Shula’s veil not unlike Bryant’s

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2003

When Ray Perkins kept former Alabama players from attending football practices in the early 1980s, all manner of protests resulted.

Now, two decades later, Mike Shula plans to do likewise, so where’s the beef? So far, none, apparently.

Shula obviously will be laboring under more disadvantages, since the players went through spring drills under another coach, the litigious Mike Price, since the Tide mainly has a new staff and since the coaches will have a relatively short time to prepare the team for its Aug. 30 opener against South Florida.

That’s a game which Alabama ought to be able to win with a vanilla offense, but the same won’t apply when Oklahoma comes calling a week later.

So perhaps the ex-players, plus others included in the ban, understand the need for secrecy and are giving Shula more slack than Perkins received.

That veil is reminiscent of Bear Bryant’s ploy prior to the 1971 season.

A year earlier Alabama had gone 6-5-1, poor by Bryant’s standards, and had been shellacked in the 1970 opener by Southern Cal 42-21 when Sam &uot;Slam Bam&uot; Cunningham ran roughshod over the Tide at Legion Field.

Amid rumblings that Bryant’s effectiveness had ended, he enlisted the help of Texas coach Darrell Royal to teach his staff the wishbone, an offense that the Longhorns had used effectively.

Secrecy was the order, so when reporters on the old Southeastern Conference Skywriters Tour showed up at an Alabama practice, Bryant put his players through I-formation drills. After their departure, back to the wishbone.

Alabama was to open the season at Los Angeles against the Trojans, the John McKay team that had made a shambles of the Tide a year earlier.

At this point, let’s hear it from Doug Layton, a member of the radio crew broadcasting Alabama games.

Layton later said that Bryant thought he owed it to the crew to let them in on the secret so they wouldn’t be caught short and so they could do a better job describing the play. So, just prior to the game, Bryant told the broadcasters about the wishbone and swore them to secrecy, even for their pre-game comments.

&uot;The stations nearest to California that could pick up our signals were in Mississippi,&uot; Layton said, &uot;but that was how thorough and intent coach Bryant was.&uot;

So the Tide used the wishbone against Southern Cal, surprising the Trojans enough to get the lead and then was able to hang on for a 17-10 victory.

&uot;I had heard that coach Bryant was tinkering with the idea of the wishbone but I didn’t believe it,&uot; McKay said after the game.

Bryant was far from finished as the coach. In fact his teams during the 1970s won eight SEC championships and three national championships.

He sold out entirely to the wishbone, saying, &uot;You have to be fish or fowl. You can’t be both.&uot;

The Tide’s running attack during those years was so effective that one opposing coach commented: &uot;When Alabama throws the ball, it is trying to hold down the score.&uot;

The Tide’s offense turned out some incredible numbers, including 77 points against Virginia Tech in 1973.

The had secrecy paid off.

Now, in a little more than a month, we’ll learn how well it works for Shula.

(Hoyt Harwell is a retired Associated Press Correspondent who covered major sports in Alabama for 26 years. Harwell lives in Hoover. E-mail: