Gene Stallings was back in familiar territory on Friday morning, sitting in his old corner office in the Mal Moore Athletic Complex. At 83, Stallings wasn’t moving back in, bringing in any familiar items like the jar of hot peppers he once kept in his desk for an occasional snack. Instead, the former University of Alabama coach was socializing, visiting with UA director of athletics Greg Byrne, the current occupant of Stallings’ former office. He also walked to the other side of the building for a conversation with current coach Nick Saban, then chatted with some other old friends while he was there.
Stallings was in town Thursday and Friday to lend his presence to his annual “CHIP in for RISE” golf tournament and dinner, the RISE Center’s largest fundraisers of the year. The RISE Center, part of UA’s College of Human Environmental Sciences, serves children with disabilities and their typically developing peers, from ages 8 weeks to 5 years.
The past year hasn’t been the easiest for Stallings, but he wasn’t complaining on Friday.
“For a guy who’s had two strokes and a major heart attack,” Stallings said, “I’m doing OK.”
The heart attack, Stallings said, “was severe. If it wasn’t for the defibrillator, I wouldn’t be here.”
“But I’m doing about as well as I can,” Stallings added. “The main effect from the strokes is that I lost my peripheral vision. That’s a little bit of a disadvantage because if an animal is coming at me from the side, I can’t see it.”
While being blindsided by a large beast isn’t a daily concern for some people in their 80’s, it is for Stallings — who still works on his Paris, Texas, ranch.
“I just can’t do as much as I used to, but I work the cattle some,”Stallings said. “I’ve only got one ranch hand working for me, so he needs the help.”
When he isn’t involved with livestock, Stallings still keeps up with his “other” career — football.
“I still do seven or eight radio shows (including a weekly appearance on 102.9 FM in Tuscaloosa) every week,” Stallings said. “So I have to keep up.
“I’ve got a grandson (tight end J.C. Chalk) playing at Clemson, so I follow them closely. I was on the Board of Regents at Texas A&M — I’m not any more, but I keep up. I’ve talked to (new Aggie coach) Jimbo Fisher on the phone but I haven’t met him yet. I do know a couple of his assistants and there’s a lot of excitement there. And I keep up with Alabama. I know I will be going to the Clemson-Texas A&M game (on September 8) but I hope to make it back for an Alabama game.”
Visits to Tuscaloosa also bring back memories of family for Stallings, whose son, John Mark, was a familiar presence at Alabama for the seven years his father coached.
“He was the joy of my life,” Stallings said of his son, who passed away in 2008. “And, oh, how he loved Alabama…”
Stallings is continuing fundraising efforts that started last year for Johnny’s House, a residence for special needs children in Haiti. It is named for John Mark Stallings, who was born with Down Syndrome.
“My daughter (Laurie Vanderpool) and her husband (Dr. David Vanderpool) live in Haiti,” he said. “They built a clinic there. Then they built a hospital. Then they built a surgical hospital, and a water system.
“Now, they’re building Johnny’s House.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.