Paul Finebaum

Eleven years is a long time in the media world, as can be seen from a delightful Paul Finebaum column from 2006 (sent our way by Twitter user @JLKnoxville). Finebaum, then writing for, penned an amazing column bashing ESPN for their takes on the Alabama coaching search. That search wound up with Nick Saban, who many thought would be a failure; they were certainly wrong, as Saban has four championships to his credit already. Finebaum’s piece is worth looking at in its own right, though, as it happened before Alabama landed Saban (and even before Saban’s Dec. 21 comment that “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach”), and it saw him lobbing massive shots at ESPN in general and criticizing Jim Rome and Colin Cowherd in particular.

Rome and Cowherd are now at CBS and Fox respectively, and Finebaum is now at ESPN and the SEC Network. So it’s funny that Finebaum criticized an organization that he now works for, and that the two others in question no longer work at. But the best part is that Finebaum’s criticisms proved to be right. Here’s the column, from December 2, 2006, titled “ESPN out of line on Alabama”:

Who died and left the talking heads on ESPN in charge of the University  of Alabama football program?

Unless you’ve been in a cave in recent days, it has been difficult to miss the continual stream of one invective after another leveled at the Crimson Tide football program, mostly from people who have probably never stepped foot  in Bryant-Denny Stadium and couldn’t care less whether the program lives or  dies.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. This program has seen better days and anyone who has read this space over the years has seen plenty of pointed  criticism of the powers that be. And likely will again.

However, listening to these people on ESPN, one would think Mal Moore was an al-Qaida section chief and the school’s football program a secret training ground for terrorists.

Here is an example from one of ESPN’s highest-paid and most respected  radio hosts, Colin Cowherd: “The one everyone thinks is such a great job and I don’t is Alabama. They have a bad athletic director, Bear Bryant’s son is  your boss. They have wacko delusional boosters, an absurd and unrealistic scrutiny, hyper-competitive environment … What’s good about that?”

Jim Rome, the nation’s top sports-radio talker and host of ESPN’s “Rome is Burning” television show, said: “Maybe Alabama wouldn’t be so quick  to have fired Mike Shula if they knew that nobody in America who mattered would  be willing to step in and replace him. Look at who has already said no. Nick  Saban: Pass. The Ol’ Ball Coach: No thanks. Frank Beamer: Why should I? Bobby  Petrino: Downgrade. Rich Rodriguez: Make me. Oh, and Jim Leavitt wants nothing  to do with you. That has to hurt. Being Alabama and getting the Heisman from  the coach at South Florida, at least the U. was turned down by Rutgers. At this  point, you might as well dig up Bear Bryant. Or better yet, see if Mike Price  is still interested. Trust me, you’re not going to do any better. The front  of the jersey may still say Alabama but in name only. That program is nowhere  right now. It’s become an SEC afterthought. Enjoy the glory days of Bryant,  Namath, Stabler, Stallings, Alexander, Price because that’s all you have and  that is not going to change.”

These people make it sound like the school fired Shula after a 12-0  season and three SEC titles. How many times do we need to repeat that Shula was incompetent and if it hadn’t been for his daddy’s name, he couldn’t have gotten a job on his own managing a 7-Eleven.

Shula had one winning season in four years. Hello!

As for all these people who have turned down the job, that is beyond laughable. I’ll admit that watching this coaching search on a minute-to-minute  basis is akin to the old line about watching sausage being made at a meat-packing  plant: The eats are good but the process is nauseating to witness.

But how many coaching searches really go very well?

Notre Dame was blindsided by the same media geniuses two years ago  after firing Ty Willingham. It was turned down by Urban Meyer and had to settle  for Charlie Weis, who will likely take the Irish to consecutive BCS bowls. [Note: This is actually right! Weis’ Notre Dame team got a Sugar Bowl berth soon after this, their second straight BCS berth. But then the wheels fell off.]

Still, to insinuate that people like Jim Leavitt have turned down  Alabama is intellectually dishonest and a travesty to responsible journalism.

I don’t know who Alabama will end up with during this coaching search. When it’s all said and done, it’s possible this search will rank with the worst  in modern history. Still, give the university officials a little bit of credit. It appears they aimed for the moon by locking into arguably the two best head  coaches in the Southeastern Conference in the past 15 years – Nick Saban and  Steve Spurrier.

Have they been given the runaround by gunslinger agents and perhaps  been misled by intermediaries? Sure, anything’s possible. Should they have been better prepared? Absolutely.

In a perfect world, would any major corporation with the kind of multi-million  dollar revenues like Alabama want someone as maladroit as Mal Moore running  the search for a new CEO? Probably not. The man has the decisiveness of a tortoise.

But don’t let anyone kid you, this is still a very, very attractive job. It has an amazingly passionate fan base and facilities that put almost  any other school in the nation to shame.

Many have said the culture down here is untenable. Ridiculous. Would you rather have fans second-guessing you after a win or clapping for you after a loss – like Spurrier encountered this year at South Carolina.

Sure, Alabama hangs too tightly to its past and tradition. But why not when you have a former coach who was the best and a tradition that is among  the top two in college football history.

Alabama has made countless mistakes over the years, but one of the  best things it has done this year was to correct the blunder of hiring Shula. The school should be congratulated for that. The easy way out was to ignore  the problems and watch the program slip deeper into the abyss. Instead, the  school did the right thing, the intelligent thing, and is being attacked from one end of the sports world to another.

Fair criticism comes with the territory. Believe me, I make a living doing just that. However, these talking heads at ESPN are comical and every time they open their mouths about the subject of the University of Alabama,  they stick a foot deeper down their collective throats.

The joke isn’t the University of Alabama football program. Instead, it’s the critics at ESPN who don’t have the first clue about what they are  talking about.

These are all points that Finebaum was proved absolutely right on. Alabama was an excellent job, with great resources (including money for top assistants), facilities, recruiting connections and fans, and it was one that was quite in demand. Yes, the Tide were turned down by some (including then-West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, which marks an interesting hypothetical in its own way), but their job was definitely a sought-after one, and the quality of the job was a big part of why Saban was willing to leave the NFL. (His job with the Dolphins may also not have been that safe; they wound up finishing 6-10 in 2006, his second year with the team.)
Finebaum was also right that Cowherd’s senseless program-bashing (he doesn’t still do that, no sir) and Rome’s take that no one wanted this job made ESPN look silly. This was still in the relatively early days of Embrace Debate, and Rome and Cowherd were two of the most prominent ESPN personalities at that time. Their ranting and raving (which would be proven wrong in just a month when Saban did in fact want the job, to say nothing of the incredible success he went on to find there) definitely didn’t make ESPN look too knowledgeable on college football.
What’s also notable here is while the criticisms of these hot takes are about a specific subject, much of what Finebaum wrote is still applicable to hot-take culture in general. That’s true for ESPN, its competitors, and media personalities everywhere. If you’re going to drop takes this hot, don’t be too surprised if some turn out to be freezing cold.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.