Gottfried out as Alabama basketball coach

Published 3:41 pm Monday, January 26, 2009

TUSCALOOSA — Mark Gottfried resigned as Alabama’s basketball coach Monday, leaving in the middle of his 11th season amid criticism of both the team’s play and the departure of a star player.

The school said Gottfried will immediately be replaced by assistant coach Philip Pearson. Alabama’s next game is at Arkansas on Thursday.

Gottfried, who played at Alabama, said he quit during a meeting with athletic director Mal Moore.

“It has been a wonderful decade for me and my family, and I love the University of Alabama, but I feel that it is in the best interests of everyone involved,” Gottfried said in a statement released by the university.

The Crimson Tide’s record this season is 12-7, 2-3 in the Southeastern Conference.

Gottfried’s teams have missed the NCAA tournament the last two years, and he was criticized over the recent departure of point guard Ronald Steele, a preseason first-team AP All-America two years ago, who later was hit by injuries. The school blamed Steele’s departure on a recent injury, but Steele said there was more to his decision than that.

Gottfried signed a six-year contract with Alabama in 2005 that made him the school’s first $1 million basketball coach and gave him a larger salary than that of football coach Mike Shula. The contract ran through 2011 and included a buyout if he were fired, but any financial terms tied to his resignation were not released.

Moore said the school would begin trying to find a new coach immediately.

“Out of respect for our players and coaches, I will not comment on the progress of our search until it has concluded,” Moore said in a statement.

The 45-year-old Gottfried took over at Alabama in 1988, replacing David Hobbs. He began a streak of five straight appearances in the NCAA tournament in 2002, reaching the round of eight in 2004 in the program’s deepest tournament run, including a victory over top-ranked Stanford.

The players got the news when they arrived for practice Monday afternoon. Gottfried spoke to the team.

“He just told us that he really loved us and that we were like one of his children and to just continue to play hard and make the best of this season,” freshman JaMychal Green said. “It was emotional. Coach Gottfried shed some tears and hugged every one of the players.

“He basically was saying that Alabama means a lot to him and that even though he’s not coaching, he’s still going to be there to support us and cheer us on while we’re playing.”

Senior Alonzo Gee said the news was “depressing.”

“We are kind of shocked about it right now, still,” he said.

Gottfried hasn’t been able to beat state rival Auburn lately. The Tigers have won four of the last five meetings, including an 85-71 victory on Jan. 17.

His current team was left short-handed with the departure of Steele following Richard Hendrix’s early departure to the NBA after last season.

Including three seasons at Murray State, Gottfried has a career record of 278-155 for a winning percentage of .642 in 14 seasons.

Gottfried started 98 straight games at Alabama as a player from 1985-1987. He was known for his 3-point shooting, and the Tide made the NCAA tournament round of 16 all three seasons.

Pearson, who lettered at Alabama in 1993, became an assistant coach with Gottfried at Murray State in 1997 and joined Gottfried’s staff when he took over at Alabama.

“This was obviously not what I expected today when I came here to work,” Pearson said. “It’s a tough situation and obviously Mark and I are very close. I worked with him for 14 years and Coach Moore called me in today and asked if I would take over the team for the rest of the season.

“Certainly, I told him that I would. This Alabama basketball program is something that is very special to me.”

Pearson said the team’s 90-minute workout Monday afternoon was “a little awkward.”

“We are going to do all that we can to make the best of a challenging and tough situation,” he said.