In a matter of months, Mike DuBose has gone from being safe in his job as Alabama's football coach, to the embarrassment of having to publicly admit--and be penalized by the university for--an extramarital relationship, to the insecurity of being a .500 coach close to losing his job, to winning the Southeastern Conference championship, a berth in Saturday's Orange Bowl and, of all things, a contract extension.

And if this whirlwind of events isn't surprising enough, consider Crimson Tide star running back Shaun Alexander's recent reaction to the final outcome:

"What's wrong is that Coach will get this contract extension, and it looks like a reward for winning the SEC. I don't like it," Alexander said recently. "He should be rewarded for turning his life around and for going to the right person, Jesus Christ, for the answers--not for winning football games."

DuBose just appreciates the second chance he's received.

"It's been a difficult year and a blessed year," he said last week. "I did some things that caused people a lot of pain and I'm sorry for that."

On Aug. 5, three days before DuBose's 24th wedding anniversary, Alabama held a news conference during which he admitted having had an extramarital relationship with a football office secretary. During the spring, DuBose had denied there was an affair, but the woman's lawyer had threatened a lawsuit claiming sexual harassment, and the university had settled the case for $350,000.

The school, in turn, reduced DuBose contract from five years to three and said it will take $12,000 a month from his salary for 30 months to cover the cost of the settlement.

DuBose, 46, was ashamed and scared. He said his wife, Polly, who was his high school sweetheart in his home town of Opp, Ala., and their two children had forgiven him. He also said he had "given his life to God." But he was scared because he was on the verge of losing his dream job at his alma mater.

"I considered firing him," Alabama President Andrew Sorensen said last week in a phone interview, "but he had admitted his mistakes in a news conference and I thought he deserved a second chance. Similar things have been done for other faculty members who have been involved in cases like this."

But unlike other faculty members, DuBose also has tens of thousands of people around the state evaluating his performance. And late on the afternoon of Sept. 18, boos cascaded from the stands as DuBose and his team left Legion Field following a last-minute, 29-28 loss to Louisiana Tech that dropped DuBose's record at Alabama to 13-13.

Within hours, signs went up in the Legion Field parking lot, saying: "Fire DuBose." Not long thereafter, most local media outlets called for his ouster because of the affair and his poor record.

However, the week after the loss to Louisiana Tech, the Crimson Tide upset then-No. 14 Arkansas, 35-28. The following week, it defeated then-No. 3 Florida, 40-39, in Gainesville. Alabama went on to win the SEC West Division championship, trounce the Gators, 34-7, in the SEC championship game and end the regular season 10-2 and ranked fifth in the nation.

Saturday, DuBose will lead Alabama in the Orange Bowl against No. 8 Michigan. Yesterday, the university trustees' Compensation Committee approved a contract extension for DuBose, reportedly for two years through 2002.

The coach will make $540,000 next season, and Thomas Baddley, the lawyer of the woman who threatened a lawsuit, recently criticized the arrangement.

She "can't leave her house, she has been absolutely scorned by the community," Baddley said. "She worked there for 17 years and was loyal as a dog. She worked seven days a week and did everything in that athletic department. People forgot there was a person victimized here. I'm not trying to resurrect this, but there is something out of kilter when athletics overrides human decency."

Coaching at Alabama was something DuBose dreamed about since 1971, when he was a freshman linebacker for legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.

DuBose helped Alabama win a national championship in 1973 and go 32-4 during his three seasons as a defensive end. He was undersized at 6 feet tall, but he knew how to survive on grit and hard work. After all, he had started picking cotton when he was 5 years old, making a half penny for every pound he picked. In high school, he had a cleaning job in a textile mill in Opp and also worked wheeling sodas into grocery stores. DuBose's mother, Euna, still works in a textile mill in Opp.

"I learned how to work when I was younger," DuBose said. "You learned something about hard work and family values growing up in Opp."

But he looked short on family values in August when he admitted to the affair. Although DuBose denied rumors of the affair in the spring, Alexander said: "We knew what was going on. . . . Coach was in denial and he was finally caught in August."

Alexander said the team has about 90 percent attendance at a chapel service before games and when DuBose "looked to God for help," the team seemed to rally around their coach--especially after the loss to Louisiana Tech.

"We had guys step up and not be afraid to make plays," Alexander said. "I've seen some teams where guys just want to look out for themselves and they're scared they'll mess up. We started looking out for each other more."

Now, a program that looked like it was in serious trouble in September might be considered a national championship contender in 2000. The team will have 18 starters back, and DuBose and his staff have produced three consecutive highly rated recruiting classes because DuBose has opened up Alabama's offense and made it fun and diverse. The school is attracting top quarterbacks, wide receivers and offensive linemen who used to sign with Tennessee and Florida, among others.

But DuBose knows he very easily could have been removed from the picture.

"At the lowest point of all this I looked at my life, saw where I was, and I didn't like it," he said. "I could continue the self-destruction or I could change. I needed to change."