Five years ago on Friday — on March 30, 2013 — Mal Moore passed away.
The passage of time, even if you hardly notice it as it goes racing by, is so fast when you pause long enough to notice it. Could it be five years? How could someone still be so vivid in memory after that much time? But that was the case with Moore, a singular personality in a humble way, a personification of the phrase “a true gentleman.”
Moore’s legacy at the University of Alabama, including his tenure of nearly 13 years as its athletic director, a time span which saw the UA athletic department gather itself after disarray and grow into the economic giant that it is today, is strong. Moore’s great gift wasn’t simple fundraising. It was an ability to unify a fan base and guide them gently, so much so that it hardly seemed like the friendly prodding that it was, to share his abiding love of Alabama. That meant Alabama football, certainly, but was broader than that, encompassing the entire school.
Moore was a football coach at heart, one that knew good football coaching when he saw it, partly as a result of the lessons he learned from his coach and mentor, Paul “Bear” Bryant and partly from his own intuition.
His crowning achievement, for many people, was the hiring of Nick Saban, an obvious triumph made possible in no small part by the fact Moore had navigated UA through NCAA probation and rebuilt its facilities to such an extent that it was one of America’s most desirable coaching destinations.
Whatever one might say about his other hires for the football coaching position — Dennis Franchione, Mike Price, Mike Shula — they were not hired with Alabama at full strength. Saban was.
Moore’s death from respiratory disease came too soon and there was little chance to reflect that his untimely passing came at a symbolic time.
The final Alabama football game he witnessed, less than three months before he passed away, saw Alabama at the pinnacle of college football, crushing Notre Dame — a team and program that Moore, who had coached for a time in South Bend, revered more than any other except for the Crimson Tide. That was a fulfillment of Moore’s expectations — not hopes, but expectations — of what Alabama could be.
He made other coaching hires, some successful and some not, which is the story of nearly all veteran athletic directors over time.
He proved to be as shrewd at hiring golf coaches (both Jay Seawell and Mic Potter have had national championship teams at Alabama) as he was in hiring a football coach.
Moore would have gotten a private chuckle out of his golf acumen. And no matter which coach he hired, or which one had been in place in 2000, when he became AD, he was always in their corner, quick with support and slow to criticize.
In five years, times change and so do cultures. There is no fair way to compare current AD Greg Byrne, or any other eventual successor, to Moore. No one carried the store of institutional memory that he brought to the job. No one is ever likely to do so in the future.
It’s sad, in a way, that Moore wasn’t present at even more football championships, including the most recent one last January. But perhaps he was present, at least in spirit, and he was certainly there in influence.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.