by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Amid all of the distastefulness in pro and college sports today, there is always room for someone who radiates class and integrity. The sort of fellow who, upon being forced out of a high-profile coaching job in which he never recorded a losing record in seven seasons, could still be humble and gracious in his goodbye comments.

"Class is, when they run you out of town, to look like you're leading the parade."

We'll tell you more about this chap in just a moment.

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In the meantime, we have recently acknowledged historical byproducts related to the uncomfortable ends to the eras of Bobby Bowden at Florida State and, in particular, Joe Paterno at Penn State, which also severed the last links to another era in college football. Specifically the tenure of "Shades" in Happy Valley, which extended to the early '50s and his days as an assistant on the staff of predecessor Rip Engle. Paterno, for a long while, was the last remaining coach from our first decade of publishing TGS.

Post-Paterno, the longest-serving college coach, uninterrupted, at the BCS level is now Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, who took over at his alma mater from Bill Dooley in 1987. Kansas State's Bill Snyder started on the job in Manhattan in 1989, but took a 3-year break from 2006-08 before returning to the Wildcat sidelines in 2009.

Besides Beamer, the only other head coaches still on their same jobs from the last millennium are Troy's Larry Blakeney (first season 1991, although the Trojans campaigned in the I-AA ranks during his first decade on the job) and Texas' Mack Brown (first season 1998 in Austin). Those three, Snyder, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops (hired in 1999) and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (also hired 1999) are also the only pre-2000 coaches still at the same job. Besides those mentioned, only 17 other current FBS mentors were college head coaches pre-2000.

We're adding another name to the list for 2013, however, albeit with an asterisk. That fellow we mentioned in the opening paragraph. And would you believe the head coaching history of this chap, who is going to be intricately involved in college football once again this fall, dates to 1970?

This gentleman hasn't coached a game since a couple of weeks after Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford in the presidential election of 1976. And he won't be a head coach this season, either. Rather, he's the new athletic director at Alabama.

Reintroducing Bill Battle, the onetime boy genius of the college football coaching ranks. And at a relatively youthful 72, Battle figures to once again be a prominent mover and shaker in the college sports world for several more years.

For those college fans who had long forgotten about Battle, it's understandable. But Battle has indeed been involved in college sports, albeit from a totally different vantage point, for the past several decades. More on that chapter of this most fascinating college football tale in just a moment.

Let us digress. Battle's head coaching career began just short of his 29th birthday, when he was a surprise hire at Tennessee to replace Doug Dickey, who moved to Gainesville and the Florida job after the 1969 season. (Dickey himself had been only 31 when hired to coach the Vols in 1964.)

Only 28, Battle was UT Athletic Director Bob Woodruff's personal choice to succeed the successful Dickey, whose teams were consistent SEC and national powers during the late '60s, the last three of those years with a young Battle as an assistant coach in charge of the ends, a position he played as an undergrad for Bear Bryant at Tuscaloosa.

Battle, at the time the youngest coach in college football, had thought he might be a head coach one day, but was somewhat surprised he was chosen after Dickey left. However, he was overjoyed to accept the task and was soon introduced to all the demands of the job.

"What I learned pretty quickly was there was a big difference between sitting in the seat I had been sitting in as an assistant and sitting in the seat I sat in as the head coach,” Battle said.

The bile in Knoxville, however, began to flow when Woodruff named Battle. How could a mere kid go in against Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan and all those other wise old SEC coaches? And wasn't Battle an alum of the Vols' eternal rival, the Crimson Tide, where he had played for the Bear in the early '60s?

Yet the courtly and polite Battle was always able to sidestep the inevitable questions relating to his age, mostly with a stock answer for inquiries to those who continued to ask how it felt to be so young.

"I don't know," would say Battle. "I've never been any older."

Battle was able to smooth the transition in his first season. Tennessee would only lose once that campaign, a late September game at Jordan's Auburn (featuring future Heisman winning QB Pat Sullivan) that featured an incomprehensible 14 turnovers, including three straight picks at one point in the game by normally cool and collected Vol QB Bobby Scott.

But the Tigers' 36-23 win would mark UT's only stumble of Battle's memorable first year that would also include a midseason, 24-0 thrashing of Bryant's Alabama in Knoxville. The Big Orange Nation was beginning to warm to the kid coach whose team fashioned the first shutout of a Bama team in 115 games while picking off an astounding eight Tide passes, five of those committed by QB Scott Hunter before he was KO'd in the second half. By the end of the season, the Vols had qualified for the Sugar Bowl, where they would jump to a 24-0 first-quarter lead en route to burying Air Force by a 34-13 count. Tennessee would end the campaign ranked fourth in the final polls.

