COMMENTARY — [Editor's note: This column by sports editor Robert Carter appeared in the Wednesday, March 27 print edition of The North Jefferson News. Since then, Moore died of pulmonary complications in a Durham, N.C. hospital on Saturday, March 30.]
A man who has led the rebuilding of a Southeastern Conference football powerhouse, overseeing its return to former glories, would be justified in having — or at least understood for — a rather large ego.
Mal Moore has anything but that.
The longtime athletic director at the University of Alabama is calling it a career. After having a part in 10 Crimson Tide national championship football teams — one as a player, six as an assistant to Paul “Bear” Bryant and Gene Stallings, plus three as the AD — Moore has stepped down because of declining health.
Moore will be forever tagged as the man who hired Nick Saban. But he was much more than that, and history will likely record his tenure at the Capstone as important as that of both Bryant and Saban, though for different reasons.
When Moore came on board in 1999 after serving as assistant athletic director for five years, the Tide football program was in disarray, floundering under the lackluster leadership of Mike DuBose and headed for NCAA sanctions from the Albert Means case. Moore dumped DuBose and replaced him with Dennis Franchione, who righted the ship and then left for Texas A&M.
After the disasterous and blessedly brief Mike Price affair, Moore brought in Mike Shula to guide the Tide. Despite his coaching pedigree, Shula never really brought Alabama back to its former prominence, save for a 10-2 season in 2005.
Many of those who praise Moore now as he departs have conveniently forgotten that his head was on the chopping black after Shula was dumped. The choice of Saban as the new coach not only saved Alabama’s program, it saved Moore’s fanny.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Football, of course, dominates the sports landscape at Alabama, which means that Moore’s accomplishments in overseeing other Tide sports is sometimes overlooked. During his tenure, the school has also become a dominant force in women’s gymnastics and softball. Sarah Patterson already had led the team to three of their six national championships before Moore took the AD post, but since that time the Tide gymnastics program has won back-to-back titles, and draws higher average attendance than men’s basketball at Coleman Coliseum. Alabama: where gymnastics is a revenue sport.
Moore also hired women’s golf coach Mic Potter and men’s coach Jay Seawell, who have led their teams to an NCAA crown and a second-place finish, respectively.
In total, Tide teams have won five national championships in the last 15 months. That’s enough to make any athletic director’s ego explode.
But not Moore. When asked about his achievements, he invariably deflects attention and credit to the coaches and athletes. It’s a trait he learned well from Bryant.
Add to that multiple expansions to Bryant-Denny Stadium, as well as new or improved facilities for nearly all other Tide teams, and Moore is leaving the school during what can truly be considered its golden age — and considering the Tide’s storied history, that’s saying something.
Moore saw his departure coming, as any man of his age would, and he had a say in his successor. On paper, Bill Battle appears to be the optimal replacement, with experience as an athlete, coach — alas, at rival Tennessee — and hugely successful businessman.
Those officially licensed Tide products that you buy, the ones with those little holographic stickers on the tags, were Battle’s idea. He built Collegiate Licensing Company from its start in Selma to a marketing powerhouse, making millions for schools and conferences. Battle sold the business to IMG, the sports marketing giant, for $100 million.
Battle doesn’t need the gig, which probably makes him all the more suited for it.
But he will have very large shoes to fill. Mal Moore has left a huge legacy at Alabama, much more than athletic directors typically do. He made the transition from big-time college sports to the big-time business of college sports, and built in into a blue-chip conglomerate. It’s more than the Tide; it’s Crimson Tide Inc.
His old coach would be proud.