But when Mal Moore became Alabama’s athletics director on November 23, 1999, it was not his primary vision to increase bricks and mortar. Moore is a product of on-the-field championship play, and everything he does is directed towards athletics success. And his vision is more than just facilities. He understands that champions are built when the team has the leadership and the tools for success.
Bama is not there yet, but this school years has been one of many successes, indicating the Crimson Tide is on the right track in most sports.
That starts with coaches. Moore has hired good coaches and retained good coaches. Upon assuming the reins of the athletics department seven years ago, one of his first tasks was to extend the contracts of some of Bama’s most successful coaches, including Baseball Coach Jim Wells, Men’s Basketball Coach Mark Gottfried, and Gymnastics Coach Sarah Patterson.
Moore knows that to be truly big-time in athletics there has to be a major commitment to academics, and he has made that. While the focus on the exceptional renovation of Bryant Hall into an academics center for all athletes, the huge staff of academic support personnel is at least as important. More than just being the right thing to do or trying to meet the standards set by NCAA committees, the practical aspects of a strong academic commitment extend from recruiting through participation to alumni status. Alabama has dozens of recruiting success stories the result of Crimson Tide emphasis on athletics. It is critical to success to keep athletes academically eligible. And it is in the best interest of The University to have athletes earn degrees and become productive alumni.
Facilities always ranks high in athletics success, and now that is a Crimson Tide advantage in nearly every sport.
It is on the field where coaches and athletes and their schools are judged. And the coaches and athletes at Alabama are doing well.
Easily the most high-profile sport is football. Bama is not there yet. No school in the Southeastern Conference sets the bar as high as Alabama, because national championships have been far more prevalent at The University than at any other SEC school. Right now Bama is in a four-game slump just to win the state championship, much less the SEC or national titles. Still, Coach Mike Shula’s team had a 10-2 record last year, and a 10-win season is a nice barometer of success. (At Alabama that has been done a national record 28 times.) And the Tide closed out the year with a bowl game championship, winning the Cotton Bowl as Bama extended national records of 53 bowl appearances and 30 bowl victories.
Almost everyone assumed Alabama’s basketball season was over when star forward Chuck Davis went down with a season-ending injury in the SEC opener. But Mark Gottfried’s club had a Cinderella season, 18-13 and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, where Bama came within an eyelash of an upset of eventual NCAA runner-up UCLA. Along the way Bama turned i n an 82--77 win over Florida, the Gators’ last loss of the year in a national championship season.
And now Alabama’s baseball team is a national fourth seed in the NCAA Tournament, hosting a regional championship series beginning Thursday. Coach Jim Wells’ squad didn’t get much pre-season respect, but has been a fixture in the nation’s top ten since winning back-to-back series against number one-ranked teams, Mississippi State and South Carolina. The Tide won the SEC Championship and has reached the 40-win plateau, currently 41-19.
Alabama is one of six teams in the nation whose teams participated in an NCAA-sanctioned bowl game, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and the NCAA baseball tournament this year. The others are Kansas, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, Texas, and UCLA.
Other sports may not be as well-chronicled or have the fan base, but coaches in athletes in all sports have a tough competitive arena and Bama’s have done well. There are often down times for a sport, and soccer under longtime successful coach Don Staley is currently rebuilding. The same goes for women’s basketball, which has just completed its first season under Stephany Smith.
But consider softball with a 54-9 record and now off to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. The Crimson Tide of Coach Patrick Murphy won the SEC Championship and has become one of the nation’s softball powerhouse teams.
That’s a status enjoyed by Sarah Patterson’s Crimson Tide gymnastics team for a couple of decades. Bama is almost among the nation’s best and has national championship heritage. This year’s squad was third in the nation with Alabama’s Ashley Myles named the National Collegiate Gymnast of the Year.
It’s difficult to win a national championship. Indeed, it’s even difficult to get to the national championship competition. Volleyball did it for the first time in history this past season. Swimming and diving, tennis, and track and field all earned national exposure at the NCAA Championship events. Men’s cross country and women’s golf made the NCAA field, while women’s cross country and men’s golf were regional qualifiers.
No one is going to have a parade for an Alabama team that comes up short of a championship, but up and down the line it appears that Crimson Tide squads are on the right track.