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October 13, 2011
Moore has been a part of the UA family for more than 50 years
Mal Moore, whose ties with the University of Alabama go back to the Bear Bryant era, is a man who rarely has a moment to himself. Since becoming UA's athletic director in 1999, he's weathered storms and basked in the glow of accomplishments. He travels extensively, to games, alumni gatherings and meetings. He's the face of UA sports for the many fans who live and die with the Tide.
And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I wouldn't have chosen any other career but this one," said Moore, who at age 71 is still fit and energetic. "I've been a fortunate man."
Moore grew up on a small farm in Dozier, a little town in Crenshaw County.
"I had an outstanding mother and father," he said. "There were seven children, and I was next to the youngest.
"We lived like any other farm family way out in the country. I was seven or eight years old before we got electricity. We had milk cows and mules and grew peanuts, corn and cotton."
At tiny Dozier High School, "We had three sports - football, basketball and baseball - and I played all of them," he said. "Everything was centered around the school.
"You didn't realize there was another world out there."
Moore, a high school quarterback, was about to discover the world of big-time college football. Recruited by Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, he chose Alabama.
"My father was a big Alabama fan, so that was my influence," he said.
Moore wasn't the only new guy in Tuscaloosa when he arrived in the fall of 1958. Also on campus was first-year head football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.
"Coach Bryant was a big man," said Moore.
"Gene Stallings introduced me to him in the hallway where his offi ce was located. You sensed right away that he was in command."
Moore was one of 83 freshmen football players that year. By his own admission, he wasn't one of the top athletes.
"I had no clue about football until I stepped on that field," he said. "It was tough. Everybody thought of leaving.
"I called my daddy. I told him it was getting difficult to hang in.
"There was a long silence. So I decided I'd try a little longer."
Moore's decision paid off. The 1961 team won the national championship, the fi rst of eight national titles Moore would be part of as a player, coach or A.D.
Bryant's effect on his players and on the university was tremendous right from the start, Moore said. "He instilled pride in the players," he said." He changed the way people saw the University of Alabama."
Bryant had an impact on Moore, too.
"I constantly think of what he would have done in certain situations. His attitudes and thoughts are always in my mind."
As his college days drew to a close, Moore decided he wanted to go into coaching.
"I'd asked Coach Bryant to help me find a coaching job," he said. "I wasn't a great player, and I didn't think I'd hear anything back from him."
One day, however, Bryant called Moore into his office. Bryant had met Jim Sweeney, recently named the Montana State University head coach. Sweeney, said Bryant, needed a defensive backs coach and would welcome a former Alabama player to his staff.
"Coach Bryant said, 'Call this number, but act like you don't know you've got the job,' " Moore said, smiling at the memory.
Moore had to get out an atlas to find Bozeman, Montana.
"It was a fun time. I got to go the country club once a week, and they had a piano player that I got to know. When I'd walk in, he'd start playing 'Stars Fell on Alabama.' It made me homesick."
Moore returned to Tuscaloosa in 1964 as a graduate assistant on Bryant's staff. He would spend 19 years with Bryant, fi rst coaching defensive backs, then quarterbacks and finally serving eight years as offensive coordinator.
He finished his master's degree in education and, at Bryant's suggestion, joined the Air National Guard.
"I would've been drafted, I think, and it would have been hard to get back into coaching if I'd been gone for three or four years," said Moore. While it's hard to single out special memories from the Bryant era, Moore said he'd always remember the 1964-65 national championship, the 1966 undefeated season and the 1973 Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame.
When Bryant retired, Moore joined the staff at another tradition-rich university: Notre Dame. After a few years there, he heard that Gene Stallings, whom he knew from his Alabama days, was the new head coach of the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals.
"I got word to him that I'd be interested in joining his staff," said Moore, who was hired by Stallings to coach tight ends and receivers. "It was a real positive experience - but different. My office was at Busch Stadium, and nobody ever came by to see you or called you. "In the NFL, one man owns the team. Here, the alumni have a stake in your success."
Back to Bama
Moore longed to return to college football. The opportunity came in 1990 when Stallings became Alabama's new head coach. Moore came with him.
"When I left Alabama, I felt like a man without a country," he said. "When I came back, it was different. I'd been gone eight years, and so many people I'd known weren't here anymore."
Moore was offensive coordinator when the 1992 team won another national title. But his coaching days ended unexpectedly when his beloved wife Charlotte was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
"I never dreamed I'd be in this position (as athletic director)," he said. "I'd wanted to be a head football coach. But Charlotte's illness changed that.
The last two years I coached, things got tougher and tougher. It's seven days a week, day and night. You can't get sick, you can't miss.
"I couldn't do it and be there for her, too."
