UAB will not go quietly into that good night.
At the school’s commencement, Derek Slaughter, a graduating senior football player wore his helmet in a last act of defiance before the entire assembled faculty and all in attendance. He refused to shake the president’s hand as he walked across the stage. Good for him. He feels screwed–they were–and he’s not rolling over to help the school save face–he shouldn’t. Still, blowing off a handshake from the stooge sent to deliver the message is not going to drive the necessary change.
The president, Ray Watts, killed the program in the least tactful way imaginable. Still, the fault lies not exclusively with the messenger–though I’m certain that Mr. Watts should not have another speaking engagement anytime soon–it lies with the Board of Trustees in the Alabama university system. It lies with their own Huey Long, Paul Bryant, Jr.
Bryant is the son of the state of Alabama’s god almighty, Paul “Bear” Bryant. And, by his father’s coattails, Junior casts quite a long shadow. In Alabama, certain doors open for you if your last name is Bryant–doors that probably would not have ever opened for Paul on merit alone.
Paul Bryant, Jr. has amassed his fortune like many crooked businessmen, on the backs of the less fortunate. But, Bryant has managed to somehow amass his wealth in an even more deplorable fashion than most. He began his empire by opening dog tracks in various conducive locations. Using his daddy’s name as a powerful marketing tool, these establishments soon became flush with profits from the surrounding communities.
Bryant’s penchant for profiteering did not stop with the racetracks. Using his newfound profits, he expanded into the insurance arena. Without getting mired in the weeds, Bryant sought out financially distressed companies and, for a fee, took on many of their distressed assets to help the companies appear more financially solvent than they were in reality. His company was never responsible for servicing these assets, it was simply used to park them to muddy the water for lenders. When these companies would inevitably fail, Bryant would be able to offset his gambling profits with the massive insurance write-downs. This type of structured arrangement is patently insurance fraud, and the only reason that Bryant is not in jail is that the state insurance investigators never found that he willfully pursued broke companies—and because Bear Bryant’s son had a fall guy, but I digress. An older Bloomberg article exists detailing this in much deeper detail.
The takeaway: Bryant’s money is dirty, and he uses his dishonest profits to bully his way into and out of everything Alabama football related.
Fast forward to now, and the last decade or so as well. Paul Bryant, Jr. has used his father’s legacy and his dirty money to become president of the Board of Trustees for the university system of Alabama. Bryant’s pet project ever since serving on the board has been to ensure that his father’s holy light shines bright on Tuscaloosa, and nowhere else. Bryant has also focused on quelling those upstart Blazers to make sure that there is only one football power in the great state of Alabama, the Crimson Tide. Bryant has long regarded the Blazers with a high level of disdain and haughty derision. “How dare they presume to play football? How dare they win games and try to recruit against the Tide? My Tide.”
Bryant was instrumental in UAB’s decision to pass on Jimbo Fisher—because at the time, Tuscaloosa may have been interested in hiring Jimbo. Bryant would be damned if any school tried to interfere with the preeminence and manifest destiny of the University of Alabama. But, Alabama never hired Fisher and he went to Florida State, where he has done alright for himself. UAB, meanwhile, hired a limp noodle—who, of course, was approved by Paul Bryant, Jr. and sufficiently inept to maintain the status quo.
From the very beginning, Bryant has had it out for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Its only sin: being a football school that is too close to Tuscaloosa for Bryant to tolerate. He has used his position to deal UAB football blow after blow.
He finally landed a mortal wound.
UAB shuttered its football program this past December, citing an independent study that football was a financial albatross and the university could no longer support this major of a sport. The video linked above shows the football team assembled and receiving the news from a milquetoast Watts and unnamed staffer. These kids, who had been promised a free education and the opportunity to play big time college football, were told they did not care as much about the school as the sitting president. In fairness to Watts, he took his lumps well. But, he deserved many, many more. Paul Bryant, Jr., after years of fighting, had finally slayed the dragon–which is fittingly the Blazers mascot.
It doesn’t end there, unfortunately. President Watts told anyone who would listen that the school was killing football for the losses caused by the costs of running the program. The decision was financial and was made before the 2014 season. The report that Watts cited as the damning evidence? Turns out it was completed months after the administration had decided to kill UAB football. So, at very least, Watts and the Board of Trustees were guilty of making a decision before all of the facts were in. However, it gets worse. A later report showed that football was a boon to the school financially, and wasn’t losing money at all. I’ll repeat that.
UAB Blazer football turned a profit big enough to prop up other languishing parts of the UAB sports program. It made money. In killing the football program, UAB has killed the Golden Goose. Do they care? I don’t imagine so. The administration of UAB is composed of Bryant’s people. They are shills and do not deserve the mantle of respect that usually accompanies their offices. Bryant is duplicitous, dishonest, and malevolent—by proxy, so is the UAB Board. They have ruined the lives of many of the players who will lose their scholarships–the same ones who cannot transfer to another team willing to offer them a full ride. What will happen to these players?
According to Little Bear: “Who cares? Roll Tide.”
So, to the UAB students who continue to rebel, I say, “Don’t give up.”
To the administration: “Resign. You cannot undo the harm you have caused.”
To the players: “I am so sorry. Keep fighting.”
And to Paul Bryant, Jr.: “There are not polite words for you, and you would not deserve them if there were. You are a disappointment to your family name, and you’ve tarnished your father’s legacy forever.”
The Alabama Board of Trustees have failed their charter. They have abdicated leadership in order to allow a warped, frustrated man to pursue a vendetta against an unarmed opponent.
Huey Long, Henry F. Potter, Paul Bryant, Jr.
Not the best company to keep, Little Bear.
Author’s note: previously, my article ambiguously referenced the Carr report from 2014 and last week’s report as one and the same. I have clarified the language. Special thanks to Tracy for setting me straight.