From 'Bear' Bryant era to Nick Saban's tenure, Finus Gaston has spent lifetime in Alabama sports | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News
Alabama senior associate athletic director Finus Gaston is retiring after nearly 50 years.

Long before there was any thought of an actual job, Finus Gaston was doing what he could for Alabama athletics as an active 5 year old. 

“My father (Finus Gaston Sr.) took the sports information director job here in 1952,” said Gaston, who is retiring this month from his position as Alabama’s senior associate athletics director. “Dad quickly realized that if he was wearing about three different hats, going to football games, baseball games, basketball games, and that if he was going to have any time to spend with me, it would have to be taking me with him, which he did as soon as I was old enough.

"So I’d go to football practice and chase balls. I was a ball boy for the baseball team. Then, when dad left the university, Coach (Paul "Bear") Bryant allowed me to stay around and work with the managers. Some days, my job would be to chase footballs. Some days, my job would be to guard Coach (Jim) Goosetree’s medical bag.”

More:Relive Alabama football's historic national championship run with a special book

By the time Gaston graduated from Tuscaloosa High School in 1969, he already had years of experience in the practice field.

“When the time came to work my way through college, I went to Coach Bryant again and he put me on scholarship as a manager,” Gaston said. “Then, I was head manager in 1971, 1972 and 1973. After I graduated, there was an opening in Rose Administration and (then-UA president David Matthews) hired me. I worked in the administrative side until 1996 and then came back to athletics full-time. 

“In 1999, I was interim athletic director, and that was a great learning experience. What I mainly learned was I didn’t want that full-time. Fortunately, we had the perfect candidate in Mal (Moore), so I’ve had a great group of ADs to work with, from Mal to Bill (Battle) to Greg Byrne, who has taught me a lot.”

For most of his 25-year tenure in athletics, Gaston served as the athletic department’s chief financial officer, although there wasn’t an official CFO title until the latter part of his career. He was involved in every decision from contracts to licensing (a particular area of expertise) to budgets, always keeping a low profile until this year’s decision to retire.

”We’ve really had the same core values though that time,” Gaston said. “Mal had a vision for the athletic department that came straight from Coach Bryant. We wanted to stay on pace with facilities and hire great coaches. Thanks to that, when Mal had to hire a football coach in 2007, the facilities were in place and he certainly made the right coaching hire. What Nick and Terry (Saban) have done for the Alabama image and the Alabama brand – statewide, nationally and internationally – has been incredible, and I’ve enjoyed working with him since the day he got here.

”Coach Bryant was a visionary. For as long as he was alive, I never made a major decision that I didn’t consult with him. He cared about people. That’s the side people didn’t see sometimes, but it’s why he could get more out of people than anyone I’ve ever known. So whatever happens in the future, I’m sure the athletic department will adjust to it. Maybe it will take two or three years, but if you just keep those values of hard work and honesty, things will work out."

More:With Supreme Court ruling, NIL legislation and transfer rules, college athletes now hold the cards | Hurt

Gaston’s retirement comes as intercollegiate athletics faces massive changes with issues like name, image and likeness, but Gaston says the timing of his decision was coincidental. 

“I’m 70 years old,” Gaston said. “It’s time. I’m not leaving Tuscaloosa. If they need me, I am only a phone call away, although I doubt they will need me.”

Even wIth Gaston in retirement, the name will still be in the Alabama athletic offices, even if the person isn’t present.

”The board of trustees surprised me by passing a resolution naming my office after me, the Finus Gaston Office," he said. "It was really meaningful to me.

”My mom (Jewell Gaston) worked in the athletic department for 30 years until she passed away in 1999. One of the jobs she did was to work in the Ivory Club during games, and there is a photograph of her hanging in the Ivory Club today. Every Friday before a home game, I would make sure to stop in and see that picture and just think about how fortunate I’ve been and my family has been.”

Reach Cecil Hurt at or via Twitter @cecilhurt