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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

Scarbo Knows: History lessons from a UA president and an AU coach

Michael Schill is the president of Northwestern University. At least he holds that title as I write these words. An asterisk seems necessary because the obvious leadership crisis at that school didn't begin or end with the head football coach he suspended and then dismissed three days later.

In short, Schill is no Robert Witt.

Witt will be remembered for many things during his tenure as the University of Alabama president, but two stand out. On his watch, the school fired Mike Price and hired Nick Saban. Those decisions distinguished Witt as a rarity among his colleagues. By his actions as well as his words, he made it clear that football is extremely important to the university, but it is not all-important.

Keeping major college football in the proper perspective can be an impossible needle to thread as a CEO of an institution where you are neither the most highly paid employee nor the most powerful. Twenty years ago, two months into the job in Tuscaloosa, Witt threaded it perfectly.

It was not a unanimous decision to relieve Price of his duties because of his off-the-field conduct unbecoming a major college head coach. One member of the UA Board of Trustees said at the time that a majority favored giving him a second chance. Another trustee said recently that it may not have been a majority but the most powerful voices on the board wanted Price to stay. So did respected veterans on the team such as Brodie Croyle and Wesley Britt, who met with the president to make their case.

Witt listened, as he should have, then declined the path of least resistance and fired the popular Price even as he called him "a great coach and a good man." ...

Read the rest of Kevin's history lesson for today regarding critical decisions by Witt and legendary Auburn coach Pat Dye, fun facts about SEC Football Media Days and more in his new newsletter. Scarbo Knows is emailed to subscribers every Thursday. You can subscribe here.

The front page of The Birmingham News on May 4, 2003: A smart move but a sad day for Alabama football



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