Fire Ray Watts chant makes me crazy

My granddaughter, Aly, proudly pictured with UAB Cheerleaders
My 5 year old granddaughter, Aly, proudly pictured with UAB Cheerleaders at CUSA Tournament

The UAB basketball team won nine straight home games, triumphed in the Conference USA Tournament, and captured a cherished birth in the NCAA Play Offs.  But as the clock counted down in the final moments of the Conference USA championship game, some UAB fans broke into the all too familiar chant, “Fire Ray Watts!”

I completely understand why many UAB fans are upset.  Last fall the plug was pulled on UAB football and the decision and announcement was totally mishandled.  We must blame someone.

I’m not going to take up for Dr. Watts or the public relations department at UAB, but I contend that the decision to shut down UAB football was made when the on campus stadium was nixed by the University of Alabama Board Of Trustees.  If UAB had been allowed to build its new stadium, neither Dr. Watts nor anyone else would have been in a position to close the program.

Birmingham desperately needs a new sports facility

We have a right to be angry, but we should be angry that we have allowed Birmingham to have such poor sports facilities.  If UAB is not allowed to build an on-campus stadium, then maybe we should build a state of the art field and arena at the BJCC.

Early round NCAA Basketball Tournament games were played in Dayton, Jacksonville, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Portland, Charlotte, Columbus, Omaha, and Seattle.  Birmingham was never considered and will never be a possible NCAA Tournament site with our existing facilities.  Nashville played host to the Southeastern Conference Basketball Championship.  Please review the list of host cities and you see many towns that used to be similar in size to Birmingham:  Jacksonville, Louisville, Charlotte, and Nashville (by the way—all have consolidated county/city governments).

Birmingham needs a great UAB and UAB needs a great Birmingham.  It can’t help our national reputation to air our dirty laundry on national television.

As the clock counted down in the final moments of the CUSA Tournament and I looked down at the triumphant UAB basketball players with the words “Birmingham” plastered prominently on their jerseys, I wished the chant was not “Fire Ray Watts,” but “One great Birmingham!”

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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12, a division of Intermark Group, and co-CEO of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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10 thoughts on “Fire Ray Watts chant makes me crazy”

  1. *Yes and No. 

    On one hand, Ray Watts was pretty much a puppet. But he was a puppet because he did not have the leadership to fight for the program. I realize that the BoT was gunning for the Blazer football team, but the Free UAB effort has done a great deal in three short months to begin a grassroots effort. Ray Watts could have made any number of behind-the-scenes efforts to marshall support for UAB. That is, had he chosen to do so. 

    The anger, by the way, isn’t completely misplaced. To me, the issue is as much how it went down. For Watts completely and utterly fumbled the ending of the football program, a dicey public relations assignment in the best of situations. 

    Then, after handling matters in the worst of all possible ways, he then convened a blue-ribbon panel to review his review of the program, then most recently stiff-armed a company after its apparent hiring. In short, every single one of his actions have been poorly-timed and only served to throw gasoline on an already bad situation. This is an absolute lack of leadership and, for that, he deserves the rebuke he’s gotten. He’s earned every single bit. 

    To me, however, there’s a positive in all this. Ray Watts and the Alabama BoT have done something that no one else has managed to do: Unify the city of Birmingham and its suburbs. UAB is the third rail of Birmingham politics. Mess with it at your political peril. And Ray Watts and the Alabama BoT have learned that way too late. 

  2. *     seems that the worth of most educational institutions is defined by the performance of the football program. Now, lacking a team will UAB have any significance? 

  3. *Well, Mike, I would argue that a football program is just a highly visible facet of the overall University brand, and the argument that it’s the tail that wags the academic dog is weak cheese. I mean, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale have football programs, yet nobody really questions the need for the existence of those programs. I mean, the Tuscaloosa campus has been riding high on the success of its football team, drawing students from around the country. So I would offer that a football team is a highly-visible representation of the UAB brand. And the better it plays, the more the brand is recognized. 

    But, in a way, football is beside the point. Instead, you really need to understand the source of the rage. While the flash point was indeed the loss of the football team under dubious circumstances, what it really represents is yet another episode where this city does not control its own destiny. 

    From U.S. Steel punishing its own Birmingham plants with a tariff on sales beyond 300 miles to George Wallace giving political payback to the city for voting against him to the current actions of the UABOT, Birmingham has constantly had to battle against the corrupt and, frankly, short-sighted actions of outsiders who make decisions damaging to its long-term interests. 

    Think about it a moment. Birmingham represents a third of the state’s GDP, more than Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery combined. And UAB is at the beating heart of what has been a stunning transformation over the past forty years. Where we were once a steel town dependent on the whims of U.S. Steel, we have become a diversified economy, thanks largely to UAB. Even now, stroll through places such as the Innovation Depot, and you can already see how the future of this city is being determined by UAB. 

