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December 30, 2012

Q&A with UA A.D. Mal Moore

University of Alabama athletic director Mal Moore spoke to The Tuscaloosa News recently to discuss his history with Notre Dame, both as an assistant coach with the Fighting Irish and as an Alabama assistant in some of the games between the two historic programs.

Q: How did your move from Alabama to Notre Dame come about, and what was the experience there like?

A: Great memories for me. I guess, having been at Alabama with Coach (Paul W. "Bear") Bryant 24 years - played for him five, coached for him 19 - maybe I had lived a sheltered life in the coaching profession that I had not moved around a lot. I actually didn't know anyone there. I went up and interviewed for the job and got the job.

It was like an adventure moving there, and taking the family there. Such a change, a drastic change. The weather, the people, not knowing anyone. But it was a great experience for me. I realized there are very good people everywhere - and there certainly were there. I made great friends and enjoyed my time there.

I realized, too, for the first time to be away from Alabama, to look back at what I had been a part of here, what I'd experienced here. I think you get to where you kind of take things for granted. I didn't realize what we had here, having coach Bryant for 25 years, the great success we enjoyed.

I went from Alabama, one of the great names, to Notre Dame, one of the great names. It was very exciting, that part of it.

The breakdown:

Click here for former Alabama great and Tidesports.com correspondent John Copeland's video analysis of UA commit Derrick Henry.

Q: You coached for Gerry Faust, who was hired from Notre Dame out of the high school ranks. How did he handle that pressure?

A: Coach Faust had been there two years when I joined the staff. It would have been tough for anyone to go from high school to the head coach of Notre Dame. He loved Notre Dame. They'll never have another coach that loved the place like he did. And still does. I talk with coach every now and again. I saw him a couple years ago when I went up for Marty Lyons' or Woodrow Lowe's (College Football Fall of Fame) enshrinement. I went to a party they had for Tim Brown, who won the Heisman. I got to see a lot of the players that I coached. There were quite a few there, and Coach Faust came.

Q: How are the traditions at Alabama and Notre Dame similar?

A: They're very similar, I think. Both have great success through their years. Alabama from the '20s, Knute Rockne and the great success Notre Dame had through those years. It's powerful across the country. What really shocked me when I went there, I just thought it was a huge university. But when I was there in '83, '84, '85, I think the enrollment was less than 8,000. And it's probably not over 9,000 now. It's unique, very small, but such a great reputation academically and such a great tradition and success athletically. Alabama through its history has had great success and championship success at different times all through its history. The two are very similar. Their alumni expect success and greatness, and I hope that never changes.

Q: Who were some of the offensive weapons you coached at Notre Dame?

A: (Running back) Allen Pinkett was a great one. He set some records while he was there. The tight end, Mark Bavaro, who played for the (NFL's New York) Giants, what a great player. Very capable players. ... Steve Beuerlein was the quarterback. Beuerlein came and played in a golf tournament here about six years ago. We had Cornelius (Bennett) here. As one of our gifts, we gave a helmet, half Notre Dame and half Alabama, and Cornelius signed the Alabama half and Beuerlein signed the Notre Dame half. It was pretty neat.

Q: Had you stayed at Notre Dame for one more season, you would have coached a game against Alabama. What would that have been like?

A:That would have been strange. I've never experienced that. I guess I never will.

Q: Tell us about your experiences coaching against Notre Dame as an Alabama assistant.

A: I was involved in those first three that were such good games. They were outstanding football games. The first one was a Sugar Bowl. Then the next one was an Orange Bowl, and the one after that was in South Bend. We lost the first one by one, the second by two, the third one by three. The first game in '73, we were a very good football team that just had opportunity after opportunity to win the game and didn't make the plays we needed to make. Which is usually the case in the close games - the one who makes the plays wins. I think we were good enough to win but didn't pull it off. It was every game with Notre Dame, they were all so close.

Q: What about the 1980 game that Notre Dame won 7-0?

A: Again, several missed opportunities to win it ourselves. Each time they've played, both teams have been very good teams, very competitive, in close games. And both defenses always set the tone.

Q: What was your reaction upon learning of the Alabama-Notre Dame matchup this year?

A:When we won the (Southeastern Conference championship) game in Atlanta, that was so exciting. An unbelievable game. To win that and know that we were in the championship game, it was a thrill. What a moment. I got a few (phone calls from Notre Dame). They of course knew they were in it. Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame's athletic director) of course called me before the SEC Championship Game. We missed each other. But he and I talked (later). We have tried now for three years, four years, since he's been the AD, to put a game together. I said, 'Hell, you and I couldn't do it, but the players did it.' What a stage.

Q: How did you grow as a coach at Notre Dame?

A: When I went to the Cardinals (of the NFL after leaving Notre Dame), I realized ... I knew one way, the option game I'd been exposed to for so long. I was way behind a lot of the things going on in football. It moved pretty fast. My exposure on the offensive side was in the wishbone for so long, it's a great offense, it's easier to run it than a lot of offenses because of the way it's structured. I didn't realized how sophisticated the pro game was compared to the option. It's a totally different game. I think you move around, coach in different places, there are a lot of ways to get a job done. At Notre Dame, it was more the I-formation. Pinkett was very good in it.

Q: What were your impressions of the Notre Dame fan base while you were there?

A: They were very supportive, always big crowds. The stadium then seated maybe 60,000. The stadium that Rockne built. They've since built around it, took the seats up to 70-some thousand. But when you walk in, you still feel like it's the old stadium.

Q: Notre Dame has always played a tough, national schedule as an independent. What was that experience like as a coach, facing tough teams week after week?

A: We played Southern Cal every year. We played them twice on campus and once there. We played LSU in Baton Rouge. We played in New York, I think we played in Chicago. We played Michigan, Michigan State, while I was there. I don't think we played Ohio State while I was there. Pretty impressive. It was quite a challenge.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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