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Crimson Slide

DuBose, run out of Alabama after scandal, restarts his coaching life with high school team

November 06, 2002|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

This is the story of a coach's life, and a coach's wife.

It hasn't been long since Mike DuBose was the coach at Alabama, 10-3 and Southeastern Conference champion in 1999 with a team that played in the Orange Bowl.

Now he is the coach at Northview High in Dothan, Ala., after taking over a winless team when he couldn't find a job coaching in college or the NFL.

Last week, under the Friday night lights, Northview completed its first season under DuBose with a 34-0 loss and an 0-10 record. Winless again.

It sure isn't the way Disney would have written it.

"We've improved, but we haven't improved as much as I thought we would," DuBose said. "I'm glad I'm back in it, but I haven't enjoyed losing."

The story would have been better if the coach with the tumultuous past had returned to the game he loved and transformed a winless bunch of skinny youngsters into champions. Maybe got those last two years he needed for his state retirement while he was at it.

Instead, the folks in the stands with the Alabama seat cushions or Auburn ball caps watched and shrugged. They were happy to get DuBose, but they could have gone winless again without a famous coach.

DuBose was fired at Alabama -- officially urged into resigning -- during a 3-8 season in 2000, a season that started with a No. 3 national ranking but collapsed with losses to Southern Mississippi and Central Florida.

The year before, he'd survived a sexual-harassment scandal, despite having admitted that he had initially lied when he'd denied an improper relationship with a former secretary. The university settled with the woman for $350,000.

That $350,000 eventually came out of DuBose's paychecks, and that 10-3 season showed that Alabama was honest about what it cares about in its football coaches: winning.

When Alabama's record crumbled to its worst in 45 years the next season, no one was standing by DuBose anymore -- with the very notable exception of his wife, Polly, his sweetheart from their days at Opp High in Opp, Ala.

"Yes, Opp, the city of opportunity," she teased. "You haven't lived unless you've been to Opp.

"God has been so faithful to us, not just in the good times, but in the hard times.... There are many things I guess you never really understand. We may never have an answer for them. But I think you just have to press forward. You just walk on and know God will use this and make you stronger, and that he has something for you, a hope and a future for you."

DuBose understands better than anyone else what a remarkable attitude that is.

"She's a very, very strong lady with tremendous faith. Much stronger than I am," he said. "She is my strength. I'm very fortunate. It would have been much more difficult without her. She is a rock."

There wasn't only the notoriety of the harassment case. Alabama was put on five years' probation this year for a recruiting scandal that occurred partly on his watch, though DuBose wasn't charged with any wrongdoing.

That was only a final blow.

The job at their alma mater was gone. The town where Mike had been a star defensive lineman on Bear Bryant's 1973 national championship team no longer felt like home.

The couple's son, Michael, is a senior at Alabama, and their daughter, Julie, lives in Tuscaloosa with her husband. The DuBoses don't go back.

"No, we don't. We really don't," Polly said. "The children will come here and we'll visit. It's just really hard. It's been home for a long, long time. Mike and I went to school there. Our children grew up there. It's just real difficult for me to go back."

After Mike's final game as Alabama's coach, he and Polly sold their house in a day and went to the beach near Destin, Fla., for a month.

Then they bought a house on a lake in Alabama and went to work remodeling and gardening.

"It was a very healing place for us," Polly said. "Then it got to be football season and that's when it was like, 'OK, it's time to go to work.' "

Mike is an excellent cook, but his dishes lost their savor.

"When you start putting the spices in alphabetical order, it's time to get a job," Polly said.

For the first time in their lives together, there was no football season.

After a year off, Mike, now 49, tried to get back into it, with little luck.

Four seasons as Alabama's coach, all his years as a Crimson Tide assistant, even three seasons as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer assistant didn't crack a door.

All those friends in coaching and not one job offer.

"There are consequences to your actions," Mike said. "I don't want to say it was because of friendships that the opportunities weren't there. I don't really know why."

It could have been the taint of NCAA violations, no matter that DuBose wasn't personally implicated. It could have been the harassment scandal, the record, even happenstance.

"I don't know. I ask myself that, but I don't have an answer," DuBose said.

With his retirement not yet secured, DuBose went back to the bottom.

Northview Principal David Hopson remembers when the phone rang.

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