Gottfried proves American dream still alive

Former Alabama basketball coach Mark Gottfried wakes up today amazed that he's coaching again.

Neil Diamond sang about it. So did James Brown. Mark Twain wrote about it, as have countless others.

America is the land of opportunity, where a little hard work can send you well on your way to a better life.

In the case of Mark Gottfried, however, you can drive a basketball program into the ground and find yourself the head man in the ACC a few years later…to the tune of a cool $1 Million+ per year.

In their quest to achieve the unachievable, N.C. State named Gottfried their head coach on Tuesday. The Wolfpack’s relentless pursuit of Duke, North Carolina and, well, everybody else in the ACC landed them with who some say was their fifth choice for the job.

If the Wolfpack wanted to make sure they’d never be able to apply or break the press, or adjust to something unexpected that the opposition throws at them, they’ve got their man.

At Alabama Gottfried was a respectable 216-138, just shy of a 64% winning percentage. His highlight at Bama was the ’03-’04 season, where the #8 seed Tide got on a roll into the Elite 8 before losing to eventual tournament champion UCONN.

But the more familiar scenario under Gottfried was doing barely enough to get into the big dance before being ousted by somebody like Kent State.

It was his ’00-’01 team where he learned the art of fattening up his RPI with “good non-conference losses” to do just enough to get in the tournament. That team finished 21-10 (8-8 in the conference) but was shut out by the selection committee. Gottfried would respond in the following seasons by beefing up Bama’s non-conference schedule, making selection Sunday more palatable for the next few years.

Alabama would go on to make it into the NCAA Tournament each of the next five years…

A No. 2 seed in 2002, beating FAU before falling to No. 10 seed Kent State in the second round.
A No. 10 seed in 2003, falling to No. 7 Indiana in the first round.
A No. 8 seed in 2004, defeating No. 9 seed Southern Illinois, No. 1 seed Stanford and No. 5 seed Syracuse before falling to No. 2 UCONN.
A No. 5 seed in 2005, falling to No. 12 seed Milwaukee in the first round.
A No. 10 seed in 2006, defeating No. 7 seed Marquette before falling to #2 seed UCLA.

And that would end Bama’s run in the tournament under Gottfried. Bama would be ousted by UMASS in the first round of the NIT the following year, and would decline an invitation to the also-ran tournament in his final year following his mid-season resignation.

Not only did Bama really never put a dent in the Tournament, it really never did so in its own conference under Gottfried. In 2001-2002 Alabama finished with the best record in the SEC (12-4) and reached the conference title game in Atlanta, losing a close one to Mississippi State. That would be the Tide’s lone trip to the big game in Gottfried’s eleven seasons at Alabama.

In March, when tournament season is all that matters, Gottfried just never really delivered. You know who did? Billy Donovan. Donovan became Gottfried’s daddy, beating Mark’s teams ten times in fourteen tries, winning the conference tournament three times and winning the regular season title four times….not to mention making it to the Final Four three times and winning it all twice.

Alleged off-the-court issues didn’t help his cause, as whispers about inappropriate contact with a co-ed could be heard. Any “affair” that took place was never admitted nor accused in public forum, but in the media cesspool called Alabama, an allegation was all that it took to heat up airwaves and blogs. And the now famous court side confrontation between Elizabeth Gottfried and radio mogul Paul Finebaum didn’t help either.

Coach Gottfried can also be credited in some way of ending the Alabama careers of two of Bama’s most talented players. Gerald Wallace wanted no more after one season, and Ronald Steele’s bewildering knee injuries led him on a painful journey into the shadows.

Still, Gottfried took Alabama deeper into the NCAA Tournament than any other coach in Alabama’s limited basketball history. He learned the RPI game that current coach Anthony Grant will likely be employing next season.

Gottfried kept Alabama competitive through the “meat” of his tenure, but never really got the Tide to the place where they were a force in the conference, or beyond.

So with that, we wish Mark Gottfried good luck in the ACC. And thank you for restoring hope to the rest of us, that you can accomplish a little, ride that for a while, just get by, get canned, and still land somewhere else. In this economy, that’s encouragement we can all use.

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