Stallings and Hootie Ingram, then the UA athletic director, helped Moore make the transition to administration.
"As it turned out, my strengths were a good fi t for the job," Moore said. Moore faced challenges when he took over as A.D. in 1999.
"We had problems with the NCAA and had to hold things together. And I realized how far behind we were on our facilities. That had become more and more important, and we had to enhance our facilities to stay in the game."
For the first time ever, he said, a capital campaign was held for the UA athletic department. In the years to come, Bryant- Denny Stadium would be enhanced and enlarged. Moore has overseen more than $200 million of capital improvements to Alabama's athletic facilities.
"Our athletic department is unique because it stands alone, financially," Moore said. "We don't take any money from the university or the state."
Dr. Robert Witt, University of Alabama president, calls Moore "the most successful and admired athletic director in the history of the university."
"Mal's most noteworthy accomplishment is that he has developed our intercollegiate athletic program with balanced excellence across all sports, facilities and personnel," Witt said.
While football's frequently in the spotlight, Moore said all sports at the university are important to him. "I enjoy seeing all of our sports have success," he said. "It adds to the university. You've got to put teams out there that can compete."
C.M. Newton, former University of Kentucky athletic director and UA head basketball coach, said Moore has "great people skills."
"Being an A.D. is a people business, and you have to deal with all types - student athletes, alumni, administrators, coaches and fairweather fans. Mal bridges that gap well.
"He has a great love for the University of Alabama. It's his passion."
The Saban Story
After a series of coaching changes, some of which drew the displeasure of Bama fans, Moore made what likely will be remembered as his most significant move as A.D.: the hiring of Nick Saban as Alabama's head football coach.
Moore had heard that Saban, then the head coach of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, wanted to be back on a college campus. The A.D. fl ew to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to talk with the former LSU head coach.
"It was a tough time for Coach and for me," said Moore. "Word had been sent out that he wanted out of the NFL, and I knew what he was feeling."
Thanks to Moore's improvements to the athletic department's facilities and finances, he could offer the sought-after coach an attractive package.
"Coach Saban had the ability to come in and recruit great athletes without having to raise money," said Moore. "As he put it, the table was set."
Moore was on the plane bringing Saban and wife Terri to their new home.
"When we flew into Tuscaloosa and were making the approach, we looked down and saw 3,000 to 4,000 fans waiting. It reassured Coach that he'd done the right thing. It was our fans' way of saying thanks. "It meant a lot to Coach and Mrs. Saban. And it meant a lot to me."
"I don't have a lot of free time," said Moore. "When I took this job, I thought I'd play golf three or four times a week.
"It's been more like three or four times a year."
When he does get a break, Moore loves quail hunting with longtime friend Paul Bryant Jr. or spending time with daughter Heather Cook, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., and his two grandchildren.
"I see my family often - but not nearly enough," he said.
Since his wife's death, Moore has become increasingly active in the fi ght against Alzheimer's. "When Charlotte got sick, I got numerous calls from men whose wives had also been diagnosed," he said. "They helped me understand what to expect and how fast things would change.
"I've tried to speak about it, too, particularly with men to try to get them to seek help. I didn't, and that's not the right way to go."
John Copeland, a defensive star on the 1992 championship team, remembered meeting Moore as a coach for the fi rst time. "You could tell he was part of the Bear Bryant era," Copeland said. "He carried himself like a gentleman of the old days and just had that aura about him."
Players could talk to Moore "about anything," said Copeland, and that's still true today.
"I could walk into his office right now - just pop up without an appointment - and his door is always open to his former players. A lot of coaches don't have that policy."
When the two visit, the conversation naturally includes football.
"But we talk about life and life lessons," said Copeland, a coach at Tuscaloosa Academy. "He advises me on how I can better myself so I can get to where I want to be in my career."
Nancy Newton, C.M. Newton's wife, has known Moore since the early 1970s. "He's a fine, comfortable man," she said. "He's a real Southern gentleman - and a friend you're always glad to run into."
Her husband agreed.
"I've known Mal as a coach and as an athletic director," he said. "I've loved watching him grow. He has all the skills for the job, but he's also the type of person who'd have been successful at anything he chose to do.
"I enjoy his company. He's just a good person."
It might be tempting for Moore to rest on his laurels. After all, he's celebrated national championships, brought the athletic department to new heights of success, made Bryant-Denny Stadium one of the most splendid arenas in the country, hired a legendary coach and even, in 2007, saw the building where he works named in his honor.
But Moore isn't ready for a place on the sidelines.
"I'm looking forward to this season," he said, a few days before his Crimson Tide kicked off against Kent State and 53 years after a boy from Dozier arrived in Tuscaloosa.