When Bill Battle picked up the phone on a Sunday four years ago he was given the chance of a lifetime – to become the athletic director of his alma mater. What was his reaction?
“I said ‘hell no I’m not going to take the job.’”
The University of Alabama didn’t give up on him, and within a week, Battle realized he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“[The] next Sunday when I said ‘I’ll regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t do this.’ And I would have, and knowing what I know now, I really would have because if I’ve helped this place any – I hope that’s the case – but it has helped me a lot I have thoroughly enjoyed it,” Battle said.
During Battle’s tenure, Alabama has claimed 15 individual NCAA titles, 10 Southeastern Conference team championships across six sports, and three NCAA team national championships (men’s golf in 2013 and 2014 and football in 2015).
On Thursday, The University of Alabama introduced Battle’s successor, Greg Byrne – Arizona’s vice president for athletics. On March 1, Battle will officially step down as Alabama’s AD to assume the position of special assistant to the president.
Battle said his diagnosis of, and the subsequent treatment of, multiple myeloma played a minimal role in his decision to step aside.
“The outcome to me is great and to me it’s the best of all worlds cause I can stay close to the University that I love and hopefully help,” Battle said. “But this was a great time to pass the torch. We’ve got coaches that are in place that I think are good, that are either the head of the pack or climbing and I’ve made five coaching hires since I’ve been here which is kind of amazing.”
The successes or failures of those five sports in the next few seasons – baseball, gymnastics, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and soccer – will ultimately play a large role in determining Battle’s legacy at The University of Alabama, but at the moment all five hires indeed appear to have their programs trending up.
Perhaps no program’s success is more remarkable than what the gymnastics team has been able to do following the departure of the legendary Sarah Patterson. Under the leadership of Dana Duckworth, the gymnastics program has finished inside the top four both seasons since Battle promoted her to the position.
“Working with Sarah, who wanted a seamless transition and no publicity, [was great],” Battle said. “I thought that was a very unselfish move on her part. She said that’ll hurt us in recruiting.”
Battle considers the time spent with Patterson and the hiring of Duckworth to be one of the highlights of the last four years, but every transition period wasn’t that easy.
“[It was difficult] firing [former men’s basketball coach] Anthony Grant, who I loved and wanted to keep, but we both decided the way it all played out he was better off going somewhere else and we were better off going somewhere else,” he said. “Hiring Avery [Johnson] was a very difficult challenge because everybody knew what I was doing before I did it and that makes it difficult.”
At the time, Battle was criticized for failing to land his top choice, but Johnson is doing his part to rewrite history. Alabama is currently No. 4 in the SEC and Johnson insists his team will become a staple of not only the early stages of the NCAA Tournament, but the later rounds as well.
The success of Alabama coach Nick Saban has allowed the former football player to take part in his fair share of trophy ceremonies over the years, but he was unable to receive the national championship trophy in Tampa, Florida when the team fell to Clemson 35-31 on Jan. 9.
“Games like that, you never get over. If you get beat by two or three touchdowns that’s one thing, you just didn’t have it,” Battle said. “But when you lose a game in the last two seconds and you thought you had it won and thought it was lost and thought it was won and then it got lost again.”
Battle said that the loss was the second toughest loss on the football field he’s witnessed during his tenure behind the infamous “Kick-Six” loss to Auburn in 2013.
“I just wish we could have somehow made a play that kept them from getting into the end zone or scoring one more touchdown.”
Lost championships included, nothing tormented Battle as much the rumors that Saban was leaving the University for the same position at Texas.
“He [Saban] said ‘look I’m out recruiting and trying to get ready for Oklahoma’ and I said well that’s what I want to hear,” Battle said. “And that’s what I said and that’s what I thought, but you never knew. I didn’t want to lose Nick Saban under my watch, so until it got done it was tense.”
While many of Battle’s least favorite moments played out in front of a national audience one way or another, the highlights of his career occurred every day with almost every interaction he had with the student athletes under his care.
“When people ask me how was playing for coach [Paul W. “Bear”] Bryant, I say the further away I got from it the greater it got,” Battle said. “I didn’t enjoy every day I went to practice or that I was in school under coach Bryant. I didn’t enjoy every day in the athletic director’s chair, but looking back on it, I loved it and I wouldn’t take anything for it.”
Source:: The Crimson White Sports