4 months ago

Quin Hillyer: Malzahn’s odyssey shows state’s harmful tribalism and absurd football over-reactions


Hmmm…. So… Remember back, wow, a six-week lifetime ago, when so many Alabamans were calling for the guillotined head of Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn?

Don’t they look rather silly now that Auburn is in the SEC title game and very much alive for the national championship?

No, this isn’t a sports column, although I started my career as a sportswriter and remain an avid sports fan. And this isn’t a piece intended to show how so many people were such bad judges of coaching talent. Instead, this is a comment on a culture that puts far, far too much emphasis on football, and that over-reacts, far too quickly, to every change in football fortunes.

There’s still a “Fire Gus Malzahn” home page on Facebook. There’s still the Twitter feed of the same name. Way back in 2016 after just a few games, there already was a fan-led GoFundMe page to fire the coach. There still are the newspaper analyses available online from mid-October about how Malzahn was likely a goner and certainly a mediocrity – as in al.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky writing of Malzahn and Auburn that “There is no winner here. If, by winner, you mean a head coach capable of competing for and capturing championships on the state, conference and national levels.”

Scarbinsky continued: “Four years ago, Malzahn was right there. Now it appears that window has closed and been boarded shut.”

Boarded shut? Really?

Why the rush to judgment only part-way through a season? Why the fan uprisings to fire a coach who as recently as 2013 had brought his team within three points of a national championship, who was offensive coordinator for Auburn when it did win a national championship — and who had never had a losing season as a head coach?

And for those who thought an 8-5 season was an entirely unforgivable sin, was there any consideration of whether this was an 8-5 coach who ran a program with integrity or one who ran a sleazy program? Did a program’s integrity matter at all? How about its success, or not, of actually helping kids get educated? If Malzahn had been 8-5 but his program produced a Rhodes Scholar in three straight years and boasted a graduation rate of more than 80 percent, would his critics have been less vociferous?

Football is loads of fun to watch and debate about and even slightly obsess about. Some of us even think that winning really does matter. But as Managing Editor Rachel Byars wrote over the weekend (in a slightly different context, that of the losers’ post-game funks), there is a “type of tomfoolery that runs rampant in our state” which elevates football wins and losses to a position of outlandish importance.

People agonize over football losses, but they pay only lip service to truly important matters such as education (both at the family level and as public policy), much less macro-problems such as Black Belt poverty. I know of a single small school in New Orleans, for example, that regularly turns out more National Merit semi-finalists than the entire county of Mobile. Yet as someone who has lived in each place for years, I can guarantee that New Orleanians are not naturally smarter than Mobilians.

While it would be foolish to overstate the case — clearly, we must grant that the overall New Orleans education level still lags the national average — the higher achievement levels for at least a subset of the Crescent City is an indicator that more citizens there truly stress educational goals than the percentage who do so here.

It’s not that the obsession with football is mostly to blame for Alabama’s low educational rankings and high poverty rate. But the obsession with football is surely at least a little to blame and, more importantly, is symptomatic of a broader outlook that is largely to blame.

The larger problematic outlook is one of insularity and tribalism. Bragging rights about our tribe outscoring your tribe (whether within the state or between it and others) — or of Alabamans thumbing their noses at outsiders because, well, we kick their butts on the gridiron — take on an outsized importance in our culture.

So when a consistently winning coach oversees one or two early-season losses, well, dontcha know he should be fired and tarred and feathered? That’ll learn him, but good, now won’t it?

That attitude is absurd. We can do better than this. We can show more patience, at least until a season’s end. We can consider other factors in the mix, such as arrest records (bad) or graduation rates (good), or a host of others.

There’s nothing wrong with yelling “ROLL TIDE!” or “WAR EAGLE!” There’s nothing wrong with loving football and caring who wins the games. But there’s everything wrong with over-reacting and over-emphasizing football, to the detriment of, well, everything else.

Yellowhammer Contributing Editor Quin Hillyer, of Mobile, also is a Contributing Editor for National Review Online, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.

7 mins ago

Debbie Long is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

This summer, Debbie Long will call it a career at Protective Life Corp.

What a career it has been.

Long, who also is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, served as executive vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary of the insurance company before taking on a part-time advisory role this year. She is one of Alabama’s highest-paid female executives.


Long also has been a big contributor to her community.

Long told Business Alabama in 2012 that she always wanted to be a lawyer, although first she had idealistic visions of saving the world. After graduating in 1980 from the University of Alabama Law School and then clerking for a federal appeals court Judge Frank Johnson, she went to work for a law firm and practiced corporate law.

