SEC 2000-10: Mike Price's Trip to Pensacola (2003)

It had already been more than a decade since Alabama's last national championship when, after the 2002 season, head coach Dennis Franchione bolted for Texas A&M and the Tide decided to go West -- very, very West --

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EARLIER TODAY:  What a Decade It's Been
to find its new leader. The university settled on Mike Price, the head coach who had guided Washington State to two Rose Bowls. To say it was a fateful choice would be something of an understatement.

Five months later, Price was fired without having coached a single game in Tuscaloosa. In between was a story that included strippers, Sports Illustrated and the largest to-go room service order in recorded human history. Even now, there's dispute about exactly what happened during a golfing visit to Pensacola that ended Price's "career" at Alabama.

The story started out bizarre -- Price had allegedly spent the evening with two women, one a stripper named Destiny and one of whom spent $1,000 on room service and asked for it to go -- and quickly dissolved into the ridiculous. The Associated Press dispatched a reporter to a strip club in Idaho to ask if Price had frequented that establishment while coaching at Washington State. ("He would have stood out like a sore thumb" was the reply.)

Price denied the most explosive allegations -- including accusations that he had sex with two women in his hotel room -- in the Sports Illustrated story that marked the beginning of the end of his time at Alabama. He later sued the magazine, which settled out of court without either side publicly budging on its version of events.

When Price was unsurprisingly canned, he somehow found the nerve to hold a self-righteous press conference blasting the university's decision.

I've asked President Witt for a second chance, and he declined. What ever happened to a second chance in life? ... I wanted to make something positive out of this negative. I really truly believed that the University of Alabama is bigger and better than this, that we could have overcome this. ...

In football, I call them teaching opportunities. "Here's an opportunity to do this son." And this I felt like was an opportunity for the University. I don't feel like the punishment meets the crime. I strongly feel that I was the man that could have put this behind us. I think President Witt is making a mistake. He's not breaking the law, but he's making an error in judgment. ...

I'll tell you what, I don't know if you remember four months ago, but I think you felt like I came here as a man of dignity and class. And I'm going to go out as a man of dignity and class.

For some reason, he declined to take questions.

Price would eventually land at UTEP, where the Miners have gone 34-38 in his six seasons. (In fairness, that's pretty good for them, and UTEP defeated Houston this year while five of its eight losses came by a touchdown or less.)

Alabama officials were left with only four months to find a football coach before the beginning of the 2003 season. They settled on Mike Shula, son of the legendary pro coach Don and a former Alabama quarterback who went 24-11-1 as a starter. Shula was just 26-23 in his four years in Tuscaloosa, with just one winning season (2005, 10-2).

Most of us know what happened after that. Risking his reputation, Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore lobbied then-Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban to take over at the Capstone. It will be Saban who leads the Tide to Pasadena in January for a chance at its first national title of the BCS era.

Overall, not a bad trade for one of the worst scandals in the university's history.

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