Alabama's board of trustees unanimously approved Bill Battle as the school's new athletics director today. The former Crimson Tide player will make $620,000 annually over four years.
Battle was recommended for the position by university president Judy Bonner fewer than 24 hours after announcing Mal Moore would step down as AD.
“Over the past several weeks, we have had multiple conversations about who should follow coach Moore as AD,” Bonner said in a university release Thursday. “Based on Mal’s strong endorsement as well as coach Battle’s affiliation with UA as a player, partner and donor, his experience as a coach and his significant business background, I am confident that he is the right person to serve UA in this position. I am looking forward to working with him as we continue to build on the foundation of excellence that is the hallmark of Coach Moore’s tenure.”
Moore’s 40 years in coaching gave him a reputation in the Crimson Tide’s athletics department as a person who understood the daily struggles of coaching which, in turn, put a high standard on his replacement. Another asset was Moore’s strong bond to former players after serving for years as a player and assistant coach under Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Both of those qualities can be found in Battle as well, although he has never served any role as an athletic administrator.
“I think he’ll do a tremendous job,” said Lee Roy Jordan, a former Crimson Tide teammate and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
“Bill loves the university, like most of us do that played back in those days, and he’s certainly been a contributor all these years in business for the University of Alabama. I think he’ll do an awesome job.”
Jordan, himself a successful Dallas businessman who had been mentioned as a candidate, maintains a close friendship with Battle. Like many of those players who starred for Bryant in the coach’s early years at Alabama, both Battle and Jordan have maintained a close friendship with Moore as well.
“When it became apparent that I was no longer going to be able to direct the athletic department,” Moore said, “I felt that Bill Battle was the one person who could sustain all the good things that have happened the past few years while also moving us forward with planned improvements.”
Battle, only one year younger than Moore at 72, was a teammate of Moore’s in 1960-62 under Bryant. He served as a graduate assistant under Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma in 1963 (the team he had helped beat just months earlier in the Orange Bowl), went to Army as an assistant coach in 1964-65 and then served as an assistant coach at Tennessee for four years under Doug Dickey.
In 1970, he was the youngest head coach in the country at age 28 when he was named the head coach of the Volunteers and was extremely successful (59-22-1), but increasingly pressured by fans and boosters to beat their arch rival Alabama as well as Auburn. Battle went 11-1 in his first season, including a win over Air Force in the Sugar Bowl, but the lone loss was to Auburn. In 1971 and 1972, he went 10-2 both years, with losses to Alabama and Auburn.
By 1976, a 6-5 season that included losses to Alabama and Auburn caused disgruntled boosters to force out Battle and replace him with Johnny Majors.
Battle had grown up across from Birmingham-Southern College, nearly in the shadows of Legion Field, but after playing at West End High and Alabama and coaching for 14 years, he was looking for another challenge. He started Golden Eagle Enterprises in Selma in 1981, a college licensing business that got a huge boost from managing the commercial licensing deals of Bryant, who was poised to become the winningest coach in college football history at the time and was the hottest commodity in college sports.
Battle moved his business to Atlanta in 1984 and renamed it Collegiate Licensing Co., serving as its chief executive officer until 2002. He also has served as chairman of the board of Licensing Partners International (LPI), which was created in 2001 to represent licensing interests of non-collegiate sports properties, as well as corporate and entertainment properties. Both CLC and LPI were acquired by IMG (originally known as International Management Group) in 2007.
Battle was named to Alabama’s “All-Decade Team” for the 1960s and was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1981. He received the university’s Paul W. Bryant Alumni Athletic Award in 2005 and was inducted into the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association Hall of Fame in 2008. He was the recipient of the prestigious National Football Foundation award in 2008 for his outstanding contributions to amateur football and in 2010, he was selected as one of the National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators two-member Hall of Fame class.
Among his many business accomplishments was getting Alabama and Auburn together in the late 1990s to officially designate (and market) the annual football rivalry as the Iron Bowl, a term that originated from the rivalry’s game site in Legion Field that faded somewhat as Auburn moved its games to campus in 1989.
“It is with extremely mixed emotions that I am involved in this process,” Battle said. “My strong preference is that my teammate and longtime friend Mal Moore would be announcing another amazing accomplishment. When the university reached out to me, my instinct was to say no. However, after speaking with Dr. Bonner, (university system chancellor) Dr. (Robert) Witt, (head football coach Nick) Saban, Mal and Paul Bryant (Jr.), and seeing what I’ve seen at the university, I couldn’t find a way to say no.
“The University of Alabama is at an all-time high in athletics, academics and most every other way, and I am deeply honored to be asked to serve in the position of athletic director. It is an extraordinary challenge and a responsibility that I take very seriously. I will do my dead-level best to continue the successes on and off the playing fields that Alabama fans have enjoyed over the past few years. I look forward to working with the great coaches, student athletes and administrative staff at the university to continue the momentum they have created.”
While the hiring of Battle may be perceived as an interim hire because of his age, the decision certainly fits well into the position Moore has developed since he was named in 1999. Since Bryant’s death in January 1983, the constant change of football coaches on the playing field has been matched by those in the corner office of the Mal Moore Athletic Facility.
“I think Bill can do it extremely well and he’s very healthy and has taken care of himself extremely well all these years,” Jordan said. “He will do a great job and I’m sure he’ll be able to do it as long as he feels comfortable with it.”
Ray Perkins (1983-86), Steve Sloan (1987-89) and Cecil “Hootie” Ingram (1990-95) were all former football players at Alabama and the decision to bring in an outsider in Bob Bockrath (1996-99) caused internal strife in the athletic department. The university ultimately turned to Moore in 1999 to restore order and his tenure has generally been regarded as the best in school history for on-the-field success, facility upgrades and academic success.
“Mal Moore’s legacy surrounds us every day,” Bonner said. “From state-of-the-art facilities to raising more than $240 million in capital improvements to UA’s athletic facilities as well as support for UA’s students and athletes, to multiple teams that have excelled at every level, to attracting top-rated coaches and staff, he has upheld and embodied the Crimson Tide spirit in every endeavor. It is my pleasure to recommend to the board that he be awarded another first in a career filled with them - UA’s first athletics director emeritus. As we move forward, I am confident that coach Battle will continue the momentum that Mal established.”
Some Alabama boosters may have preferred a former player, given the upheaval caused by Bockrath’s tenure and the stability that Moore brought. Some, especially Moore’s detractors who recall the early years under the coach-turned-administrator, would prefer a businessman who has a proven track record of corporate success in the athletic world. With Battle, both sides are satisfied.
“Certainly, his background at the university as a student-athlete coupled with a career as coach and his creativity and unparalleled success at Collegiate Licensing gives him an extensive background to lead the Crimson Tide athletic department,” Moore said. “Bill is a man of unimpeachable integrity who understands the heritage and tradition of the University of Alabama. He has been a friend of mine since we were teammates and an individual who has always gone beyond the call of duty in helping the athletic department during my tenure as its director.”
Jordan, who has been monitoring Moore’s progress at Duke University Medical Center, said his former teammate has been improving daily and is now focused on regaining his strength so that physicians can perform the necessary surgery to correct his pulmonary illness.