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Alabama defeated Clemson in the 2016 College Football Playoff championship game.

Alabama football: Bill Battle’s biggest moments

Welcome to The Rammer Jammer, SEC Country’s daily Alabama athletics recap. Today, we look at Bill Battle’s biggest hires and six wins in seven for basketball. 

A lot can change in four years.

That’s how long Bill Battle’s been in charge of his alma mater’s athletics department. His influence may go understated precisely because little actually did change in that time. Gymnastics, softball and the golf teams remained national contenders. Football won a title and nearly won more. Basketball remained a mid-SEC team. In many ways, Alabama is just as successful now as when Battle took over. That is an achievement in itself.

But the true extent of Battle’s legacy won’t be attributed to him. The former Alabama football player has laid the groundwork for skyward growth in his department, and the spoils of his work will likely be enjoyed by Greg Byrne, his successor.

The most visible move of Battle’s tenure paid dividends as recently as Wednesday night: the hiring of Avery Johnson to coach the basketball team. In a way, that was the most daring and expansive hire in Alabama athletics history. Sure, the Nick Saban hire was incredibly important, but everyone expected the Crimson Tide to chase after the biggest names in the country for their football coaches. Choosing a former NBA champion and high-profile coach to lead their oft-maligned basketball program back to glory? That was unexpected.

Possibly Battle’s second-biggest hire, Dana Duckworth was something of the opposite of Johnson. Duckworth took over the program she had been a part of as an athlete at Alabama. She was the definition of continuity, taking over from her own coach, Sarah Patterson. Here, Battle showed enough sense to listen to Patterson, who had learned what not to do after the departure of her great rival, Suzanne Yoculan, at UGA. There was no delay, no debate and no radical change. Alabama remains one of the powers in collegiate gymnastics, just as it was under Patterson, in part thanks to Battle’s good sense.

Perhaps no legacy will grow as complicated as the near future of the Alabama baseball program. For years, the Crimson Tide played in front of empty seats in a dilapidated arena. Battle ordered the opening of the New Joe and ushered a new era of recruiting for the perennial underperformers. The stadium, which follows the signature red brick/white accent model of 90 percent of campus buildings, boasts state-of-the-art facilities and one of the few viewing areas that allows alcohol consumption in the SEC, an astute public relations move by Battle that recaptured a student audience long missing. Then, after a season, Battle appointed Greg Goff to lead the baseball program.

Byrne made much of his impact at Arizona and Mississippi State by hiring baseball coaches that turned their programs into national contenders within a few seasons. At Alabama, that job may have been done for him.

Battle’s most underrated hire shows just how ambitious he was. When Battle dealt with the anxiety of hiring Johnson, he wasn’t overseeing one coaching search. The Alabama soccer program was similarly rudderless. Not many noticed, but Battle did take some offense when questions arose about his interest in that hire after Johnson was announced. He responded by landing Wes Hart, a former Major League Soccer prodigy who had just helped lead Florida State to the national championship. No program has seen such a dramatic turnaround in two seasons as Hart’s, and much of that success comes down to Battle.

Battle came to Alabama as a business man and worked as a business man while he was there. Much will be said about his sponsorship of the Bryant Society, Alabama’s top class of donors, but many will miss the point. Battle’s legacy won’t be defined by how much money he brought in, but what that money went toward. The Bryant Society’s goal under Battle’s leadership was to supply sustainable endowments for non-revenue sports. Think about that. If that vision sees reality, the biggest expenses in Alabama Athletics will be self-sustaining before Nike contracts or SEC Network payouts are ever considered.

As Aaron Suttles of The Tuscaloosa News writes, Battle didn’t need to come to Alabama, but he did, and he left an indelible mark on his university. His term wasn’t without controversy — the Jonathan Taylor incident springs to mind — but it can’t be denied that he made the most of his time.

ICYMI

Seatbelt check

Alabama basketball’s win against Missouri on Wednesday night was a retro performance — but not retro enough to resemble the 1987 team the Crimson Tide (11-6, 4-1 SEC) honored, as Cecil Hurt writes. No, the Tide’s victory on Wednesday looked a lot more like the recent past of Alabama basketball. Think 2010. The Crimson Tide was a long way off from the offensive juggernaut Johnson claims to want. A defense-fueled, transition heavy “ugly” victory against a terrible conference opponent came right out of the Anthony Grant playbook.

The major difference? Alabama’s direction in the second half. Braxton Key, Alabama’s star freshman, noted the sluggishness the Crimson Tide played with in the first period, and how changing that made all the difference against Mizzou. Alabama played with pace in the second half, and while the shots didn’t fall, clearly outplayed Missouri and put the Tigers on the back foot. Grant’s teams were often talented and played with something of an identity but such a clear halftime adjustment was foreign to those groups.

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