Before I begin this posting, let me state the issue at hand:
The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) began as a satellite, medical campus of the more famous University of Alabama, and became its own institution in 1969. UAB began its own football program as a club in 1989 and 1990, and in 1991, became a Division 3-Independent, it moved up to 1-AA-Independent (now known as FCS) in 1993. They moved up to 1-A Independent in 1996, before joining Conference USA in 1999, the program only had two coaches before 2007. Jim Hilyer helped get the club started and into 1-AA before retiring and giving way to Watson Brown. Brown led the club until he seemed to lose control of the program, eventually resigning and heading to Tennessee Tech after the 2006 season.
The search for a coach began and one of the people at the top of the list was then LSU Assistant Coach and Offensive Coordinator Jimbo Fisher. UAB was poised to offer Fisher a contract worth 600K per year that was to be covered by local businesses investing in the program and boosters. This deal was done and all that was left to do was send the plane for Fisher to sign the contract, but that’s when the University of Alabama Board of Trustees (governs UA, UAB and UAH – University of Alabama at Huntsville) stepped in and said that it could not be done. (http://sports.outsidethebeltway.com/2006/12/did-alabama-sabotage-uab-hire-of-jimbo-fisher/)
The UABOT claimed that finances were the problem and that there was no way UAB could afford such a contract, that it was too big. Less than one month after the ruling, the UABOT approved Nick Saban’s large contract to become the coach at Alabama.
No one discounts UA’s need to offer Saban such a big contract, they essentially bought him away from his trouble in Miami before anyone else could get to him. The problem with the entire situation is not what UA does for their football team, but what the UABOT will not allow UAB to do for theirs. Ultimately the UABOT decided that the best fit for UAB was a little known Offensive Coordinator for the Georgia Bulldogs who once played for Bear Bryant by the name of Neil Callaway.
Fast forward 4 years later, Neil Callaway just completed his fourth season at UAB, with a 4-8 record, which is actually tied for his second best record while being the Head Coach. During this time, UAB has been pressing for an On Campus Stadium that would help boost recruiting and attendance, UAB stands at averaging around 20,000 fans per game….in an 80,000 seat stadium. Anyone that watches the games on TV notices on how empty one side of the stadium is, while the other side looks decent.
So where am I going with this? I’m getting to it.
UAB currently plays in Legion Field, an old, 80,000 seat stadium that has no hot water, or updated facilities, and is in one of the worst sections of town, 5-10 miles away from the main campus. The Blazers themselves have an outdated locker room and equipment when compared to other programs in the area and conference, which has hurt recruiting significantly. What athlete who has offers from another Conference USA school (or bigger school for that matter), or from South Alabama is going to want to come to UAB as opposed to UCF, Troy, or USA (South Alabama)? Yes, winning is a part of a recruit’s decision, but there are some that are wanting to revive a program, but they don’t want those conditions.
On February 3, 2011, UAB presented its plan for their OCS (pictured up top), which included a horseshoe design, and a 30,000 seat plan. UAB was told that they would need to extend Coach Callaway’s contract for one more year to help with expenses for an On Campus Stadium and being that the Blazers have really wanted this stadium, they complied, much to the chagrin of their students and fans, Callaway was given an extension with a 15-33 record. During a BOT meeting in September of 2011, UAB presented its plan to the Board at an official meeting, and was told that it would be voted on in November, it never happened.
Just before the meetings this month, the Board of Trustees threw out the measure of the OCS without taking an official vote, citing that the stadium was too costly. UAB fans became enraged.
Once again, a faulty system has derailed UAB from taking the steps to become a better program. In a time where UAB could really excite their fan base by building an On Campus Stadium for their students to go to, and hiring a new coach (a Mike Leach who’s trying to revive his own career), they get shut down and told “you’re not good enough.”
The first thing that’s always mentioned when people talk about their disdain for UAB getting a new stadium is “well, that program is awful.” Well what do you expect? The Blazers have been forced to have the coach that the board likes and not that they love, they are being forced to go to a stadium that is outdated and in a dangerous part of town. They split any minimal revenue (students get in free) with the City of Birmingham, creating an on campus stadium gives UAB complete control of their own finances. A 30,000-seat stadium would easily get the attendance it needs even if UAB is only averaging 20,000 per game. You can get the other 10,000 through students who live on campus, parents, or alum that don’t want or can’t travel to the game in West End. Money could be made from parking, and concessions, even partnering with the city of Birmingham to make it a dual stadium including a deal with the Birmingham Barons. There are so many options for the Blazers that everyone is being close minded about it! If you have a packed out stadium, even if it’s only 30K, you have a team that sees that and is ready to play for that, if you speak to former and current UAB players, they will tell you the most disappointing thing is hearing that you have a crowd of 27,000, and looking up to see an empty stadium. It’s disheartening.
YOU CANNOT BUILD A PROGRAM BEING STAGNANT, THE LIFEBLOOD OF A PROGRAM IS THROUGH RECRUITMENT, IF YOU CANNOT RECRUIT YOU CANNOT BUILD A SUCCESSFUL PROGRAM. Yes, there are OTHER things that build a program, but you cannot build a base out of nowhere, it has to come from bringing in class after class, after class, and having a coach that can bring out those talents.
The entire “UAB is a terrible program” argument is invalid because doing these things would build a program. No one expects UAB to turn around and compete with the big boys of the state, but they do expect them to be slightly competitive, help put some excitement in this dying program, don’t just let it die. That’s insulting.