At the ripe young age of 73, Mal Moore’s passing at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina seems like more than the passing of a former coach, player or University dignitary.
To Alabama fans, Coach Moore felt like a friend. He had a transparency about him that was endearing. A true southern gentleman, he cared for the love of his life, his wife Charlotte, until her passing in January 2010. Stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease in the early 90’s, Moore would spend almost 20 years loving his wife through the illness, though the last years of her life she couldn’t even speak his name.
Mal Moore carried with him as many memories of the sites and sounds of Alabama victories as the Bryant-Museum. By now you know about the 10 National Championships he was a part of as a player, coach and athletics director. You know he was one of the pivotal vessels in instilling the little known wishbone offense in 1971. And you know he was a favorite son of Paul “Bear” Bryant, and that much of his loyalty to the University he loved was spent in tribute to his mentor.
But the legacy Moore leaves, at least in relation to Crimson Tide history, is the part he played in restoring dignity to an athletics program. A program, through self-inflicted wounds, had been left alone to die.
You’ve heard the jet story, of Mal Moore taking the plane to Miami in December of 2006 in hopes that Nick Saban would talk to him. The man that had endured the firing of Mikes Dubose, Price and Shula, the hello and goodbye to Dennise Franchione, and the most crippling NCAA sanctions any Southeastern Conference school has ever seen had one last card to play. Perhaps it was his southern charm that won over Terry Saban, who we now know won over her husband Nick.
But the guts, and frankly the transparent passion Mal showed in the pursuit of the game’s greatest living coach has paid dividends that will long outlive the simple football coach from Dozier, Alabama.
But like a Van Tiffin kick (which ironically was one of the few memories Mal wasn’t around to see), the hiring of Nick Saban has pulled Mal’s legacy out of the fire. His work in fundraising was prolific, improving the facilities to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any program’s in the country. But his legacy as an AD was hiring some of the worst coaches Alabama had ever seen, not to mention an NCAA probation that sunk the Tide into depths only Auburn fans could understand. However, no one, not even Moore himself, could have ever anticipated what has happened in the six season following that hiring.
One of Mal’s first experiences as a Crimson Tide player was playing for and winning a National Championship with the best, and after January’s crown, fittingly in Miami where the resurrection of Bama lore began, one of his last experiences came in much the same fashion.
But still, in his life the Alabama fan saw Mal Moore not as an eloquent speaker ready to sell you snake oil or public relations spin fresh off the sports relation department’s fax machine. Instead, he was a simple man, with a simple delivery and approach to life, with the same love for the same school that you and I have. Whether you met him, knew him, or not, you loved him. Even from afar, he was a friend.
And Mal Moore, you will be missed. More Tide victories and championships are just around the corner, but as the trophies continue to mount, may we never forget the man who helped put them there.