Jan. 25, 2016
Mal Moore’s legacy at The University of Alabama began as a quarterback on the Baby Tide freshman squad in 1958. It ended with his passing 55 years later, a little over two months after the 2013 national championship triumph over Notre Dame. That win represented national championship title No. 15 for the Crimson Tide. Coincidentally, Mal Moore wore No. 15 during his scholarship athlete days at Alabama.
Two years after the Notre Dame victory, the state of Alabama honored Moore by dedicating a 35-mile stretch of Highway 29 from Luverne to Andalusia, Ala., in his name. On November 15, 2015, the official highway dedication took place in Moore’s hometown of Dozier.
“It was such an honor, and a tribute to my Daddy, who loved Alabama [the state and the school] so much,” Moore’s daughter, Heather Moore Cook recalls. Cook has a lifetime of stories related to her father’s travels along the Mal Moore Memorial Highway.
“On family trips,” Cook reminisced, “Daddy sang along to Patsy Cline and pointed out the scenery along the drive.”
The portion of blacktop that now bears his name is the same road Moore hitchhiked along to and from Tuscaloosa during his undergraduate years at The University of Alabama. Highway 29 in Dozier is where his, and The University of Alabama’s, road to 15 began.
James “Goat” Hollis, a long-time friend of Moore’s and CEO of Brantley Bank and Trust in Brantley, Ala., was instrumental in the push for renaming the highway. Hollis said when it came time for the official highway signs he wanted the Alabama script A logo as part of the design. Hollis laughingly relates the Department of Transportation’s answer, “They told me ‘no’ because they knew the signs would get stolen and didn’t want to keep replacing them.”
Moore’s first national championship victory was in 1961 when he was the backup quarterback to Joe Namath. Moore and Namath helped their coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, achieve the top spot in college football for the first time. Moore was a part of a total of 10 national championship seasons during his time at Alabama.
After completing his undergraduate degree in sociology in 1963, Moore enrolled in graduate school to pursue his master’s in secondary education. The fall of that same year, Moore packed his bags and headed west as a graduate assistant coach for the Montana State Bobcats.
The experience proved useful for Moore’s future as a football coach, and he brought back tales of Big Sky Country. One story he liked to share was that Montana residents used silver dollars instead of paper money as the preferred currency. Another was the winter weather. “I’d seen snow — but not that kind of snow,” Moore commented during a conversation about his time in Montana.
After the snow had melted, Moore returned to Tuscaloosa in 1964 as a graduate assistant coach under Coach Bryant. Alabama clinched another national championship that year. Moore was a defensive line coach from 1965 to 1970 but transitioned to the offense when a 6-5 season in 1969 brought about some strategy changes.
Coach Bryant wanted to implement the wishbone offense before the 1971 season opener against the University of Southern California and tapped Moore on the shoulder to make it happen. However, Coach Bryant wanted to keep the new game plan a secret, so Moore had to learn to coach new offensive plays with no outside assistance. Their subterfuge proved successful, and Moore’s first game as a quarterback coach ended in a win against the Trojans.
The winning continued for Alabama under Coaches Bryant and Moore until 1982 when Coach Bryant stepped down from his post. After Bryant’s retirement, Moore was offered a spot on the Notre Dame staff as a running back coach. He remained at Notre Dame until 1986 when he left to join the St. Louis Cardinals’ NFL coaching staff.
In 1990, Coach Gene Stallings recruited Moore back to Alabama as offensive coordinator. In Stallings’ words, “Mal had done an outstanding job for me in the pros even though he had no experience in pro football.” Stallings goes on to compliment Moore by restating the words of Coach Bryant, “Now don’t forget Mal Moore is just a great coach as you are.”
When Coach Stallings learned of the highway dedication he had this to say, “That is a great tribute to a great man. He deserves every bit of that honor.”
Moore transitioned from coaching to administration in 1994 when he accepted a role as an assistant athletic director. The primary motivation of this new path was his wife Charlotte’s early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Moore’s niece, Mrs. Kaye Moody, recalls meeting her future aunt when Moore brought her home to Dozier from Tuscaloosa, “Charlotte was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.”
Charlotte Moore and The University of Alabama both benefitted greatly from Mal Moore’s decision to coach on a different level. Moore continued to coach people as an administrator. He coached the donors, board of directors, and fans into helping achieve his goals for the University.
From 1999 to 2007, Moore, as Director of Athletics hired and fired four head coaches, endured NCAA scholarship sanctions, and saw a once-great program dwindle. However, Moore’s love for Alabama was greater than the problems he faced. The former coach mapped out a strategy and went to work.
Times had changed, and recruits wanted the best of the best. Moore used the $70 million he had raised to rebuild the Crimson Tide, which included all sports, not just football. Alabama was special because it had the history of success as well as Moore’s vision of the future. He used his capital campaign of donations and bank loans to create an atmosphere on campus that reflected his belief that the University of Alabama could be the ultimate destination for athletes, students, parents, and fans.
On a trip to visit the University of Texas’ athletic department, Moore could not help but notice the school’s two national championship trophies on rotating platforms. He told his daughter, “I am standing here looking at these two trophies in spotlights thinking we have 12 of these, why aren’t we doing this?” Moore understood what highlighting the athletic success of the Crimson Tide could mean for recruiting.
Moore later commented on his building project, “Other schools could build these kinds of buildings [to highlight awards], but they wouldn’t have anything to put in them.”
When Coach Nick Saban arrived at the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility in 2007 – the football building was renamed in Moore’s honor before Coach Saban’s arrival – the NCAA probation period had expired, and regeneration was well underway.
Mal Moore always wanted Bryant-Denny Stadium to have a “front door.” An entrance that was befitting of the winning tradition and legendary figures who had graced the playing field. When an opportunity arose to alter the landscape, Moore set out again with his well-oiled fundraising machine to make it happen.
The “front door” now hosts the Walk of Champions, national television pregame festivities, and bronze statues of the coaching greats – past and present – for Alabama. Moore intentionally left empty spaces along the circle of statues as motivation for future legends, a nod to his motivational mindset.
When the Sarah Patterson Champions Plaza adjacent to the baseball stadium was in its planning stages in 2012, Moore called Patterson (gymnastics), Jay Seawell (men’s golf), Patrick Murphy (softball), and Mic Potter (women’s golf) into his office. These four coaches represented the next round of national title honors to Mal Moore.
He showed them the blueprints and pointed out the spaces allotted for their national championship plaques. The next year, three of the four coaches filled those spaces. By 2014, all the national championship trophy cases were fulfilling their destiny. Moore knew that by believing in his leaders, they would go on to achieve great results. He never stopped motivating people to do their best.
Despite his time-consuming career, Moore made time for his family. An avid golfer, Moore played on courses like Pebble Beach with his brother, Frank Moore. They laughed often during rounds.
When asked about his speech preparation at the highway dedication, Frank Moore replied, “Well, I agonized and planned, but in the end I just ended up winging it.”
Moore’s legacy of giving to The University of Alabama continues through his book, Crimson Heart: Let Me Tell You My Story. Proceeds from book sales go to The University of Alabama.