“Although I hadn’t initially wanted to practice business law, I found I loved it,” she told the publication.

Long left the firm along with several other lawyers to help form the powerhouse Birmingham firm of Maynard, Cooper and Gale.

In 1992, Long joined the board of Protective Life as general counsel of the insurance company.

Long told Business Alabama that her advice to would-be business leaders would be to stay open to opportunities that might come along at unexpected times.

“It’s very doubtful that someone’s going to come to you early in your career and say, ‘I want to be your mentor,’” she said. “It’s far more likely you will meet people along the way who will give you great advice if you are open to receiving it. Someone at a cocktail party might say something that could change your life.”

Long has been active in the larger business community. She has served as chairwoman of the Business Council of Alabama’s Judicial and Legal Reform Committee and also has worked on the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, the Federal Affairs Committee and on the board of ProgressPAC — the lobby’s political action committee.

Last year, the BCA honored her with the Robert W. “Bubba” Lee Political Courage Award, given each year to someone who is willing to take the right position regardless of cost.

“She has shown through her support that she cares about the Alabama business community and she values the role we play and the jobs we create,” BCA Chairman Perry Hand said at the time. “She has been a distinguished member of the Alabama and Birmingham business communities for nearly three decades.”

Her charitable endeavors include Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham, the YWCA of Birmingham, Oasis Women’s Counseling Center, the Birmingham Museum of Art and Partners in Neighborhood Growth Inc.

In addition, she serves on the Alabama Women’s Commission and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, as well as The Fellows program of the American Bar Foundation.

“It is her commitment to excellence that has made her such a valuable asset to Alabama’s business community, and there are few individuals more dedicated to our corporate community, the rule of law, and the political arena than Debbie Long,” Hand said last year.

Join Long and special guests from across the state for a Birmingham awards event March 29 honoring the 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama. Details and registration may be found here.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

23 mins ago

Alabama Rural Broadband Act on governor’s desk

A bill that would provide grants to aid rural broadband expansion is on Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk.

The legislation was delivered to the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon after the Senate adopted changes to the Alabama Rural Broadband Act previously made in the House.

Originally conceived as a bill that would offer tax incentives to companies to provide high-speed internet services to some of the state’s more remote areas, the bill was changed to offer grants instead. Projects that would provide speeds of 25 megabits per second down and 3 megabits per second up would be eligible for $1.4 million per project, while projects providing minimum speeds of 10/1 could get $750,000 each.


The bill is expected to provide $10 million annually, with the program being administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Private providers and cooperatives would be eligible for the money, but government entities would not.

The sponsor, Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), wanted to give providers tax credits for providing broadband rather than cash. The bill still has safeguards in place – the money won’t be received upfront and a legislative committee would monitor the program for effectiveness.

Scofield couldn’t be reached for comment this week.

Ivey is expected to sign the bill after speaking about the need for such programs in her January State of the State speech. The legislation sailed through the Alabama Legislature, receiving unanimous yes votes in the House on Tuesday and in the Senate concurrence vote on Wednesday.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), said grants are better for taxpayers.

“It’s more transparent and gives us more accountability,” he said.

In reality, both funding mechanisms have been dismissed by critics. The MacIver Institute said in a 2014 report that incentives can actually hurt economic growth, while Obama’s stimulus grant program was one of the more stark examples of grant largesse.

Alabama lawmakers hope their broadband plan goes hand-in-hand with a proposal from President Trump to spend an immediate $200 billion and long-term $1.5 trillion on infrastructure improvements. Trump hopes to spur more public-private partnerships – so-called P3s – with his proposal to help state and local governments shoulder more of the load. But his plan has faced criticism on both sides – Democrats aren’t fans of the president’s goal to put more costs on the states, while many Republicans say the plan calls for too much spending and haven’t exactly deemed it a high priority this session.

Some on both sides have criticized the lack of any guaranteed funds for broadband, although the plan cites high-speed internet as an infrastructure priority. There are concerns that federal broadband grants could accelerate the growth of government internet projects, which have largely been a sinkhole for taxpayer money.

52 mins ago

Alabama Committee approves ethics exemption for economic developers

An Alabama Senate committee has approved legislation, pushed by the state’s top industry recruiter, to exempt professional economic developers from the state ethics law.

The Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee approved the House-passed bill Wednesday on a 10-2 vote. It now moves to the Senate floor.


The proposal would exempt professional economic developers from the rules that govern lobbyists. The rules include registering with the state, undergoing yearly training and reporting activity.

