that Moore understands the formula.

It may take a couple of weeks before this can officially be proclaimed the "best" athletic year ever at Alabama. But it is hard to think of a year with more outstanding coaching performances.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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