One of the bigger recent stories in the world of sport was the resignation of Mal Moore as the athletic director at the University of Alabama. In many ways, Moore was the face of athletics at Alabama. He served as the Athletic Director for 14 years and was affiliated with the university for all but about seven years since he arrived on the Tuscaloosa campus as a freshman football player in 1958.
Moore was one of 89 freshmen players in Paul “Bear” Bryant’s first signing class when he returned to UA as head football coach. Moore has often told stories about players dragging foot lockers down the back stairs of the athletic dorm at night as they left the team. Of the 89 players in that first class, only 12 survived Bryant’s harsh training methods to complete their careers at the Capstone.
Moore never played much during his career. He was stuck behind Pat Trammell and Joe Namath at quarterback. He completed 8 of 18 passes during his career. He has said that he thought many times about quitting but didn’t because he was afraid of disappointing his father.
Moore served as a graduate assistant and then assistant coach at Alabama through the remainder of Coach Bryant’s tenure. For the last decade he was the offensive coordinator for Bryant’s wishbone teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s. When Bryant retired following the 1982 season, Moore campaigned for the head coaching job. That job went instead to Ray Perkins. Moore then took a job as an offensive coach at Notre Dame, where he stayed for three seasons. When Jerry Faust was fired by the Irish, Moore got an assistant’s job with Gene Stallings in the NFL.
Stallings took the Alabama job for the 1990 season and brought Moore with him. When Stallings retired after the 1996 season, Moore was again passed over for the job of head coach. Three years later, in 1999 he was promoted from a position he had taken within the athletic department and named Athletic Director.
Moore presided over two different periods of probation for violations of NCAA rules. The first probation was severe and the football team suffered on the field. Moore also had to deal with sex scandals involving two head football coaches. He guided the Tide through those troubled times and in January 2007 he hit the jackpot when he convinced Nick Saban to take over the football program.
Moore also guided two expansions of the team’s football stadium, which today seats over 101,000. He also oversaw significant upgrades to the school’s basketball arena and major additions to the football training facility. New facilities were built for tennis and soccer and the track and baseball stadiums received upgrades. Moore is credited with raising about $220 million during his tenure. The school’s athletic department budget grew from $31 million to more than $100 million during his reign.
Men’s basketball has not enjoyed the success it achieved in the 1970s and 1980s. The women’s basketball team has ranked as one of the poorest in the Southeastern Conference. Baseball achieved a great deal of success in the late 1990s but has slipped in recent years. Both men’s and women’s track teams have been among conference also-rans in the past 10 years. Gymnastics and men’s and women’s golf teams have flourished.
Moore spent nearly 50 years at Alabama as a player, coach and administrator. That is almost unheard of in the modern world of college athletics. He took heat for some of his hires—Mike Price and Mike Shula in football and Stephanie Smith in women’s basketball are three that come to mind. Moore was a part of 10 national championships in football, two in women’s gymnastics, one in women’s golf and one in women’s softball. The school’s practice facility for football bears his name.
Moore’s resignation for health reasons marks the end of an era in college athletics. For many years athletic directors tended to come from the ranks of coaching. In today’s world of mega-dollar athletic budgets most schools have started to hire people with a business and management background. Moore successfully bridged that divide. But he may be the last of a breed.
It is true that his successor, Bill Battle, played football for Bryant at Alabama and coached football at Tennessee. Battle, however, achieved his greatest success as a businessman who founded and eventually sold the nation’s largest company that licenses trademarked items for college and university athletic departments. Battle sold his company about six years ago for more than $140 million.
It is always important to mark the end of eras in history. The retirement of Mal Moore marks one of those times.
Battle is 71 years old and inked a four-year contract to lead the athletic department at UA. He is unlikely to serve beyond that. Battle’s successor is likely to be someone with much more of a business than an athletic background. Marketing and finance are subjects that have replaced knowledge of sport X’s and O’s as job requirements to run athletic departments.
We should all pause and pay homage to the passing of an era. The business of college athletics is now mostly a business. Job well done, Mal Moore.
Greg Tyler is the Library Director at the United States Sports Academy. He has also taught courses at the Academy in sports law. He worked for years in youth sports as a coach, league administrator and as a soccer referee. He has a law degree and practiced law for a number of years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.