    Yet UAB and, ultimately, Birmingham’s fate is being determined by a board who doesn’t live here and doesn’t have Birmingham’s interests at heart. If you support the status quo, you are essentially saying that board members who live in places such as Satsuma or Boligee or Cullman have a very important say in the city’s economic destiny. And haven’t you had enough of that? 

    By the way, I want to return to David’s remarks. I have immense respect for Mr. Sher and his love for our city. I agree with him 99% of the time, and respectfully disagree with him the other 1% of the time. To me, however, the contempt we have for Ray Watts has been completely earned by what has been feckless leadership and decision making that has been less than transparent. He has not put the welfare of UAB or Birmingham first in his decision making. And while I completely respect David’s defense of a friend, I am being more objective here and stating that Ray Watts is not the kind of person who should be leading a university so vital to the long-term interests of this region. 

  4. *Chris, what a well thought out/meaningful response.  That pretty much mirrors what I wrote in my piece, “Birmingham at mercy of outside interests.”

    Of course, I feel the solution for Birmingham untimately is to have some kind of consolidated government.  We have not and will not be competitive or have major successes with 35+ municipalities working against one another.  

    Which municipalities came out publically against the decision to terminate UAB football?–Birmingham and Homewood.  Where were the other 33?

    But that’s true in almost everything Birmingham.  The City of Birmingham is expected to represent our entire region, but the City represents less than 1/3 of the population of our County.

    Please continue to comment.  We need to continue to have intelligent conversations.

  5. *And had Ray Watts said, “No, we’re keeping football,” no one would have accused him of not having the best interests of UAB at heart. No, people would have praised his leadership and wanted a statue of him put on campus. 

    The only variable is football. It really demonstrates the shallowness of the Free UAB “movement.” And when someone makes a decision to shutter a flop of a program, only then is he vilified.  

    The anger IS misplaced. It should be placed on the “fans” who only half-heartedly supported football for two decades and “filled” the stadium with 20,000 people holding free tickets.

  6. *Bob, I regard your remarks as nonsense. While every program has its die-hard fans, quality on the field determines attendance. When Alabama and Auburn were having bad years under Shula or Chizik, plenty of seats were to be had. And those are programs with a long and storied tradition. 

    Remember that, in 2004, UAB was enjoying crowds north of 30,000, chiefly because it was beginning to beat teams such as Baylor, TCU, and Mississippi State. What’s more, football attendance enjoyed a resurgence this year. Why? Because the team started winning. And it was a program that actually broke even this year, which is more than most established Division I schools can say. 

    As I stated before, an athletic program is far more than a pleasant diversion on a Saturday afternoon. Instead, it is the most visible part of the university brand, one that brings back alumni and creates interest in potential students. Put UAB on ESPN with a respectable team, a good band, and a student body, and you suddenly are on the radar. So by lopping off the football program, you are really erasing a lot of the university’s brand identity and its potential to recruit future students. 

    The anger is quite justified. Not because football has been eliminated, but because we have a feckless university president on our hands who completely fumbled matters. Essentially he killed the program just as it was enjoying a resurgence despite a great deal of meddling from the University of Alabama, and he did so just as the program had become bowl eligible. He failed to understand that the attitude towards the program had changed considerably over the previous few months due to energetic leadership. 

    And, no, they weren’t going to be erecting any statues to the guy. He had already made a number of missteps. He simply had not been in office long enough for his mistakes to accumulate. But he made one doozy of one back in early December. 

    Here’s the deal. To be a leader, you have to have followers. Ray Watts has managed to destroy the confidence of the faculty, the alumni, the students, and the surrounding community in a breathtakingly short period of time. Time for Ray to go. 

  7. *With the news announced today that the fix was in months before the announcement, we now know that Ray Watts had mapped this out months ahead of time. His previous pronouncement that a decision was made in late October or early November has now been proved a lie. So if we had little reason to trust Ray Watts before, we have even less reason to trust him now. 

  8. “Which municipalities came out
    publically against the decision to terminate UAB football?–Birmingham
    and Homewood.  Where were the other 33? “

    At present, more than 40 municipalities
    have passed resolutions regarding UAB, including Gardendale,
    Irondale, Leeds, Homewood, Trussville, Tarrant, and Vestavia. An
    up-to-date list can be found at

    I hope that helps.


  9. Wikipedia defines integrity this way. Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. It is generally a personal choice to uphold oneself to consistently moral and ethical standards.

    In ethics, integrity is regarded by many people as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. Integrity can stand in opposition to hypocrisy,  in that judging with the standards of integrity involves regarding internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding within themselves apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.

    Based on the revelations I would strongly suggest Dr Watts and the entire UABOT is completely void of integrity. If Dr. Watts wants, or ever expects, to rebuild his integrity he should resign immediately. Short of his resignation he should be removed from office.

    UAB should be separated from UABOT. A new UABBOT (perhaps renamed to University of Birmingham UBBOT) should me selected (not self-appointed) and should not include a single person with ties to UA, UABOT, Bryant Bank, or any other business currently associated with the UABOT.

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