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Above the rest

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Mal Moore is constantly surrounded by moving parts. On a warm December morning in the corner office of the football facility that bears his name, there's a hum in the background. The thick, glass windowpanes dull the jackhammer roaring a few yards beyond his sparse desk. There's a state-of-the-art weight room being constructed as he speaks, a reminder that his athletic department, and the University of Alabama, is a living, breathing thing. If it stops moving, it will decay and die. Moore's job is to make certain that doesn't happen.

"It supports the coaches and their efforts to recruit the great players," the 72-year-old athletic director says as he looks out at the construction and points out the previously proposed locations for the 34,000-square-foot athletic facility. He smiles as he recalls coach Nick Saban saying five years ago that it ought to be connected to the indoor training facility so players can transition from running to lifting weights without having to leave the building.

The $9.1 million facility is the most recent example of Moore's and the university's commitment to the football program. And because it concerns Saban and the Crimson Tide, the operation is moving swiftly. At the current rate of construction, it could very well be in use by the start of next football season. The board of trustees approved construction a mere five months ago.

It's all part of a plan that Moore holds in his mind's eye. The lifelong football man whom most still refer to as "Coach Moore" sees his office's relationship with the university as symbiotic.

"What goes on on the campus strengthens the program," he said. "And what happens here strengthens the university. There's a oneness with academics, athletics, alumni. Like I said before, everybody is on the same boat. Everybody is pulling in the same direction."

Moore sat down to talk about a range of topics on the eve of Alabama's date with Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship. He referred to the matchup as most have, calling it "historic" and great fun considering he spent four years as an assistant coach in South Bend, Ind., in the 1980s.

"I lived in the Morris Inn in a little hotel on campus for three to four months," he said, recalling the sights of Touchdown Jesus and the golden dome. "Every day was kind of an adventure knocking around the campus. It was so different.

"Yet when you compare the two, they both have big names, big tradition and great expectations from fans. Here, I hope that never changes. When people don't care, you're in trouble."

In the Cotton State, apathy is not an issue when it comes to football. Moore still delights in the reception he gets wherever he travels. It's part of why he feels so comfortable about keeping his head coach in Tuscaloosa despite the persistent rumors of his departure for the NFL.

The logic goes that Saban, who spent more than a decade in the NFL and struggled as a head coach in Miami before bolting for Alabama, would be so competitive as to take another shot at running a pro franchise. Either that or the money would draw Saban back to the big cities and bigger contracts.

Not so fast, says Moore. Like Saban, Moore spent three years coaching in the pros and understands the difference in their respective environments. It's night and day, and he and his head coach prefer the personal touch of life in the college ranks.

"I used to tell people, nobody in St. Louis or Phoenix, nobody would ever come by to see us," he said. "You know why? Because nobody gives a damn. Here, brother, they love their university. It's important."

Moore made Saban the highest-paid coach in college football after Alabama won the national championship last season, and he might choose to dole out another extension and raise this year to meet the head coach's ever-rising demand. For now, though, Moore is confident in Alabama's position with Saban, who is poised to win a third title in four years.

"I feel comfortable with where we are with his [contract], and I think he does," Moore said. "I certainly appreciate his effort and how he goes about his job."

Moore said Saban is "absolutely one of the best" coaches in the country, adding that he's "what Alabama needs, and he was when we hired him."

"I think he's done an unbelievable job recruiting and developing players when they're here. He's established a way of thinking in the team, the staff and everything where when new players come in they're right on board. That's coaching. That's very difficult to get in position to play in a championship, but to do that you've got to be good in a lot of areas, and I think that's something he's recognized. He's very smart. He knows what he's doing and how to get a team to have that great oneness it takes to survive and win and be ready to do it again next year. But that's what great coaches can do."

Saban is the highest-paid coach in college football, and the return on investment has been obvious, as Alabama has excelled on and off the field. The football program produced $45.1 million in profits in 2011-12, fifth-most in the country.

"I just think he loves to coach and he loves to recruit, thank God," Moore said. His athletic department spent $1.69 million on recruiting in 2011, more than Georgia, Florida or Texas. "[Saban] loves to evaluate players. He gets huge satisfaction to see these players graduate and their success in the NFL or wherever it may be."

Saban watched his son graduate from Alabama in December and, despite turning 61 years old in October, doesn't show any signs of stopping, at least not from Moore's vantage point. From his offices he can watch every practice from spring to fall and on into the new year.

"What he has done here is outstanding," Moore said. "What people don't understand is how hard it is to get in position to win a national championship.

"That is difficult to hold it all together."

Moore knows a thing or two about keeping it all together. An athletic department is an intricate machine with countless moving parts. If one piece goes astray, it threatens the whole. Moore, who won the John L. Toner Award as the country's top athletic director last month, returned to the topic of moving in a singular direction throughout a nearly hourlong interview. The building of facilities and the renovation of stadiums goes hand in hand with the final product. One hand washes the other. With every championship, the boat surges in the right direction.

Moore calls it a "oneness," but it has other names in other places. The same attribute he marvels at in his head coach -- the ability to keep players focused on the process and competing within the framework of a larger system -- is what he strives for every day.

"I know that successful teams have that," he said. "It may be called something different in other areas, but that's what it is. That's the beauty of coaching; if you can get that many players, all 11 players together and when the ball is snapped everybody is where they're supposed to be, that's hard to do. It becomes special."