A lasting legacy

Mal Moore's fifth coaching hire at Alabama, Nick Saban, has the Crimson Tide in arguably the strongest position they've ever had, with three national championships in the last four seasons. John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Mal Moore was a gentleman. As a player, coach and administrator, he carried himself with a sense of class. When events didn't break his way -- and they often didn't -- he wouldn't show his frustration. He was analytical; he'd learn from his struggles and count them as blessings.

Moore, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 73, took a road he hadn't planned on as a young man from Dozier, Ala. He'd never develop into the starting quarterback at the University of Alabama, and he'd never become the coach people wrote books about.

Instead, he'd reach his most notable accomplishments from behind a desk, the football field of his youth set behind a plate of glass. It wasn't the career he'd started out in search of, but it became the one that gave him the greatest sense of pride. As Alabama's athletic director, Moore would create a legacy few could have imagined.

But first, he had to deal with disappointment. Before he became the face of Alabama athletics, he had to leave the university he so loved. And Ray Perkins was the man to show him the door, however begrudgingly the act might have been.

Moore's dream was to become Alabama's head football coach. He yearned to be named Paul 'Bear' Bryant's successor. As an eager-to-please backup quarterback under Bryant, the two formed a close bond, a relationship former teammates and friends described as a "love like you can't believe." But the connection wouldn't be enough when Bryant named Perkins as Alabama's next head coach in 1982, passing over Moore in the process.

The résumés weren't close -- Perkins was the head coach of the New York Giants and Moore had just recently risen to the level of Alabama's offensive coordinator -- but that did little to ease the sting of losing out on the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his mentor.

"It was a difficult situation for both of us," Perkins said by telephone late Saturday afternoon. "He never said anything about it since, and I haven't, either."

The only time the two spoke of it was when Perkins took the job more than 30 years ago. When Perkins was hired, Bryant told him that if he planned to let anyone from the current staff go, he'd have to do so in person.

"Mal was the hardest one to talk to," Perkins said. "I told him that he could stay, but I was going to do the offensive coordinating and stuff like that. He elected to go.

"So in essence, I was the one that caused him to leave."

Bryant would help Moore land a position on Gerry Faust's staff at Notre Dame shortly thereafter. Moore lasted four seasons in South Bend before taking up with the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals.

The seven years he spent away from Alabama would prove to be the hardest. He missed the collegial atmosphere of his alma mater.

"I used to tell people in St. Louis or Phoenix, nobody would ever come by to see us," Moore told ESPN in late December. "You know why? Because nobody gives a damn.

"Here, brother, they love their university. It's important."

Moore returned to Alabama in 1990 as offensive coordinator under head coach Gene Stallings. The two would help end the Tide's championship drought, winning the school its 12th national title in 1992.

But Moore's time in Tuscaloosa wasn't always pleasant.

Curtis Crenshaw, who was close friends with Moore dating back to their time as freshmen under Bryant, recalled the turmoil Moore faced as offensive coordinator.

"One of the things that people don't really know was that when Mal was the offensive coordinator, he got a lot of ridicule with play-calling and what didn't get done and what should have been done," Crenshaw explained. "The people wanted to see more explosive offense and wide-open things, and that didn't occur, and he got the blame for it."

In public, Moore put on a happy face. But behind the scenes, he was hurting. His wife, Charlotte, was suffering with an illness all the while.

"Here's a guy that was going home at lunch to bring his wife food and washing clothes at night -- the things you don't expect of a coach," Crenshaw said.

The sense of hurt in Crenshaw's voice was clear.

"He took all that and didn't lash out at anybody," Crenshaw said, clearing his throat. "That was typical Mal."

Crenshaw described a man with a quiet tenacity, someone he said, "embodied all the things Coach Bryant tried to instill in young people."

Through the good times and the bad, Moore never got down. He'd hire and fire four head coaches as athletic director before he got to Nick Saban. And even then it would test his patience.

Moore flew to Detroit to try and speak with Saban only to get shot down. Saban, who was then the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, refused to field any job offers until the season was over. So Moore got back on a plane, returned to Alabama and waited. As soon as Miami's season was done, he was in Saban's living room in South Florida chatting up his wife.

"I called Terry [Saban's wife] and said, 'I don't think I'm even going to talk to these guys tonight,'" Saban recalled. "She said, 'Oh, Mal's already here. We've been talking for an hour.' That was his first step in the right direction."

Moore took the rest from there, convincing Saban that Alabama was the place for him. Together, they'd win three championships and restore the Crimson Tide atop the landscape of college football. The success on the gridiron would spread across the athletic department as a whole. Since 2002, Alabama has won five other national championships: three in women's gymnastics, one in softball and one in women's golf.

In the end, Moore's legacy surpassed any personal accomplishments he might have hoped for; his story was about service and sacrifice, pride and patience, leadership and an uncanny ability to enable others to succeed.

He was never able to fulfill his dream of becoming Alabama's head football coach, but in taking another path he'd discover a life he couldn't have imagined. As athletic director, he formed a legacy that would rival both Bryant and Saban.

"All I know is we've lost a great, great person," Perkins said of Moore's passing. "We've lost a great man and a great representative of the University of Alabama. There's no one ever that represented Alabama any better than Mal Moore. There's no one that's ever done it."