That 1970 season, however, proved a high-water mark for Battle at UT, although the Vols would continue winning, fashioning 10-2 marks in both '71 and '72. A highlight at the end of the 1971 campaign was a 31-11 thrashing of Paterno's unbeaten Penn State. Which would return to Knoxville early the following season under the condition that UT play the game at night, otherwise the game would be played in State College. Paterno reckoned that he had the Vols over a barrel knowing Neyland Stadium didn't have lights.

So UT simply installed floodlights in time for the 1972 season. And the Vols' first-ever night home game would be played on September 16 against none other than Penn State.

Paterno, however, was having no luck vs. the young Battle, whose team would beat the Nittany Lions once more, albeit this time by a closer 28-21 scoreline. No matter, the Vols had demonstrated considerable mettle in the face of a typically physical Penn State squad that entered Knoxville carrying the burden for an entire region of Eastern football. Although the Nittany Lions had beaten Texas in the previous January's Cotton Bowl, they had been swamped in regular-season games at Colorado and UT in 1970 and '71, respectively, and were viewing the '72 showdown at Neyland Stadium as something of a crusade.

Battle's Vols, however, were up to the challenge. Led by a recently-debuted soph QB, the electric Condredge Holloway, and TB Haskell (Snap Back) Stanback, who scored on runs of 41 and two yards in the first half, the Vols bolted to a 21-0 lead at halftime before all of those points came in handy during the second half. The Vols pass defense would be shredded by Penn State QB John Hufnagel, who had passed for only 21 yards when under constant duress in the first half but tossed for 171 yards and 2 TDs in the final thirty minutes as the Nittany Lions rallied. But Battle had once again prevailed over Paterno.

While UT continued winning and ranked in the polls, however, the anti-Battle undercurrent was bubbling beneath the surface. Though Battle beat his old coach Bryant in 1970, the Vols had fallen behind the Tide when Bama rallied in 1971 & '72, as Battle would lose bitter verdicts in both seasons vs. the Bear. Battle was also having his problems vs. the sage old Shug Jordan, whose Auburn teams would beat the Vols in each of Battle's first three seasons. And some UT boosters also believed Battle was able to benefit greatly from the full cupboard he inherited from Dickey when leading the 1970 team to that 11-1 record.

Still, with Holloway at the controls, 1973 looked like it could be a different story. Battle's Vols were unbeaten at 5-0 and ranked in the top ten when trekking to Birmingham for a showdown vs. Bryant's unbeaten and second-ranked Crimson Tide. To this point in Battle's career, his UT teams had recorded a 36-5 record, perhaps the greatest start to a coaching career in college annals.

By 1973, Bama was in the third year of using the Wishbone, and its offense was never more potent as it now featured some real speed with HBs Wilbur Jackson and Willie Shelby and FB Calvin Culliver, part of the first wave of black recruits to break the color line in Tuscaloosa. And the Tide would jump out to an early 14-0 lead, thanks in part to utilizing an underused aerial diversion; QB Gary Rutledge had hit WR Wayne Wheeler for an 80-yard TD pass on the first play of the game. But the UT "D" featuring DB Eddie Brown would soon assert itself. By the 4th Q, Holloway had led the Vols back into the game and a 21-21 tie with a TD run and a pair of scoring passes, one of those covering 64 yards to TE Michael Gravitt.

In the next few minutes, however, the trajectory of Battle's career at UT would change. The Tide struck lightning-quick for three TDs, first on Robin Cary's 63-yard punt return TD, then a weaving, 80-yard lightning bolt of a TD by Jackson in which he traversed the width of the field, and then another Bama TD shortly thereafter following a fumble recovery at the UT 3-yard-line.

Final score 42-21 in Bama's favor. And what would in effect be the beginning of the end of the Battle storyline at Knoxville.

Holloway would suffer an injury in a 35-31 loss to Georgia two weeks later, in which a fake punt boomeranged on Battle when the Vols were nursing a late 31-28 lead. Two weeks later, a modest Ole Miss side, with veteran HC Johnny Vaught having come out of retirement to replace original successor Billy Kinard earlier that season after the Rebs suffered the indignity of a loss to Memphis State, would install a variation of the Wishbone called the "L" and run over the Vols in a 28-18 win at Jackson as Holloway was again sidelined. UT would eventually lose to Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl, and suddenly the war drums were beating in Knoxville.

Many UT blue bloods had always looked suspiciously at Battle, the Bama alum who some considered might someday be the Bear's replacement in Tuscaloosa. Vol backers were also keeping close tabs on one of their own, former A-A Johnny Majors, whose head coaching career was on the ascent at first Iowa State, and then Pitt, where Majors had moved in 1973 and immediately steered the Panthers to their first bowl in 17 years behind the scintillating frosh RB, Tony Dorsett.

