Throughout everyone’s life, we get the opportunity to meet people who influence us in ways we didn’t realize at the time.
For me, Mal Moore was one of those people.
In my former career as a sports editor at two Alabama newspapers, I was blessed to cover Crimson Tide athletics. At my second stop, The Tuscaloosa News, I was charged with covering Alabama’s varsity sports in the most complete fashion possible.
Which means it didn’t take long to figure out that Mal Moore loved them all.
Not knowing Coach Moore’s personal history and his unyielding devotion to his ailing wife Charlotte, I sometimes wondered to myself why he wasn’t at every single game in town. I wondered if he was a sort of absentee landlord over UA athletics, a football-only throwback to the days of Coach Bryant.
Those thoughts didn’t last long, though, as I figured out exactly what Coach Moore was doing.
He was building. Raising money. Pushing others to realize their full potential. Doing what it takes now to be successful later.
There were times, of course, when we at the T-News wondered if Mal’s time had come. This was during the dark times of NCAA investigations, of former assistant coaches and their grandstanding lawyers making a three-ring mockery of a proud program. We wondered if Mal was out of touch.
But he wasn’t. He was building. Raising money. Pushing others to realize their full potential. Doing what it takes now to be successful later.
I have two personal stories that, I believe, illustrate the kind of warm heart and true soul that Mal Moore possessed.
The first happened during a VIP tour that Coach Moore was giving for folks – with me as a non-VIP tagging along – of the new Bryant Hall academics center. You have to understand, I’m sure Coach Moore dug that UA put his name on the football building, and that he liked that Bryant-Denny Stadium became a literal palace of college football under his watch, but Bryant Hall’s renaissance was a whole ‘nother level for him.
You see, Coach Moore told the story that day about how rival programs would plant the seed with recruits for them to ask Alabama coaches about their academic center – doing so knowing that Alabama didn’t have an academic center.
Coach Moore changed all that, turning what was a relic from Coach Bryant’s generation into one of the best academic centers in the country. He did so to shut those rival coaches up, sure, but he also did so to ensure that Crimson Tide athletes had no excuses when it came to the pursuit of their academic goals.
The other thing I remember about that day is that I was literally walking next to Coach Moore when my Blackberry dinged with the news that Logan Young had been found guilty in Memphis. Because I respected Coach Moore and his relationship with Logan Young, instead of just blurting out the news and brusquely asking for a comment for the paper, I waited for a moment when no one else would hear to whisper the news to him. He paused, processing the information, and very kindly asked me not to ask him about it right then – that he needed to think about a response that would be best for the University of Alabama’s athletic director.
The other story is much more personal. My wife and I learned that she was pregnant with our first child right around Thanksgiving in 2006. Naturally, this is a joyous time, but we didn’t want to tell the whole world for a couple more weeks to ensure that my wife was physically doing well through the early stages of pregnancy.
The same night we learned the news, we were invited to a gala function on campus at which Coach Moore was also in attendance. When I got the opportunity, I introduced her to Coach Moore and, excitedly, told him about our little miracle.
Well, Mal Moore’s smile turned up about two notches to a full-on grin when he hugged my wife, then turned to me and grasped my hand with both of his in celebration. His words still ring true to me today:
“David, I am so very delighted for you both. There is no greater feeling than becoming a father and growing a family. Congratulations!”
Needless to say, the name “Mal” went on the short list of possible boy names for what ultimately became our daughter, Rebecca.
Fast-forward a year and a half, and I brought Rebecca to her first Alabama football game to visit and show her off to my friends in the press box before the game. She didn’t much like all the noise and commotion of being passed around and loved on … until Coach Moore appeared and came up to say hi. He took her in his arms, and she instantly replaced her grumpiness with an ear-to-ear smile for Alabama’s athletic director. He smiled at her back and, while happily holding her, he told me this:
“I told you she’d change your life, David. What an adorable little girl. May she grow up to be a Crimson Tide fan!”