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Alabama AD Moore chasing national title No. 9

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- New coach Paul "Bear" Bryant gave Mal Moore and the rest of his first freshman class a welcome-to-Alabama moment with a bold proclamation at their initial team meeting.

"He walked in and introduced himself and said that he was there to build this program and that if we would stick with it, that we would win the national championship while we were there," recalls Moore, now the Crimson Tide's athletic director.

Bryant fulfilled that pledge three years later, in 1961. What they couldn't have known is that Moore would be around for seven more national title teams -- perhaps soon to be eight -- over the following half-century as a Crimson Tide player, coach or administrator.

Moore, who has been Alabama's athletic director since 1999, is hoping to add to that total when the second-ranked Tide faces No. 1 LSU on Jan. 9 in the New Orleans Superdome.

As usual, Moore will be there.

"I would think as a player, a coach, you're lucky to have one in your career," the silver-haired 72-year-old said in his memento-filled office. "I've just been very fortunate and lucky in a lot of ways. Fortunate to be at Alabama and come the same year that coach Bryant came and experienced and witnessed his changing situation here, turning it from a program that had won (four) games in three years to one that goes undefeated four years later and wins a national championship. Quite remarkable."

Moore's timing has been quite remarkable, too. He has left his alma mater for coaching stops at Montana State, Notre Dame and the NFL's Cardinals in both St. Louis and Phoenix.

Moore made it back in time for all the national championships, including seven teams crowned by The Associated Press.

He has been a wide-eyed freshman from rural Alabama under one iconic coach and the man who hired another. That coach, Nick Saban, led the Tide to the title two seasons ago, ending a 17-year drought for one of college football's most storied programs.

A career backup quarterback, Moore has had a far greater impact since his playing days.

Moore was a first-year quarterbacks coach during the transition to the wishbone offense in 1971 after two six-win seasons in a row. That helped touch off a run of five straight Southeastern Conference championships and, two years later, national title No. 4 for Moore.

He had returned to Alabama as a graduate assistant in 1964, then worked with defensive backs until being named quarterbacks coach and, in 1975, as Alabama's first offensive coordinator.

He stuck around through Bryant's final team in '82 before leaving for eight years. Bryant's son, Paul Bryant Jr., said the proof of his father's regard for Moore is on the current AD's resume.

"Obviously looking back as an observer, he's been on his staff as an assistant coach since he finished playing and he had him the rest of his coaching career," said Bryant Jr., an Alabama trustee who has known Moore for five-plus decades. "That speaks for itself."

Moore has presided over plenty of troubled times for the football program before the recent rise under Saban, including two stints on NCAA probation and five head coaches counting Mike Price, fired without coaching a game.

Alabama also has had $200 million in upgrades to athletic facilities under Moore's watch.

Bryant Jr. credits Moore with helping get "Alabama people all on the same page and pulling together and raising money, and all these wonderful facility upgrades and leading the football program out of a slump and putting them on top."

"He has such a strong personal allegiance to the university and loyalty and love for the university," he said. "He shows it, so it's contagious with alumni and fans."

Moore's biggest impact came with the 11th-hour hiring of Saban from the Miami Dolphins in January 2007.

"The simple fact that he chose to come with us has been one of the most positive things that we've accomplished," said Moore, calling the last few years "magical."

"No question he's a difference maker. I think he fits this program very well because of the success it's enjoyed and its history and it supports what he's trying to do in the future."

Moore said it's impossible to put the "best Alabama team ever" on any group with ever-changing styles and technology and bigger, faster players.

A few highlights from the title teams during his career:

--1964-65. Joe Namath led Alabama in the first Orange Bowl played at night. Texas won 21-17 when it was ruled -- in a split decision by officials -- that Namath didn't cross the goal line on a sneak. UPI and AP still crowned `Bama.

The following year, Alabama caught another break when it leapt from No. 4 to No. 1 with the top two teams -- Michigan State and Arkansas -- both losing in the bowl games.

In 1966, Alabama went 11-0 and outscored opponents by an average of 27-4, but Notre Dame (9-0-1) won the title.

"The threepeat, when all that was talked about with Southern Cal, I've always felt that Alabama had already done that," Moore said. "The players and coaches did what they could do, we just didn't get the votes.

--1973. Notre Dame and Alabama flipped roles. The Tide lost 24-23 to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, but UPI had already named its champion after the regular season, the final year it did that.

--1978. No. 2 Alabama beat No. 1 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl after Barry Krauss led the way in stopping tailback Matt Guman up the middle on fourth-and-goal.

Alabama also won titles in 1979, 1992 and 2009 with teams that had two things in common -- dominant defenses and Moore. "Just absolutely lucky that it worked out that way," he said.