Former Alabama football player Martin Houston joins Walt Maddox in Tuscaloosa mayor race

Jason Morton
The Tuscaloosa News
Former Alabama football coach Gene Stallings was on hand to introduce one of his former players, Martin Houston, as he began his bid to become Tuscaloosa's mayor, Jan. 14, 2020. Houston greets a supporter backstage before the press conference. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Four-term incumbent Walt Maddox officially has his first challenger for the mayor’s seat in the 2021 municipal election.

Former Alabama football running back Martin Houston, who played on the Crimson Tide’s 1992 national championship team, formally announced his foray into local politics on Thursday.

“I’m running so I can make Tuscaloosa a better place for everyone to live, work, play and worship,” said Houston, who currently works as the senior director of membership growth for Alabama One Insurance, which is an independent insurance agency owned by the Alabama One Credit Union.

Houston also serves as the lead pastor at Harvest Church in Coker, located about 15 minutes northwest of Tuscaloosa, as well the host of "The Martin Houston Show" on Tide 100.9.

On hand to officially launch Houston’s campaign was Gene Stallings, the former University of Alabama football coach who led Houston and his teammates to Alabama’s 12th national title in 1992.

On a cool and blustery January afternoon, Stallings said it was his “pure joy” to announce his former player’s mayoral campaign.

“I can’t think of anybody that would do a better job at being the mayor of Tuscaloosa than Martin Houston,” said Stallings, who left Tuscaloosa for his current home in Paris, Texas, after retiring from the Capstone in 1996. “He’s going to be honest. He’s not going to play favorites. He’s going to do the job that he’s supposed to do. And if I had a vote in this county, my vote would be for Martin Houston.”

Stallings’ endorsement comes on the same day that Maddox formally kicked off his campaign for a fifth term as Tuscaloosa’s mayor.

Tuscaloosa mayoral candidate Martin Houston speaks during a press conference announcing his candidacy Thursday, Jan. 14, 2020. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

First elected in 2005, Maddox pointed to his accomplishments helping navigate the Great Recession of the mid-2000s, the citywide recovery from the April 27, 2011, tornado that devastated more than 12% of the city and the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis as reasons for voters to return him to the mayor’s office.

“There is no denying that we have had our fair share of challenges along the way. Yet, even through the shadows … we have delivered real and lasting results that have created a bridge to a brighter future,” Maddox said in a Thursday message to voters and campaign supporters alike. “Time and again, you have placed your trust in my leadership, and I do not take this responsibility lightly. With your help, together, we will continue building a bridge to a brighter future.”

Former Alabama football coach Gene Stallings was on hand to introduce one of his former players, Martin Houston, as he began his bid to become Tuscaloosa's mayor, Jan. 14, 2020. Stallings jokes with Houston as he leaves the podium following the introduction. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

But Houston, who made Tuscaloosa his home after coming here from Centre, where he was three-time All-State and 1987 “Player of the Year” to play football for Stallings and the Crimson Tide, said he believes it’s time for new leadership for Tuscaloosa.

And that, he said, is why he’s running to win the March 2, non-partisan municipal election.

Former Alabama football coach Gene Stallings was on hand to introduce one of his former players, Martin Houston, as he began his bid to become Tuscaloosa's mayor, Jan. 14, 2020. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

“Do not allow in the coming weeks any candidate – including me – to make this about popularity, personalities or party lines. Do not let that happen,” Houston said outside his campaign headquarters on University Boulevard. “I’m not running against the mayor, but I’m running for you, Tuscaloosa – and I’m running to raise the bar from a good city to a great city for all the people.

“I’m running to help build this city to a place where we can all reach our full potential and have great lives for ourselves and our families.”

Reach Jason Morton at jason.morton@tuscaloosanews.com.