| ||By Andy Katz|
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The UCLA job could have been his had it not been for the timing.
But Mark Gottfried didn't wait. He left Jim Harrick's staff at age 31 to take over Murray State in 1995, capitalizing on the Bruins' national title.
After Gottfried left, UCLA assistant Lorenzo Romar spent another year on the staff before taking the Pepperdine job in the spring of '96. That fall Harrick was fired and the third assistant on the '95 title team -- Steve Lavin -- was promoted to head coach.
But Gottfried never looked back. He wasn't about to 'what if' the situation. He had a plan: to win a national championship at his alma mater if the job ever opened.
It did three years ago when David Hobbs was fired.
Since then, Gottfried put the Tide in position to return to its natural place as a perennial NCAA Tournament team producing NBA talent.
So, heard of him yet?
Somehow, Gottfried has been left off the national carousel of hot young coaches. Names like Bill Self, Billy Donovan, Dan Monson, Mark Few, Quin Snyder, Mike Brey and Tom Crean are household names in college basketball.
But here's some news: Get used to his name. It's going to pop up nationally when -- no, not if -- the Tide get into the tournament this year.
Gottfried's recruiting is as good as his colleagues. His coaching ability shouldn't be questioned. His ideas are innovative, looking at uptempo basketball and pressure defense. And his resolve is hard to rival -- dealing with the lengthy illness and untimely death of assistant Robert Scott last year, a cancer battle for current assistant Tom Kelsey, major injuries to two-thirds of his starting lineup a year ago and the defection of leading scorer Schea Cotton before the end of last season.
"We had a hard year and he did some great things last year," sophomore Rod Grizzard said Monday during ESPN.com's preseason tour. "We went through a lot last year with our coach being sick. But he's going to get the tradition back here."
Thirty players have gone from Alabama to the NBA. During Gottfried's time as an Alabama guard in the mid-80s, the Tide went to three Sweet 16s. Now Gottfried has the No. 1 player in the class of 2000 in his starting lineup -- Gerald Wallace.
"(Gottfried) is young and relates to us well," Alabama fifth-year senior Jeremy Hays said. "He definitely knows the game and anybody who has played in the SEC knows basketball. He's done a great job recruiting and he'll get the recognition because we'll be back as an NCAA contender."
The 36-year old Gottfried doesn't hesitate to get out on the practice floor. Donned in a T-shirt and shorts, Gottfried is ready to get into a defensive stance, run the floor and shoot a 3-pointer for a demonstration. Plenty of coaches can do it. But few coaches can actually hang with the team if they start running.
"He makes things fun for us," said Alabama's Gerald Wallace, the nation's top incoming freshman. "But he makes us work hard for it."
Gottfried coached the Tide to a 17-15 record in his first year. An injury-plagued team went 13-16 a year ago. This team should contend for the SEC West title and a deeper NCAA Tournament run.
"We made a decision to recruit high school players and we're sticking with these guys," Gottfried said. "We knew we would go through battles in our second year. But we knew the third year we would have it in place and the fourth year is the one where we think we'll really be able to make run."
Gottfried hasn't hid from his desire to bring a national title to Alabama. But he's not a lifer, even with his diploma being from 'Bama. If Gottfried were to be wooed by a higher-profile program, and Alabama isn't committed to upgrading the program for a national title run then he could walk.
The Tide reluctantly went ahead and agreed with Gottfried to get rid of the parquet and finish the floor to the walls of Coleman Coliseum, instead of giving it a look like it was on top of an ice hockey rink. The administration hedged but OK'd a Midnight Madness for the first time. And now the word is they seem willing to renegotiate with him if he needs another contract for recruiting purposes.
"We had 6,000 people at Midnight Madness, but three years ago, we might have had 60," Gottfried said. "We're creating excitement and enthusiasm. We're not there yet, but with some luck, I feel Alabama can win a national championship. But if Alabama weren't committed then it would be time to look (elsewhere). I might be locked in here but I always want to compete for it all."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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