Chris Kirschner/SEC Country
Alabama's highly successful athletic program is on the verge of having new direction.

Alabama football: After the Battle, feel the Byrne

Good morning. The Rammer Jammer is a daily rundown of everything you need to know about Alabama athletics, published every weekday morning.

The Bill Battle era, such as it was, is drawing to a close.

News broke late Sunday night of Alabama’s plan for the next era of its athletic department. Battle, who has battled myeloma for the past year or more, will leave in March at the conclusion of his initial four-year contract. His replacement, if the reports are to be believed, is Greg Byrne, currently of Arizona. 

Battle came to Alabama in 2013 after Mal Moore’s abrupt departure as an extended caretaker. With a significant background in both business, as the founder of Collegiate Licensing, and football, as an Alabama football player under coach Paul Bryant and a Tennessee coach, Battle was the optimal choice to sustain the unprecedented levels of success — competitive and financial — his predecessor had enjoyed.

While Battle’s job was always transitional, it wouldn’t be entirely fair to call him a lame duck caretaker. He made the decision to hire Dana Duckworth and Greg Goff to lead the gymnastics and baseball programs, executed the plans to renovate Sewell-Thomas Stadium, built new rowing facilities and a dining hall, and laid the groundwork for future facilities, including a top-class swimming facility. He raised colossal amounts of money for the program and paved the way for self-sustainability for programs such as the golf teams, which are nearly fully endowed. He was not necessarily a hands-on visionary, but he did his part.

Byrne, on the other hand, is likely to be a much more hands-on director, with no set expiration date. At only 45, Byrne could shape one of the largest athletic departments in the country for generations and will likely be committed to success across all sports. He hired Rich Rodriguez after firing Mike Stoops at Arizona and hired Dan Mullen and John Cohen at Mississippi State. Cohen, a Tuscaloosa native, has overseen one of the most successful baseball programs in the country over the last half-decade.

Byrne is a visionary, and one of the most respected and qualified athletic directors in the business. He doubled the budget of his athletic department at Arizona and has seen that dormant power grow in baseball, basketball and football, at least. His hiring is good news for all Alabama sports — potentially for decades to come.

Happy trails

Alabama’s weekend began and ended with news of some high-profile departures. Left tackle Cam Robinsonwide receiver ArDarius Stewart and cornerback Marlon Humphrey confirmed their early departures to the NFL Draft. While Stewart’s decision is something of a surprise, those were the only three players ever likely to leave. Tony Brown and Anthony Averett reportedly considered leaving, before deciding to return to improve their draft stock. The juniors who chose to leave are all good players, though they have their drawbacks.

Possibly a more costly, though equally inevitable, departure comes from Alabama’s coaching staff. Offensive line coach Mario Cristobal is headed to Oregon to become the Ducks’ new co-offensive co-ordinator. He’s been Alabama’s top recruiter — and the best recruiter in the country, according to some — for the past three seasons. Cristobal landed Robinson, Calvin Ridley and Minkah Fitzpatrick, among other top recruits.

All that makes the latest update on another Alabama assistant more important.

Tosh Lupoi is a Cal alumnus and another top recruiter who has been invaluable to coach Nick Saban in recruiting the West Coast. Lupoi was part of Alabama’s success in landing Dylan Moses, Najee Harris, and Tua Tagovailoa — all top recruits at their position.


Seatbelt check

Alabama beat LSU on the road on Saturday, a game that showcased one of Alabama’s few true strengths: depth. Graduate transfer Corban Collins led the scoring, while Riley Norris broke out with 20 points. The performance was really Alabama basketball in a nutshell: quiet shooting first half, then a run inspired by lock-down defense and points off turnovers. Alabama’s been at its best when it plays fast and works in transition.

One warning sign did rear its head against LSU. Braxton Key fouled out, which would have been a bigger problem had Collins not already been taking the lead. Its the second game in a row that a crucial Alabama player has fouled out after Donta Hall was disqualified against Florida. Key was also hamstrung by foul trouble after picking up an early fourth against Mississippi State before Alabama pulled away, thanks to Dazon Ingram.

Alabama’s team lives in fine margins and relies on balance and execution. It can’t survive if its best players are tied to the bench.

Built by Bama

Justin Thomas’ record-setting start to the year continued when he posted a 27-under 253 at the Sony Open on Sunday. That’s the lowest 72-hole score in PGA Tour history. He’s now the No. 8 golfer in the world and has made in excess of $10 million.

  • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will meet Julio Jones in the NFC Championship in Atlanta next week. Ha Ha recorded 4 tackles as the Packers beat the Cowboys, 34-31, in Dallas on Sunday. Jones had 67 yards and a touchdown on 6 catches as his Falcons beat the Seahawks.
  • In the AFC, Dont’a Hightower had 8 tackles in the Patriots’ 34-16 win against Houston. The Patriots will take on the Steelers in the AFC title game next week.


Sticking the landing

The Alabama gymnastics team fell to No. 1 LSU at home on Friday night, 197.575 to 197.1 I probably should reconsider the subhead for this section, considering the one thing Alabama’s gymnasts absolutely did not do on Friday was stick the landing. Every step or hop on a landing is a one-tenth deduction off the score. Leaving aside floor exercise, Alabama stuck just four of their 18 routines, leaving a possible 1.1 points on the table, which, though extremely unlikely, would have given Alabama not just the best score in the country this season but a national championship-caliber score.

Now, Alabama’s score at this point in the season is not bad — quite the opposite; it’s excellent and promising, particularly since Alabama hasn’t counted a fall this season. Alabama is 0-2 only because it’s gone up against the two best teams in the country to date. Alabama has all the potential to win the national championship, but it has to continue progressing and it has to stick its landings. Alabama had plenty of potential last season and never fixed that problem consistently.

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