TUSCALOOSA, Ala.— Athletes, coaches and fans gathered Thursday to remember the late University of Alabama athletics director Mal Moore as a Southern gentleman who was passionate about poetry, music, his family and the Crimson Tide.
“Coach gave the Crimson Tide a soul. He was our heartbeat,” said golf coach Jay Seawell.
About 550 football players, gymnasts, basketball players and other athletes filled the floor of Coleman Coliseum for a ceremony to celebrate the life of Moore. Hundreds more university officials and others sat in the stands.
Hired away from the Miami Dolphins in 2007 by Moore, football coach Nick Saban called his former boss a “genuine person” who he came to value as a friend, particularly after his NFL stint.
Saban, who has won three national titles at Alabama, said Moore used to read poetry to his wife, Terry Saban, on the team bus and always made a point to visit the football film room on Sunday after a Crimson Tide loss to show his support.
“I think the most important thing is Mal was a true champion in every sense of the word,” said Saban.
Moore, a native of tiny Dozier in south Alabama, first came to Alabama in 1958 as a football player under coach and mentor Paul “Bear” Bryant. He died Saturday at age 73, less than two weeks after retiring from the job he held since 1999.
Moore was part of 10 football championships at Alabama as a player, coach or AD. He was named the nation’s top athletic director last year as winner of the John L. Toner Award.
Seawell, hired by Moore in 2002 from Augusta State in Georgia, said Moore always treated him with kindness despite golf’s low profile at the university. He recalled Moore once dancing with his wife, Stephanie, to the 1960s hit “Yellow Bird” during a golf team trip.
“She was always Yellow Bird after that,” said Seawell.
Chancellor Robert Witt, who was the university’s president during much of Moore’s tenure, said Moore returned Alabama athletics to winning championships in multiple sports partly through a $240 million capital building program.
The capital outlay — which might have sparked controversy on other campuses if so much money were spent on sports — was a success because of Moore’s guidance, Witt said.
“At the beginning of his career he was able to look over the horizon and see something no one else could see,” said Witt.
Gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson remembered Moore for things large and small, like helping her get her father into a good nursing home in Tuscaloosa. “He treated me like a daughter,” she said quietly.
Old-time country music that Moore loved played over the coliseum speakers before and after the ceremony. Everyone attending received a card with an inspirational verse titled “What is Class?” Moore gave that to his daughter Heather when she was in college.
Moore’s wife Charlotte died in 2010 about two years after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Seawell said Moore visited her daily in the Tuscaloosa nursing home where she lived.
“That said a lot to me,” said Seawell.
Bill Battle, a former Tennessee head coach who played on Bryant’s 1961 national championship team, was hired to succeed Moore.