While Battle continued to win more than he would lose at Knoxville, the fan base was getting restless. Battle had added another exciting new weapon to the offense in 1973, wingback Stanley Morgan, who would proceed to produce plenty of highlight-reel moments through 1975, but the offense began to bog down considerably after Holloway's departure following 1974, which would be Battle's last Vol bowl team. Still, a 6-3-2 regular season and another loss to Bama did not appease the fan base, and a tedious 7-3 Liberty Bowl win over Maryland (with Holloway fittingly injured again in his last college game) did not stop the crescendo of dissent.

The fun for Battle was also harder to identify, especially after his dad suffered a heart attack in the stands during the Liberty Bowl game and died a few days later.

Opinion was also circulating within the region that Battle was simply too nice a guy at the time. A moving van was even sent to his house during a struggling stretch that brought out more negativity among some Vol fans.

Post-Holloway, Battle's Vols struggled further. The offense, so potent with Holloway, began to look stale, and the product declined, though not disastrously so. Still, standards were high in Knoxville, and Battle did himself no favors when his 1975 team finished only 7-5, which included an embarrassing 21-14 home loss to Hayden Fry’s North Texas State. In 1976, the team started with a 21-18 loss to Duke at home in the first game and finished 6-5.

At a place like Vanderbilt, such numbers might have been good enough for a lifetime contract. But not at UT; Battle would resign under intense pressure following the 1976 season.

Majors, who had led Pitt to the national title in 1976, was given a hero's welcome in Knoxville as Battle's successor.

Although the color line had been broken at UT during the Dickey years when LB Jackie Wallace became first black Vol footballer, the Battle era was also remembered as a time when black athletes such as Walker, Holloway (the first black starting QB in the SEC) , Stanback, and Morgan became marquee faces of the program for the first time.

(In retrospect, although Battle's records would get progressively worse after the 11-1 breakthrough in 1970, his win percentage at UT of 72.8 would still be significantly better than the 65.2 of Majors, who was given considerably more rope by the UT fan base, and compares favorably with the 74.5 of Phil Fulmer, a lineman on Battle's 1970 & '71 teams who, like his college coach, would also be forced out at UT, after the 2008 campaign.)

Only in his mid-30s, Battle was not sure what his future held. Although he did not see himself coaching in his 60s, he was not sure if he could stay away from the profession.

But he decided to try by going to work for a diversified company called Golden Eagle Enterprises in Selma, Ala. The company soon bought another firm that acquired the licensing rights for golfer Jack Nicklaus.

“Through that I learned a lot about licensing,” said Battle.

Bear Bryant was also on the board of Golden Eagle Enterprises, and at a board meeting, he told Battle that he was looking to change agents.

Although Bryant's football victories over Tennessee during Battle’s last six years in Knoxville helped seal his former player’s fate as the Vol head coach, the same Bear was about to help ensure Battle’s success as a businessman.

While developing a licensing program for coach Bryant after signing him in 1981, Battle realized the University of Alabama did not have a licensing program, either.

So he began looking into that, and remembers wandering around the Alabama campus trying to find the school official with whom he needed to talk. He eventually found the right office--and more success.

He soon signed several schools to contracts, and in 1983 was able to buy out the licensing rights from his employer and form his own company, Collegiate Licensing Company. The company also relocated to Atlanta.

Battle's licensing program would become an astounding success story, allowing schools to make money off the use of their names on T-shirts items and other merchandise, and also prevented businesses from profiting improperly by selling an item with a school’s name or logo on it without permission or without paying a licensing fee.

On the ground floor of the booming merchandising business in college sports, Collegiate Licensing became a multi-million dollar enterprise. What Battle might not have been able to accomplish as a head coach at Tennessee, he was sure making up for it on the business side.

“It’s been really a fun ride,” Battle would say of the work. “After I started, I never thought about getting back into coaching.”

Battle, though, found a lot of similarities between coaching and business. “It’s a lot like coaching,” Battle said in an interview with a business journal several years ago. “You hire young people and you try to develop some characteristics in the staff and take a team approach.”

Proving to be a man for all seasons, Battle would eventually sell CLC for a nine-figure amount (for those with trouble counting to such high numbers, that begins at $100 million) and serve as an invaluable consultant after the purchase by IMG International in 2007. Until, that is, he got the call from his alma mater at Alabama after longtime AD and Battle friend Mal Moore became ill and had to step down from his duties. Battle thus accepted the AD job on March 22, eight days before his pal Moore would pass away.

Some wonder why Battle would jump back into the fray at age 72, especially after enjoying such a huge windfall after the sale of his baby, CLC, and all of the time he wished to pursue his golfing and fishing hobbies and spend time with his grandchildren.

But another friend, former UNLV AD Jim Livengood, clued us in a couple of months ago. "I think Bill viewed the Alabama job as a calling," said Livengood, "and sort of thought it was his duty to pick up the baton from Mal Moore."

So it is that the one-time youngest head coach in college football is now a rather-old hire as an Athletic Director. Whatever, Bill Battle is ready as always for the job, and back in the action where he belongs.

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