Bill Battle comes into Alabama’s job as director of athletics where “the old coach,” Mal Moore, was doing an outstanding job. In fact, Moore had been named the nation’s best athletics director and winner and the Toner Award, just last December. When Moore was forced to resign his position this week because of poor health, The University moved quickly – and followed Moore’s request – in naming Battle to the post.
Battle, a teammate of Moore’s in the early 1960s, has not been an athletics director before, but he had qualities that coaches appreciate in an AD. He has been a coach and he has been successful as an administrator.
Battle inherits a program that is one of the most financially successful in the nation and one in which there were four national championships last year (football, gymnastics, women’s golf, and softball) and has already been one this academic year (the repeat of football).
It’s a tough act to follow, but Battle has a plan that stems from his football days as a player at Bama and later as a coach.
“You either get better or you get worse,” he said. “You try to keep going the way you’re going. As you strive for excellence in athletics – as you do preparing young people for life – that never changes. There are always challenges. There’s never a perfect way to do it. There are always better ways to do it.”
Bill Battle won’t be standing still, but he also won’t move quickly. First he wants to get himself up to speed in this new business.
“What I’m going to do for the next six weeks or so is go on a listening tour and try to be a sponge and soak up everything that I can soak up from everybody I can get in front of to learn every facet that I can about this athletics department,” Battle said Friday after he was introduced to the public by President Dr. Judy Bonner.
The 71-year-old Battle, who signed a four-year contract, said, “I want to learn about its people, I want to learn about how they perform, I want to learn about what they do, I want to learn if that is what they should do. You want to find out – there are a lot of different ways to skin a cat, there are a lot of different ways to organize a team. I see Coach Nick Saban out experimenting with putting offensive players on defense and defensive players on offense and fullbacks at tackle and something else somewhere else. So I’m going to take a long, hard look at what are we doing and how are we doing it and are there ways to do it better, and after I’ve done that I’ll try to see where I think we need to go and see where that leads.”
He said, “There are some things that I have in my mind, but I want to learn what’s here. I want to get a good feel for what’s here and I don’t want to make any presumptions on what I’ve heard. I want to learn first hand what we’re doing and what people think and where people think we should improve and where we think people think we are in good shape. So I’m going to withhold any thoughts on that right now.”
Battle said, “The challenge is, as Dr. Bonner had said, and I’ve read what Coach Saban has said and all of our coaches, the guys out there at spring practice, ‘You guys aren’t the 2013 national champions. You won it is in 2012, but this is a new day and a new team.’ If you’re going to do it you’ve got to do it.
“That’s the way we’ve got to approach the whole athletic program and the whole university. And the impressive thing to me from what I’ve seen just in the last few weeks – because I was paying more attention to it – is the leadership of this university believes that and has been doing that for some time. So our goals – it’s not easy – but our goal is to keep trying to improve.”
Battle understands the mission of his job, if not yet the specifics.
“The direction from The University at the top is clear, from what they want from the whole University and the athletics,” Battle said. “My goal is to work with these great coaches and this great staff that Mal has assembled and understand what’s working that we need to continue to enhance, and what’s not working that we need to maybe do something different to. It’s important that we keep working hard and keep moving forward.
“Athletics is a special challenge. Getting to work with student-athletes and preparing them to compete at the highest level is fun and challenging. Getting them prepared to compete in life is also fun and challenging. Getting them to do all of that with honor and integrity is another challenge and those are the things that we hope to do.”
“What I know is that the leadership at this university – the mission at the top -- is clear. There are no ifs about the direction. I know where the leadership of The University wants the athletics department to go.”
Battle was a three-year starter (1960-62) for the Crimson Tide, and was a member of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s first national championship team in 1961. In 1963, Battle served as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma under legendary Coach Bud Wilkinson, and was an assistant coach at the United States Military Academy while serving a two-year military tour in 1964-65. In 1966, he moved to the University of Tennessee, where he was an assistant coach for four years. He was named head coach at Tennessee in 1970 and, during his seven-year tenure, his teams went 59-22-2, and won four out of five bowl games.
Battle founded the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) in 1981, and served as its president and CEO until 2002. He also has served as chairman of the board of Licensing Partners International (LPI), which was created in 2001 to represent licensing interests of non-collegiate sports properties, as well as corporate and entertainment properties. Both CLC and LPI were acquired by IMG (originally known as International Management Group) in 2007.
He was named to The University of Alabama All-Decade Team of the 1960s and was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1981. Battle received the 2005 Paul W. Bryant Alumni Athletic Award at The University of Alabama and was inducted into the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association Hall of Fame in 2008. He was the recipient of a National Football Foundation award in 2008 for his outstanding contributions to amateur football. In 2010, Battle was selected as one of the National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators two-member Hall of Fame class.
Many were surprised at the appointment of Battle – not because of his credentials, but because of his status, a man who built a gigantic business and then sold it for a fortune. He and his wife, Mary, have been living in Atlanta, which was the headquarters of CLC.
“We had been living a good lifestyle,” Battle said. We'd sold our company a few years ago and I'd been a consultant ever since. I had enjoyed that role.
“We'd been in a comfort zone, Mary and I both. We'd been doing civic stuff and charity work and had been on some boards, I was consulting with some other things. We talked about needing to get out of our comfort zone.
“This took me way out of my comfort zone, I can promise you.”
Battle had said he was disinclined to accept the offer when it came. But he said, “It dawned on me when some trustees and leaders of The University said, 'We really want you to do this. This is a special time at the university;' I thought to myself, if I didn't do this, I would regret it for the rest of my life. Because it's an opportunity to pay back The University, if I can, a great debt that I owed The University. If I don't do it, it would be a big mistake.
“I'm here as a labor of love to try to help any way I can. I know I have time. I'm rested, I'm not tired. I look forward to this challenge.
“I recognize very strongly that this is an extraordinary responsibility and challenge. Coming into this place at this time, when it's on an all-time high, is a very difficult thing to do. To keep what Mal and his staff and coaches have built with help from Dr. Bonner and Dr. Witt (Dr. Robert E. Witt, former president and now chancellor) and the leadership have built.”