TUSCALOOSA | When the University of Alabama Board of Directors meets at 10 a.m. today to approve Bill Battle as the Crimson Tide's next athletic director, a torch will be passed that few could receive with a full understanding of its meaning.
Count Battle among those few.
And count him as well among the few who could inherit the steering wheel of one of the nation's most profitable athletic programs and not blink at the numbers.
Battle was part of the 1961 Alabama national championship team under legendary coach Paul W. "Bear" Bryant, and a teammate of outgoing A.D. Mal Moore. In fact, Moore, who stepped down for health reasons on Wednesday, recommended Battle for the job when it became clear he would no longer be able to take his own successful tenure directing Crimson Tide athletics into a 15th year.
"I think it's an excellent choice. He was the head coach at Tennessee at a very early age," said former Alabama coach Gene Stallings. "His daddy was in athletics, he's been very successful in business. He's an outstanding human being, and I think it's a great choice for Alabama."
One of Battle's other notable marks as Tennessee's head coach was his recruitment of Condredge Holloway, the first African-American quarterback to start in the Southeastern Conference. Battle became the head coach at Tennessee in 1970 and had a seven-year record of 59-22-2 with the Volunteers, including an 11-1 season in his first year. He won 31 games over his first three seasons, but after a 6-5 record in 1976, Volunteers fans became restless, UT dismissed Battle, and he left the coaching business for good.
But as the coaching door closed, a far more lurcrative door opened.
Bryant was looking for some representation to deal with product endorsements and business owners wanting to capitalize on his name and likeness.
He trusted Battle with the task.
But it was a far more grand and wide-reaching idea that made Battle's success as a businessman the stuff of legend. In time, sought to enlist the support of UA, and eventually dozens of colleges, in a venture that allowed the schools to license the rights to their official logos and insignias in exchange for royalties. The business, Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), grew into a multi-million dollar giant that laid the foundation for the marketing rights colleges profit from today.
And it was the first and most successful way for colleges to rid themselves of rogue businesses that profited from their logos without permission. The business was eventually sold for some $100 million.
"He's not taking this (A.D.) job fore of money. He was very smart in doing what he did with that business," said former Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill, also a former teammate of Battle's at Alabama. "He actually branded the product of college sports. He was the first. ... As an A.D., he'll be excellent. Nine out of 10 times it's better to have a guy that doesn't need the job but wants the job because of a passion for it."
At age 71, questions about how long Battle will hold or cares to hold the position will abound. Questions about his ability to succeed, however, will not.
"He is one of the finest individuals of any type that I've ever worked with. He has a great intellect and impeccable integrity," said Wesley Haynes, who helped branch Battle's business into the non-collegiate market with the PGA Tour. "When he tells you he's going to do something, it always gets done. He's the grandfather of the sports licensing industry."
Former Tennessee coach Doug Dickey hired Battle as an assistant coach at UT in the 1960s, and Battle was named Dickey's successor when Dickey took the head coaching job at Florida. Battle was the youngest head coach in college football at age 28 when he accepted the position.
Alabama's choice of Battle as athletic director was of no surprise to Dickey.
"He's an imaginitive guy. He certainly has had all the success in the business community that it takes," said Dickey. "Bill was always a hard-working guy, always there when you wanted him there. He worked the players hard and he did a great job transitioning from player to coach. He will be outstanding at Alabama."
Former Tennessee Sports Information Director Bud Ford said Battle carried a certain presence as Tennessee's coach that commanded respect.
"Coach Battle had the persona of a head coach. He had a look about him, a stature about him, that said, 'Here is a leader.' He was a born leader in my mind," Ford said. "He was sharp appearance-wise. He wore a tie and he was always in control of the sideline."
Stallings said Battle has been active in his charitable efforts for children of need as well.
"I know through the years he's always supported the golf tournaments I have that supports the children at the RISE program," Stallings said. "I was very fond of him when he was playing. He's just a classy person. I think the board has selected an outstanding guy to replace Mal."
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.
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