Nick Saban reflects on what Mal Moore meant to him and Alabama football
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He is compared to legendary head coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant for the number of national championships he’s brought to the University of Alabama football program, but it was another pillar who believed in Nick Saban that became the focal point Thursday.
Alabama football lost a coach, an athletic director, a visionary, and someone that wanted the Crimson Tide to represent the Southeastern Conference as the best program in the nation. Thirteen years ago, Mal Moore died.
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Heart problems led to his passing away at 73, and Tide football has not been the same since he left. Coach Moore played quarterback at Alabama under Coach Bryant from 1958 to 1962, so he knew how important winning was early. He helped Bryant capture his first national championship in 1961 as a player. During his coaching tenure from 1965-82, Moore helped Bryant to four more national championships. Bryant’s death in 1983 had a tremendous impact on Moore, but the Alabama native knew the success of football dominance needed to continue. He was an offensive coordinator in 1992 under Gene Stallings and witnessed another national championship Alabama team. Moore’s greatest work that reestablished the Tide as the premier power in college football came as an athletic director. He convinced Nick Saban to leave the National Football League and return to college. After seeing names such as Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione, and Mike Shula struggle to consistently keep the Tide relevant, Moore knew Saban had the firepower and discipline to restore his Alma mater.
Moore landed Saban in January 2007, and the rest is history. He had a front-row seat to watch a man he believed in return Alabama football to being well respected across the landscape. Moore saw his first BCS National Championship in 2009 with Saban, and first one since 1992 with Stallings. Saban would continue to make Moore proud of him, capturing two more national championships in 2011 and 2012. Moore also saw Saban coach Mark Ingram bring the Tide its first-ever Heisman Trophy winner in 2009. In his death, Alabama fans wanted to keep winning for Moore. Three more national championships and three more Heisman Trophy winners have been added since then. On Thursday, Saban detailed what Moore meant to him.
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“Mal Moore was a great friend, great supporter, and he loved the University of Alabama,” Saban said in his opening statement paying homage to Moore. “He was here for a long, long time as a coach, administrator, and athletic director. He was the biggest reason why we came here because of the relationship he developed with Miss Terry and us. I think it has been 10 years since he’s been gone, and we certainly miss him. I can’t tell you how much gratitude we have for the lessons I learned from him, and the things he did to help support the program and get it turned around. So, just a thought that everyone may say a prayer for Mal.”
A marquee lesson Saban learned from Moore was how to deal with star players. Mark Ingram, who became Alabama’s first Heisman winner at running back in 2009, held the football in the wrong arm as he ran with it. Saban got frustrated by it, but Moore helped him understand the significance of letting a star player be himself.
“Mal would always come in on Sundays when I would be in the back room by myself watching film,” Saban said.
“I usually go through the previous game with the coaches. I watch it early in the morning, I go to church, and then I come back and watch it again with the coaches, and work on the other team. Every Sunday at about 3 in the afternoon, he would come in and sit down. I was complaining to him about when Mark Ingram was here his sophomore year, he carried the ball in the wrong arm a lot, but he was having a really good year and we were having a good year. So, I said something to Mal, I said ‘I don’t know how we are going to get this guy to carry the ball in the right hand.’ He said, ‘when I was coaching the quarterbacks here and it was the starting quarterback, I told Coach Bryant if he changes something in his throwing motion that it would make him a better passer.’ Coach Bryant looked at him and said, ‘don’t mess with the guy.’ So, what Coach Moore was telling me was ‘don’t mess with Mark Ingram.’ He used to tell me stories like that about players all the time, and I enjoyed it so much.”
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Saban has seen Moore’s instruction then pay dividends now. Tua Tagovailoa, a former Alabama quarterback, took a bad sack against Georgia in the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Saban nearly became unglued on the sideline, but he remembered Moore’s message about letting special players be who they are. Tagovailoa changed Saban’s emotions on the next play as he fired a 41-yard bomb down the sideline to DeVonta Smith for the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Coach Moore was always an optimist. He knew the right head coach would get Alabama where it needed to be.
Each season, Saban wants to Moore (even in death) that he made the right decision.
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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.