Alabama coaches, journalists, politicians and others react to Cecil Hurt's death: 'I'm crushed'
Alabama football coach Nick Saban paid tribute to Cecil Hurt. So did the state's governor and Tuscaloosa's mayor.
Hurt died Tuesday at age 62 of complications from pneumonia. He joined The Tuscaloosa News staff in 1982 and served as columnist starting in 1989, covering and chronicling Crimson Tide football, basketball and more along with the Tuscaloosa and state sports scene for nearly four decades.
Here is a sampling of tributes from those who knew him or were touched by reading his words:
Nick Saban, Alabama football coach
Cecil Hurt was a good friend and one of the best sports writers I have ever had the privilege of working with, not just at Alabama, but at all of our coaching stops. He was a man of integrity and a fair-minded journalist blessed with wit, wisdom and an ability to paint a picture with his words that few have possessed. Cecil was loved throughout this community and state as an old-school journalist who covered the Alabama beat with class and professionalism. He was a role model for young writers and the most trusted source of news for Alabama fans everywhere. He leaves a wonderful legacy as one of sports journalism’s best. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends as well as Alabama fans everywhere who loved Cecil as much as we did.
Kay Ivey, Alabama governor
So sad to hear the news longtime @tuscaloosanews sports columnist Cecil Hurt passed away this afternoon. My prayers go out to his family and colleagues. This veteran, award-winning journalist will be missed dearly by the people of Alabama.
Greg Byrne, Alabama athletics director
As good a sportswriter as Cecil was, he was an even better person. So many of us considered him a dear friend, and we will certainly miss him. He had an incredible way with words, coupling his knowledge and wit in a way only Cecil could do. While he spent decades covering Alabama, Cecil was admired and loved not only in the Tuscaloosa community and state but also across the nation. Writers both young and old respected and looked up to Cecil for his work, professionalism and ability to build relationships. He was one of a kind. We will continue to keep his family, friends and all those who cared for Cecil in our prayers.
Nate Oats, Alabama basketball coach
I’m crushed about the loss of Cecil Hurt. It’s hard to accept, to be honest. He was someone who has been an integral part of Alabama Athletics for more than 30 years and adored by thousands. As a journalist, his reputation preceded him. He carried himself with a great deal of integrity and always handled things the right way. Whether you agreed with him or not, Cecil was always going to shoot it straight. I always had a great deal of respect for him. I will miss our conversations, our discussions on basketball and most importantly our friendship. This is truly a sad day in the history of Alabama Athletics.
Greg Sankey, SEC commissioner
I am saddened to learn of Cecil Hurt’s passing. Cecil was a leading voice in telling the story of the SEC for decades. The relationships he built, his credibility with readers, his clarity in communication and unrivaled wit made him a pillar of his profession. RIP Cecil.
Walt Maddox, Tuscaloosa mayor
To spend time with Cecil was a true joy and education because of his incredible insight on a range subjects. His deft ability to dissect and explain it was genius. In the course of life’s journey, there are very few people whose brilliance is both overpowering and unassuming. Cecil was one and we were blessed that he called Tuscaloosa home. Our prayers are with his family and his colleagues.
Ben Jones, former Tuscaloosa News sports writer
My first Alabama football season was in 2015. Cecil suggested a day trip to Sedona in January 2016 when we traveled to Phoenix for Alabama’s national championship game against Clemson. We woke up before dawn on the day of the game and drove two hours to Sedona. We watched the sunrise over the desert in east and saw the light shine off the snow-capped mountains to the west. We saw the red sandstone rocks and mesas that surrounded the town. The game was unforgettable, but that trip will always be special to me.
You couldn’t sum up Cecil’s life in column inches or final scores. Cecil loved college football, but loved so much more than that. He read voraciously, loved professional wrestling and gave a shelter dog the best life he could. He traveled widely even if his heart never left Tuscaloosa.
I’m saddened that none of us will wake up on Sundays and read Cecil’s columns, or laugh at his tweets on college football Saturday. But I’m devastated to know that I’ll never get to talk to my friend again. I miss him.
Michael James, former Tuscaloosa News executive editor
This is a sad day, especially for readers of The Tuscaloosa News. This leaves a void that won’t soon be filled. His columns were required reading for University of Alabama fans, most of whom appreciated just how fortunate they were to have him writing for their local paper, I’m sure. Even those readers who never met Cecil probably felt like they knew him. He was a talented, perceptive journalist who could have written for any newspaper in the country, but he loved Tuscaloosa and The Tuscaloosa News, and he followed his heart.
