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March 20, 2013

HURT: Mal Moore, Alabama a match made in heaven

Mal Moore's dream, as he will tell anyone who asks, came true - but not quite in the way he expected.

For years - for decades, really - Moore wanted to follow in Paul "Bear" Bryant's other footsteps, the ones on the sideline and the practice field. Moore wanted to someday be the head coach at Alabama, and he held onto that dream until it became apparent that he would not succeed Gene Stallings in that job.

But Moore didn't want the coaching post for the accolades, or the paycheck. It wasn't an ego thing. Moore thought he was the best man for the job, and he wanted the best man hired for a sole reason and a sole purpose.

He loves Alabama. He wants Alabama to win.

Moore went into athletic administration with the same purpose. He didn't want to be an athletic director somewhere. He wanted to be the athletic director. At Alabama. He didn't want to build a resume. He didn't want to become a millionaire. If he couldn't be the head coach at Alabama, he wanted whoever was the head coach to succeed. If he could do anything to make that happen - unify a fractured alumni base, transform the UA athletic facilities, particularly those for football, go to boring meetings and advocate for Alabama - then that is what he would do.

Moore, who announced Wednesday that he would step down as the Alabama athletic director, accomplished more than he might have dreamed in his 14-year tenure. He hired Nick Saban, which took some fortuitous timing - a year earlier and Saban wouldn't have left Miami for any college job - but also required a job with unlimited resources and unqualified athletic support. Moore provided those things. Yes, he hired Saban, but more important was that, after taking over as athletic director in 1999, he rebuilt Alabama into a job that Saban would take. Things were in place for the right coach, which Saban clearly was, to succeed.

Moore deserves praise for the recent run of football championships, for the three women's NCAA titles that UA programs won in the spring of 2012. He deserves respect for being a gentleman, a classy representative of Alabama, a calm but strong voice in the Southeastern Conference. Moore's tenure wasn't perfect - no AD has a perfect tenure, because no athletic department wins all of the championships in all of the sports all of the time - but he leaves Alabama a stronger program than the one he inherited. There will be an outpouring of honors and accolades forthcoming that recognizes that progress, an outpouring that has already started. Anyone can see why respect is merited.

Among Alabama supporters, though, from the Board of Trustees right down to the Saturday fan, Moore isn't simply respected. He is beloved. Part of that is the strong connection to Bryant, powerful especially for older generations. But it runs deeper than that.

Mal Moore shares a most elemental, often unspoken bond with the whole UA community because, at his very core, he loves Alabama with fierce, unquestioning passion and with no ulterior motive. The man with 10 national championship rings in football (and five in other sports) would tell you he wishes there had been more. Every decision he made for 14 years as AD, whether it turned out well or went awry, was made with that goal and no other. No disappointment, no rejections as a possible head coach (and, at one point, as an AD candidate) embittered him. He simply sought another way to serve, with loyalty and dignity. In doing so, he made his dreams come true - along with the dreams of thousands and thousands of Alabama fans who share his passion.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.



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