By Charles Morgan III
These are heady times in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It’s the morning after a most improbable victory in the national championship football game. Alabama is not unfamiliar with these games. But this one was certainly different.
A come-from-behind victory, led by a Hawaiian teenager who had never started in a collegiate football game, was something special. And the crowd went wild.
But football is not the only special thing going on in Tuscaloosa.
Just over 10 years ago, Dr. Robert Witt, the president of the university, sent the athletic director, Mal Moore, to Miami to lure Nick Saban away from the Miami Dolphins. He pointedly told Moore, “Do not come back here without Nick Saban on that airplane.” There is no way that Dr. Witt (or anyone else) could have known that Saban would be so outstandingly successful.
That’s not all Dr. Witt did. He had already begun changing the nature of the University of Alabama. A nationwide plan was started to lure students to the sleepy town of Tuscaloosa.
This year, 72 percent of the freshman class is from outside the state. More than 40 percent of the class scored higher than 30 on the ACT. In addition to the diversity and experience out-of-state students provide, they bring money. Out-of-state tuition is roughly three times in-state tuition.
By contrast, states like Florida, Georgia and Tennessee (states with lotteries that supplement their universities) have student bodies with close to only 10 percent out-of-state students.
Walt Maddox has been the mayor of Tuscaloosa for the last 12 years. A no-nonsense, forward thinking, charismatic 44-year-old, Maddox has overseen incredible growth and managed infrastructure changes to make Tuscaloosa a more livable, modern town. He provided real leadership after a devastating tornado wrecked lives and large portions of the city. Maddox is hoping that his successes in Tuscaloosa help him to become governor of Alabama next year.
Those three men—Dr. Witt, Coach Saban, and Mayor Maddox—were the right people in the right place at the right time. Tuscaloosa will forever be changed by their leadership.
College towns tend to be special places. The mix of academia and young people growing up and striving to learn is special. And, of course, there is football…and all the other competitive sports (Alabama is about to have a great basketball program).
Many of the diverse group of students in Tuscaloosa will graduate and decide to stay in Alabama. That’s good news for the state. Most students will return to their hometowns or follow job opportunities in new places. They will take their experiences at the university with them.
Without even trying, they will further the brand of the University of Alabama and the successes of the school and the town in which they became adults. They’ll know that success in life, not unlike football, depends on timing and opportunity and recovering from misfortune. It’s a process—a process with which we are becoming very familiar.
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