FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It was a small moment, and even with more than 100 reporters in the room, most of them might’ve missed it.
The morning after every BCS National Championship Game, the winning coach appears at one last news conference, but before he takes any questions, he officially accepts each of the four major national championship trophies.
The Associated Press trophy comes first, followed by the National Football Foundation, the Football Writers Association and then the coaches trophy, which is the one with the crystal football on top. But Tuesday morning, about 10 hours after beating Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS game, Alabama coach Nick Saban broke protocol.
He quietly asked if the Crimson Tide athletics director Mal Moore could join him on the little stage.
Saban coached the team, but Moore provided the setting for him to succeed. Since accepting the Alabama athletics director’s job in 1999, Moore has struck out in some of his moves, but he hit a grand slam not only in hiring Saban but making sure he had the resources he needed to produce national champions.
Some people say it’s easy to win at a place like Alabama, but that’s not completely true.
I’m not saying it’s just as hard to win football games at Alabama as it is at some place like Vanderbilt, Kentucky or Mississippi State. You wouldn’t believe me anyway if I tried to float that past you. But if it’s so easy to win at Alabama, why was Mike Shula 26-23 in four years leading the Tide?
To win big, you not only need a good coach, but you have to have the kind of commitment Moore has given Alabama and the type of support he has galvanized among university leaders and alumni. And in most cases, before you even can get somebody like Saban on board, you need what Moore has done.
When Moore succeeded Bob Bockrath as athletics director, his primary objective was to improve the facilities. He’s done that and then some. In the arms race of athletic facilities, Alabama has the best of everything now.
It hasn’t stopped, either, as Alabama is finishing up a new training center that other schools will envy and try to match.
Sure, Saban can evaluate talent and recruit his rear end off, but Moore has given him a top-notch place to show these prospects.
Also, consider how Saban manages a program. He has a clear idea of what a football program needs to succeed, and it’s not just a nice weight room. Even back in 1990 when he coached Toledo’s team, he had clear ideas of what the school needed to provide his program regarding academics, health and nutrition, guidance, high school outreach, and, of course, training and conditioning.
How much of that do you think Toledo gave him? Or Michigan State in his next head coaching job? Or LSU, where he won a national championship?
Moore didn’t have the power to OK all of what Saban wanted, but he used his considerable support to give his coach every advantage he could. Saban has succeeded so wildly at Alabama because it’s the first school to give him just about everything he believes he needs.
When Moore left coaching in 1994 and became Alabama’s assistant athletics director of external affairs, the joke was he was in charge of going around speaking to alumni groups. The joke was on us, however, because Moore is smart and knowledgeable about what a coach needs to win, which makes sense since he coached for 30 years, including for six Alabama national championship teams.
But he’s personable and knows how to gather support. All those stories he told on the speaking trail really did have a purpose in the end.
When it came time to remake all of Alabama’s facilities, he had a grand design and got the support to raise money and make it happen. In 2007, he got the support within his administration to give Saban what was a startling contract at the time — eight years for $32 million, all of which was guaranteed.
Again, Moore doesn’t homer every time. He hired Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula to coach Alabama’s football team, too. But today, those are mouse’s whispers compared to the lion’s roar of Saban’s record with the Crimson Tide.
Moore, 73, whose contract runs through June 30, 2014, found a way to make Alabama football relevant nationally again.
Heck yes, Moore deserved to step up Tuesday morning for photos with the national championship trophies. And it’s good of Saban to realize that.