For many awaiting January 7th’s BCS Championship, they’re expecting a culture clash between two traditional football powers. Nobody expects to find much of a common thread between Notre Dame and Alabama. Whether its the differences between life in Tuscaloosa or South Bend, or a proud football independent versus the leading man in the rough and tumble SEC, most would guess that these two programs represent life on the opposite sides of the college football spectrum.
Well, that might not be as true as we all think. While there are certainly differences on both the academic and spiritual sides of things, Alabama athletic director Mal Moore took a fascinating look back at his time at both institutions — as a player, coach, and now AD at Alabama, and his three seasons coaching at Notre Dame under Gerry Faust.
Moore, who was at a crossroads in his career after working his final game as a Bryant assistant, and still mourning the death of his mentor, was pondering a variety of life choices when he received an odd call at home from the Irish’s then head coach.
“I didn’t know him well,” Moore told AL.com’s Don Kausler Jr. “I was shocked when he called. He called on a Sunday morning to see if I would be interested in talking to him and coming up for an interview.”
There was enough mutual interest from both parties that Moore, a back-up quarterback on the 1961 national championship team at Alabama, moved north for three years, coaching running backs for the Irish, including record setter Allen Pinkett.
The entire article is fascinating, if not for the mutual respect both universities had for each other. Particularly fun to read about was Bear Bryant‘s coaching roots, which extend back to his coach, Frank Thomas, a quarterback who played for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame.
“I didn’t know until I went up there that Coach Bryant’s coach here was Frank Thomas, and you know how you feel about your coach. Coach Thomas played quarterback for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. I had lunch with a guy back then in his late 80s that played for Coach Rockne. He told me what Rockne would say in team meetings or games: the same damn things that Coach Bryant said to us, because that’s what Frank Thomas said to him. I was simply amazed at the connection.”
Bryant’s relationship with Notre Dame included a mutual admiration of Father Theodore Hesburgh. Moore recalled Hesburgh joining the victory celebration after beating USC in 1985 and doing it in a houndstooth hat that looked mighty familiar.
“We were all whooping and hollering in the locker room, and in walks Father Hesburgh and Father (Edmund) Joyce in their black suits and white collars,” Moore said, referring to the university’s chief financial officer. “Father Hesburgh had a black-and-white houndstooth hat, just like Coach Bryant. He was shaking hands with all the players. … He came by me, and I said, ‘Father, you look mighty handsome in that hat.’ He said, ‘Thank you, Mal. Paul gave it to me.’ And he pulled it off and it was autographed by Coach Bryant. This was three years after his death.”
Moore has piloted the Crimson Tide athletic department since 1999, pulling off one of the great hires in college football’s recent history when he got Nick Saban to walk away from the Miami Dolphins and return to the SEC.
And while not many Alabama fans have fond feelings for the Irish after they spoiled their share of Alabama seasons, Moore certainly doesn’t feel the same way.
“The whole time I was there, I still felt like I was working for Alabama,” Moore said. “I loved being there.”
Do yourself a favor and check out the column by Don Kausler Jr. who did a great job telling a largely unknown story.