By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
May 30, 2013
When Bill Battle was hired to replace Mal Moore as athletic director, a column appeared in this space outlining some of the decisions that would immediately face him, and speculated what his choices would mean for his eventual legacy.
Athletic directors at Alabama don’t come and go very often. Moore held the job for more than a decade. If you don’t count Glen Tuckett’s abbreviated stint as interim AD before Moore was hired, you have the Bob Bockrath disaster – which still lasted as long as a presidential administration. Prior to Bockrath’s time in Tuscaloosa, there was (working backward) Hootie Ingram, Steve Sloan, Ray Perkins and then, of course, Paul “Bear” Bryant. Six men essentially carried Alabama athletics from the 1950s to the 2010s. Those aren’t administrations; they’re monarchies.
Battle got off to a strong start, reversing one of Moore’s few missteps by replacing Wendell Hudson with Kristy Curry as women’s basketball coach. Given the profile of the Alabama program, getting Curry to agree to come to Tuscaloosa has to rank at or near the top of what constitutes reasonable expectations. In the weeks since, there has been talk of replacing Sewell-Thomas Field, which is not the worst athletics facility on the Alabama campus – that would be the track facility – but it certainly represents the best intersection of the terms “bad facility” and “high profile.” Most Alabama fans only know of the track stadium because it takes up land that probably should be part of the football complex.
But the river of goodwill Battle had built up to this point went over the dam when he was asked to suggest four names for what will eventually be the de facto selection committee to determine the football national championship. Battle named Harvey Schiller, Vince Dooley, Doug Dickey and Roy Kramer.
First of all, we’ll look for the silver lining: Harvey Schiller. Schiller, a former SEC commissioner, has worked in broadcasting (head of TBS sports for several years), the U.S. Olympic Committee and has served on multiple NCAA committees.
Schiller was also a combat pilot at one time. Unlike Schiller, however, the rest of Battle’s list doesn’t fly.
The common thread to all four names is that they are all relative contemporaries of Battle, who is 72 years old. Dooley was football coach at Georgia during the same time Herschel Walker played there, which is the principal reason why Dooley has a national championship on his resume. Dooley still put together a solid coaching career (201 wins, 6 SEC championships) aside from Walker, but there’s a difference between being on the list of top-tier SEC football coaches and the ability to serve on a selection committee that will hold the fate of a multi-billion-dollar industry – because that’s what it is – in its hands.
But despite a diploma from Auburn, most Alabama fans probably don’t harbor much ill will toward Dooley. The same cannot be said of the other two names.
Doug Dickey was athletics director at Tennessee and Roy Kramer the SEC commissioner during the single worst period of time in Alabama athletics history, namely the twin NCAA investigations that hit the program at that time. How much a role either of those men played in Alabama’s dilemma depends on the amount of tinfoil in your hat, but the perception at the time was that Dickey, Kramer and then-Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer were, at the very least, not going to warn Alabama to watch out for the oncoming bus.
Kramer, especially, was reviled for allegedly failing to either notify Alabama that the NCAA was looking into allegations of wrongdoing, or at least give the school a complete rundown of what the problems actually were. Now that at least one of the principal NCAA investigators in Alabama’s case has been criticized for investigatory tactics in the current University of Miami case, those old wounds have been reopened.
But for many Alabama fans, the wounds actually never closed in the first place. In regards to Dickey, his bad name among Alabama fans may have simply because he was friends with Kramer, Fulmer’s boss and looking out for Tennessee’s interests above all others – which is exactly what Tennessee hired him to do. Kramer, on the other hand, was sworn to look out for the interests of all 12 SEC schools, but has been roundly criticized, in this publication and many others, for being too comfy with Tennessee above the rest.
It’s unclear whether Battle is letting his old Tennessee connections bleed through (he and Dickey were on the same Tennessee football coaching staff from 1966-1969) or whether he simply doesn’t understand the personal revulsion much of the Alabama fan base has for two of the four men he named. There is no way most Alabama fans would make such a recommendation no matter what Dickey’s resume or Kramer’s resume looked like – and purely from an experience standpoint, Kramer’s resume fits the profile.
It’s unlikely Battle will see his recommendations come to fruition, anyway. The age of the members of the selection panel will certainly come into question, and all four of Battle’s recommendations are of the same general age.
What could be troublesome here for Battle is how his backing of Dickey and Kramer goes over with the fanbase (also known as the donor base). Many Alabama boosters are firmly behind Nick Saban and the direction of the program in general, but they’re there in large part due to Mal Moore, not Battle, and will not hesitate to make their displeasure known. Moore had developed sufficient cachet among fans to defray criticism of his decisions; Battle hasn’t yet earned the benefit of the doubt.
One of the principal tasks for Battle, after taking over for the beloved Moore, was to keep the Alabama ship on one course, one speed, one direction. By bringing up Dickey and Kramer, Battle has risked making his own waters choppy.
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