Friday, March 22, 2013
Battle to keep moving Alabama forward
By Alex Scarborough
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Bill Battle won't begin the task of replacing former Alabama athletic director Mal Moore with a splash. By the looks of it, he's not one to rock the boat.
The 71-year-old former player, coach and businessman said he's not determined to make his presence felt in the athletic department right away. For now, he's content following the blueprint Moore laid out, the one that has yielded eight national championships since 2002.
"How do you improve on success?" he asked, mirroring a reporter's question on Friday. "You don't. You try to keep going the way you're going."
That means giving his coaches the resources to continue operating at a high level. Before he ever took the job, Battle said he met with football coach Nick Saban.
"The relationship of anybody at the University of Alabama and Coach Saban is important because coach Saban is important," he said. "What he’s done in football, not many people have done in college sports. He’s gotten ahead of the field.
"So we want to be supportive as we can be to his needs and his team’s needs ... as we want to do with all our coaches."
Battle said he even hopes to learn from Saban, adding: "He's good. I mean, he's really good. There’s a lot of lessons that he teaches in his program that could be applicable to all of our lives and certainly to our athletic department."
It was music to an Alabama fan base that measures itself by the success of its football team. Though he may not be the longest tenured, Saban is viewed as the dean of the university's coaches. With three BCS titles in four years, it was only fitting that Saban was the only coach to speak from the podium during Battle's introductory press conference.
"As a group of coaches, we're all going to do everything we can to make this transition a very successful one and continue the standard of excellence we have here at the University of Alabama," Saban said after inviting Battle to attend the team's afternoon practice.
Battle, who played under Paul 'Bear' Bryant in the 1960s and was an assistant at multiple stops before becoming the head football coach Tennessee, is more than familiar with the sport. He may not be able to teach Saban any new tricks, but his work behind the scenes as an athletic director will help determine the direction of the program for years to come.
In fact, Battle's authority will extend to college football as a whole. As the athletic director of the most successful program in the country, he has a seat at the table when it comes to the future of the sport. And when asked about the BCS moving toward a playoff, he didn't hold back, saying he didn't understand the criticism of the old method of determining who is No. 1.
"Everybody knocks the BCS as it was. I thought it was great," he said. "What’s wrong with everyone sitting around the water cooler every day of the regular season saying, ‘Man, this is the second game of the year … and we’ve got to have this game or we’re out of the race.'
“For the fans, this will be another great experience. For the coaches, it’s going to be tough. Now you’ve got the SEC championship game and now instead of one game for the national championship you’ve got to play two games, and that makes it a whole lot more difficult."
While it's too late to reverse the move toward a playoff in football, there's one area Battle would like to see changed, and it's with the rest of college sports. He may not know yet what direction he'd like to take Alabama athletics as a whole, but he has ideas about where the national landscape should change.
“We’ve got to think how to do this better in (basketball)," he said. "There’s nothing better in United States sports that’s more important than the regular season in college football. That has gotten to be a whole lot less the situation in basketball. The NCAA tournament is magnificent, one of the great sports tournaments in the world. But the regular season needs help, and you look at the number of people who come to regular season games and that is borne out.