Jim Rainey, former Tuscaloosa News publisher
You know Cecil’s writing was impactful when so many people who never met him thought they knew him. He will be remembered for his magnificent columns on Alabama football, but many people don’t have a full appreciation of the incredible work he did for many Alabama basketball seasons. He was as passionate about covering a disappointing basketball season as he was a championship football season.
And Cecil wasn’t just a great wordsmith. He was also a very good reporter, whose sourcing was always impeccable.
My first memory of meeting him was in the press box at Auburn before an Iron Bowl. He was reading a book that appeared to be as thick as "War and Peace." I was the publisher of the Opelika-Auburn News at the time. I asked the person next to me, “What’s up with this guy? He doesn’t seem much interested in the game.”
I was told that’s Cecil Hurt. That’s when I noticed his laptop beside him. Half of his column was already written. I kept a close eye on him and noticed he’d watch the game, read during a TV timeout, write a sentence or two and continue to the end of the game.
The next morning, I read everything on that game and realized though it was a Bama loss, no one came close to capturing the moment like Cecil. He is a legend for a good reason. He was that good.
Some people march to the beat of their own drummer. Cecil conducted his own marching band. He saw the world differently than the rest of us but was uniquely gifted in communicating things the rest of us might have seen in a light that brought them to life anew.
I idolized Cecil Hurt. Simply put, he was the best -- an absolute legend. I consider myself lucky to have worked with and learned from him at The Tuscaloosa News. I am even more blessed to have built a close friendship with him outside of work over the years.
Terrin Waack, NASCAR.com writer and former Tuscaloosa News sports writer
Cecil had such a kind, supportive and loving soul. I was an intern before I was a colleague, but you’d never know by how Cecil treated me – with unwavering respect and support. And when he did give advice, I’d cling to it. Any compliments, wow.
Cecil also had life experiences most people could only dream of, yet he’d casually tell stories as if he were sharing what he ate for breakfast. And I mean that in a good way. Cecil never bragged, but I was always in awe.
A simple memory among countless I'll never forget: when Cecil went to the Odesza concert at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater in 2018. I was so jealous, admittedly surprised Cecil enjoyed EDM, and wanted to hear all about it. He talked animatedly about the light show and then paused, looked at me with a grin, and said, "It was so fun." I couldn't help but smile back and feel genuinely happy for him.
I aspire to be like Cecil. Everyone should. The world would be a much better place.
Wright Waters, retired Sun Belt Conference commissioner, retired Football Bowl Association executive director
Taken from us far too soon, we can only imagine how many great columns he was kicking around in his head. He made a difference and he made an impression on so many.
Kelly Ward, Seattle Times assistant sports editor, former Tuscaloosa News intern
I gave Cecil, Aaron Suttles and Sean Landry a ride back from Oxford after Alabama lost to Ole Miss in 2014. Cecil had lost his keys, so he and Aaron hitched a ride back in my car. Cecil decided he wanted to hear the end of the Kentucky-South Carolina game so he found it on an AM station (with plenty of static). We all listened to that game until it ended.
I don’t remember much of the conversation on the ride. I was probably just trying not to laugh that we were listening to Kentucky football on an AM radio station. When we finally got back to Tuscaloosa, he asked for Sean’s and my Twitter handles to publicly thank us. I didn’t ask him why he did it, but I figured that it was because he knew he had a much bigger following than we did at the student paper and that it could give us more followers, which would get our work in front of more eyes. He didn’t have to, but that’s just who he was.
Scott Hunter, Alabama quarterback 1968-70
Cecil Hurt and I would go back and forth on how football had changed since I played. He would always have a clever jab ready to put on me at Mobile Red Elephant Club meetings where he was the perennial pre-Auburn game speaker. REC members would not miss hearing Cecil discuss the upcoming game and comment on Alabama’s cross-state opponent in a closed-door setting where he could be a little "looser" with his comments.
I looked forward during the fall football season to buying the Sunday Tuscaloosa News and reading his column on Saturday’s game. He called me before the Ole Miss game to do a look-back on that now famous ’69 Ole Miss/Alabama ABC nationally-televised game. His column in the Saturday gameday edition of the Tuscaloosa News totally captured the essence of that game that night … just as I would have expected from Cecil’s keen ability to get to the heart of the story.
I am going to miss him greatly both as a friend and one of the best writers … not just sportswriter … I have ever read.
God Speed Cecil.
