Shula back in ‘Bama for Senior Bowl

Published 7:02 am Tuesday, January 20, 2009

FAIRHOPE — Mike Shula was working with quarterback John Parker Wilson again Monday, putting him through passing drills and giving him both instruction and a little grief.

Just like old times.

The former Alabama coach is part of the Jacksonville Jaguars staff that is leading the South team for the Senior Bowl, and the job includes tutoring his former recruit. The grief is for fun.

“I can tease him a little bit better than I can the other quarterbacks, and he can take it,” Shula said after practice in a rare visit with reporters. “He understands me.”

Wilson finished up as the Crimson Tide’s all-time leading passer. Shula is the former Tide quarterback who led his alma mater’s program for four years before getting fired in December 2007.

Shula repeatedly said he has “moved on” from that difficult end to his first head coaching job. He’s still getting a weeklong walk down memory lane with four of his former players manning the South team — Wilson, center Antoine Caldwell, tight end Travis McCall and safety Rashad Johnson.

“I saw him in the lobby and it was like yesterday that I saw him,” said Wilson, who had spoken with Shula a few times since the coach’s firing. “He hadn’t changed at all. He’s still the great guy that recruited me. Talking to him, it was like no time had passed.”

Shula was surrounded by cameras and tape recorders on his return to the state where he once held the most high-profile coaching job and for a change drew far more media attention than his boss, Jaguars and South head coach Jack Del Rio. He has kept a low public profile since.

“We’ve got that on tape so we can have fun with it,” Del Rio said of the scene.

Shula was fired at Alabama after a 6-6 season ended with three straight losses to Southeastern Conference Western Division rivals Mississippi State, LSU and Auburn. He inherited a program that was weakened by NCAA sanctions and dealing with the embarrassing offseason firing of coach Mike Price for off-the-field behavior.

“He’s a quality guy,” Del Rio said of Shula. “I’m not sure that in some ways that this wasn’t closure for him. He hasn’t been back in awhile.”

Shula maintained at the time that the program was steadily moving in the right direction. Alabama, which is coming off a perfect regular season, had gone 10-2 and won the Cotton Bowl the year before his firing.

“When stuff like that happens, you move on and you sink yourself in to the next job,” he said. “You take the good with you and you learn from the bad and hopefully you’re better because of it. That’s kind of been my family’s attitude.

“I think we did a lot of things. I feel real good about a lot of the guys that we recruited that we saw as sophomores that are now seniors coming out.”

He was similarly diplomatic when asked how he feels about his alma mater: “I really don’t think about it. There’s no easy way to get fired or to have to fire somebody. We’ve moved on. I don’t think about those things.”

The son of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula also said he doesn’t spend time thinking about returning to college football or landing another head coaching job. Shula is busy doing what he loves best in football, working with quarterbacks.

The Jaguars finished 5-11 this past season after making the playoffs in Shula’s first year with two starting offensive linemen going down early with season-ending injuries.

“We had a really good first year. Then this past year we had some injuries and stubbed our toe,” Shula said. “We’re really a little embarrassed, our players and coaches, about the way we performed this past year. We’re going to be motivated to come back and get ourselves ready to get in the playoffs. “