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield has said professional site developers, who help businesses decide where to locate, will not work in Alabama if they must register as lobbyists.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton has expressed concern about exempting a group of people, whose primary job involves interacting with government officials, from the state ethics law.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

Human trafficking bill that would impose severe penalties for obstruction is step closer to becoming law

Anyone who obstructs a human trafficking investigation in Alabama could be met with the same penalties as the traffickers if the governor signs a bill that passed the House this week with near unanimous support.

The bill, which already passed the Senate, increases penalties in place for those who obstruct, interfere with, prevent, or otherwise get in the way of law enforcement’s investigation into the practice that includes child sex trafficking.

Under current law, such obstruction is only a Class C felony and could result in just one year in prison. The new legislation would increase the maximum offense to a Class A felony, with a minimum jail sentence of ten years.


Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) sponsored the bill and said he is proud that the Alabama Legislature made this a priority.

“This week we’ve taken another crucial step in ending this horrific practice,” Ward said in a statement. “By increasing penalties for those who would aid traffickers, we will hold them just as accountable as the traffickers themselves.”

Human trafficking victims are often children who are trafficked into sexual exploitation at an average age between 11-14 years old, according to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

“Most people assume, ‘Well, that doesn’t happen in my backyard,’” Ward said in an interview with Yellowhammer News when the bill was first introduced. “…It’s everywhere in our state, but there’s low awareness as to how bad it really is.”

Just this week, a Decatur man pled guilty to child sex trafficking and other charges related to his plan to kidnap, rape and kill a mother and sell her 14-year-old daughter to a Memphis pimp, according to horrifying details reported by the Decatur Daily.

Brian David “Blaze” Boersma’s plan was thwarted because an informant, who Boersma recruited to help him with his plan, alerted the FBI.

“Oftentimes it’s like what we say with terrorism,” Ward said. “If you see something suspicious, tell somebody, because a lot of times, trafficking can take place right underneath our noses in our communities.”

The legislation to increase penalties for obstructing human trafficking investigations was delivered to Governor Kay Ivey for her signature Wednesday afternoon.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

Bill funds ‘active shooter’ training for local law enforcement, school faculty and staff, and students

For much of the year, the safety of our students rests in the hands of the faculty, staff, and resource officers at our schools.  Without a shadow of a doubt, the people who know best how to protect our schools are the teachers, parents, administrators, police officers, and students in their own communities.

In February, the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida resonated throughout our communities, highlighting a disturbing trend of individuals who clearly show signs of grave mental instability falling through the cracks.

Sadly, this incident likely could have been avoided had there been better oversight at every level of law enforcement. From the top down, we failed these students by not heeding the warning signs and working together as a team to ensure our students’ safety.


In response to this incident, the House recently passed the Student, Teacher’s Officer’s Prevention (STOP) School Violence Act, which Bill  to help identify and prevent school violence before these tragic events occur.

First, the STOP School Violence Act provides funding for training to prevent student violence, including training for local law enforcement officers, school personnel, and students in the event of an emergency.  This training would be designed to give students and school personnel the ability to recognize and respond quickly to warning signs of violent behavior and would include active shooter training.

Second, the bill provides funding for technology and equipment to improve school security.  This includes the development and operation of anonymous reporting systems, as well as the installation of metal detectors, locks, and other preventative technologies to keep schools secure.

The legislation also authorizes funding for school threat assessment and crisis intervention teams for school personnel to respond to threats before they become real-time incidents.  Recognizing the warning signs of violent, threatening behavior and having the proper resources to address it on the front end can prevent these tragedies from ever occurring.

Finally, the STOP School Violence Act provides funding to support law enforcement coordination efforts, particularly the officers who already staff schools.  From the federal level all the way down to our local law enforcement, we need to ensure there is accountability and communication when handling violent behavior.

Many of our local schools are already reevaluating their security measures and taking additional steps to promote a safe learning environment for our students.  Our students’ safety and security should always remain a top priority, and I believe it is imperative that our local schools have the most appropriate resources in place in the event of an emergency.

As we look for ways to prevent these terrible tragedies, I am open to additional solutions to address the underlying issues that cause these events to occur.  That said, I remain steadfastly committed to upholding the individual right of all law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.  Millions of Americans should not have their Second Amendment rights infringed upon due to the bad actions of a few individuals.

Rather, I believe we should focus on addressing mental health issues and combatting the role of violence in our modern culture, such as the prevalence of violent video games that normalize this behavior for our young students, and promoting commonsense solutions that will address the larger issues of mental health so that those with mental illness do not fall through the cracks.

There is still work to be done to ensure each child’s safety and well-being while attending classes. However, I am proud that we have taken this action in the House to promote a safe, secure learning environment for our children.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. 

(Image: File)