Larry White, retired University of Alabama media relations director
I worked with Cecil from 1982 until retirement in 2009 and I was continually amazed by his phenomenal memory and recall of facts and events. Unobtrusive but keenly aware of what was happening around him, Cecil asked the most incisive and penetrating questions during press conferences. He was the consummate professional, and if Cecil wrote it, you knew it was accurate. He was a person of boundless friendships and I will miss him dearly.
Dana Duckworth, Alabama gymnastics coach
Cecil was brilliant. I’ll never forget sitting down with him and having a wide-ranging conversation in which he didn’t write a single word down, and the next thing I know he’s written this eloquent, funny and interesting story. I was always so impressed with that. Day-in and day-out he shared his gift for finding the stories in the moments, big and small, making them relatable to everyone. Cecil will be missed by everyone his words touched, and my sincere condolences go out to his family and loved ones.”
Wes Hart, Alabama soccer coach
Thoughts and prayers with Cecil’s family. He touched so many lives and positively impacted so many of us in Tuscaloosa. He will be missed.
George Husack, Alabama men's tennis coach
Cecil was an honorable man that always wrote what you wanted to read and know but what many wouldn’t have the courage to write. We appreciate his commitment to and support of Alabama Athletics throughout the years.
Jenny Mainz, Alabama women’s tennis coach
We are saddened to hear the news of Cecil Hurt’s passing. Cecil was always incredibly supportive of Alabama athletics and was a loyal friend to our UA women’s tennis program. Cecil was highly regarded and will be greatly missed. We offer our condolences and prayers to Cecil’s family.
Jay Seawell, Alabama golf coach
I am sad to hear of the news of the passing of Cecil Hurt. Nobody wrote and captured the pulse of Alabama better than him. I remember the first time he called to interview me about Alabama men’s golf. I knew that our program had arrived. He will be missed.
Kristy Curry, Alabama women’s basketball coach
Everyone in our program is heartbroken to hear about Cecil's passing. He is a legend in every sense of the word.
Patrick Murphy, Alabama softball coach
Over the years, Cecil did several columns on Alabama softball, and every conversation we had seemed like talking with an old friend rather than a sportswriter. He always knew the right questions to ask. Maybe that’s why all those stories hit home with everyone who read them. We will miss reading his columns, but we miss him the most.
Gentry Estes, Tennessean sports columnist
I'd just met Cecil when I came on the Alabama beat in 2004. Barely knew him and I was assigned to sit by him on press row at the NCAA Tournament in Seattle. Alabama was in the process of beating No. 1 seed Stanford. Ya know, this huge moment. It's in the final minute. Very tense.
During a timeout I look over and he's calmly reading this novel as if he's just sitting in a coffee shop. Something by Steinbeck, I think ... haha ... This saying gets overused, but I'll never meet another human being like Cecil Hurt. One of a kind.
Rachel Joy Baribeau, former co-host of Cecil Hurt Show and founder of ImChangingtheNarrative.com
I moved to T'town in 2009, not knowing a soul. Little did I know I was going to be Cecil Hurt’s co-host on a new show. He was legendary. He was an institution at Alabama. But most of all he was kind and witty, and carried a book to sporting events because his brain worked like that.
Cecil was mercurial and deep but I’ll keep repeating, he was kind. He was kind to women in the biz like me. Heck, I don’t know anyone that he wasn’t kind to. In pressers he asked the type of questions that made you think deeper, research more and want to be better. He was just that good. And I know for a fact that extended to his readers. I couldn’t go far without people extolling virtues of Cecil Hurt. They were all true. He felt like a friend that was telling a story to you from a nearby barstool.
I’d like to think that Cecil was met at those pearly gates by the "Bear" himself, as he covered him, too. And this Iron Bowl he will have the best seat in the house, a heavenly one. Do me a favor while you mourn and remember this man: be kind. Be radically kind like Cecil. Take someone under your wing this season like Cecil. And by God, tune into the Iron Bowl this Saturday. I can’t help but feel it’ll have an extra special flair with a giant like Cecil in heaven.
Suzanne Henson, former Tuscaloosa News lifestyles writer
My last day at the TNews, Cecil stopped me in the stairwell to tell me he would miss working with me. I didn't think he knew my name. The fact an institution such as Cecil Hurt would acknowledge a green-as-grass writer made an impression on me. I never forgot it. Rest in Peace, Cecil. The world lost a legend today. I hope the heavens are ready for a standout reporter to write up the angels' sporting events.
Joseph Goodman, AL.com columnist, author 'We Want Bama, a Season of Hope and the Making of Nick Saban's Ultimate Team'
Cecil Hurt was a national treasure. He was a national treasure from our own little corner of the map, and was the best of Alabama. He was brilliant, and he was a master at his craft but most importantly Cecil was kind and cared. He believed in the power of good people, and I’m really going to miss our conversations and time together. He meant so much to so many people.
Aaron Suttles, writer for The Athletic, former Tuscaloosa News Alabama beat writer
My favorite memories of Cecil come from when we were covering road games. Whether it was a multi-hour car ride or grabbing dinner or lunch, you just knew you were going to hear the most amazing stories. His knowledge seemed endless, no matter the topic. He could speak just as expertly about professional wrestling and the Memphis circuit as he could sports.
You felt lucky to be in his presence, like you had been given this gift that no one who didn't know him really didn't know existed. When you sat beside him in a press box, you were guaranteed to hear some world-class quips. His wit knew no ends.
John Bednarowski, Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal sports editor
I moved to Alabama in the early 1990s from Orrville, Ohio, a small town about an hour south of Cleveland. At the time, I didn’t know I would end up being a sports writer, a columnist and a sports editor, but I did know I liked those who were, and those who had a point of view.
My favorite writers knew northeast Ohio sports like the back of their hand – Terry Pluto, Bill Lumpkin, Sheldon Ocker and others. When I settled in Birmingham it didn’t take long to add another to my list. The man who knew the University of Alabama the same way Pluto knew the Cleveland Browns – Cecil Hurt of The Tuscaloosa News.
Cecil was the heart and soul of the fans. He was the person the readers of Tuscaloosa, the state of Alabama and SEC fans from across the country turned to when they needed to know why Alabama won or lost. He always brought the proper perspective with a quick wit and an air of authority on the subject.
While he will always be best known for his coverage of the Crimson Tide, the thing I will remember the most is how he became the voice for his city. It wasn’t just the university he could talk about. He could write on any subject from little league and high school, to the NFL and the business behind big-time college sports.
His biggest impact may have come from the personal interest stories he did after the mile-wide F4 tornado hit his hometown. With no sports, he proved he was the conscience of Tuscaloosa. He kept people informed when there was no power, he kept people engaged when for many all seemed lost, and most importantly he gave people in and around western Alabama the comfort that things would return to normal one day.
Cecil knew how to reach his audience, and that is what I wanted to do when I became sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal (Ga.) in 2006. It was then that I began to search for my voice as a columnist. Someone who understood his readers and could convey what they were feeling through my words. To do that, I read my favorite writers and columnists that much closer.
Because our papers were near the same circulation size, my writing was part of the same group as Cecil’s during the national column writing contest of the Associated Press Sports Editors. For the last 14 years my writing was compared to his. More often than not, his was the far superior, but it gave me something to continually strive for – to have a sharp eye, to be critical when necessary and to celebrate when possible. He used a sharp wit to help give the reader enough information for he or she to make their own educated opinion, and while they may not have always agreed with him, he always earned their respect.
Cecil was the voice of Tuscaloosa. We can only hope more journalists find a way to emulate him. I know I will keep trying.
Chris Stewart, Crimson Tide Sports Network broadcaster, voice of Alabama men's basketball
When I first started working on radio broadcasts of Alabama baseball with David Crane more than 20 years ago, Cecil would almost always sit in the radio booth with us. For home games, he always sat on the level behind us – usually reading a book that I was nowhere near intelligent enough to comprehend, even if I had been disciplined enough to take the time to try.
Cecil could randomly drop a one-liner out of nowhere that often forced us to miss a pitch or two, because David and I would still be trying to compose ourselves – knowing the comedy gold was just out of earshot of our radio audience.
But his brilliance and ability to process things clearly, in the midst of utter chaos, was uncanny.
With our broadcast booth usually separated a good distance from the official scorer, and in the days before Statbroadcast.com made real-time scoring available to everyone, Cecil could break down a play out of nowhere.
There could be runners on 1st and 2nd, and a batter would hit a ball into the right-centerfield gap. David would have clearly described the play-by-play of the RF throwing the ball to the cutoff man, who made the relay to home, applied a tag, and then threw to 3B to get the runner trying to stretch the RBI double into a triple.
But in order for us to put it in our scorebooks accurately, it almost became instinctive that David and I would turn and look to Cecil, who would pull his nose out of “War and Peace” (or something of the equivalent), and quickly declare:
"9-4-2-5….lead runner scores”.
That’s not an exaggeration.
That’s incredible detail.
That was Cecil.