Battle, a former Alabama football player under Bear Bryant, said he figures he is taking over a successful enterprise that doesn't require major changes. He is taking over for his friend and former Crimson Tide teammate Mal Moore, who retired this week because of health concerns.
"How do you improve on the success? You don’t," Battle said during a 15-minute meeting with newspaper reporters after his introductory news conference. "You try to keep going the way you’re going. But I think you either get better or you get worse. As you strive for excellence in athletics – as you do preparing young people for life – that never changes."
The executive committee of the University of Alabama board of trustees unanimously approved Battle's hiring in a conference call this morning. University President Judy Bonner recommended a salary of $620,000 and a four-year term for the 71-year-old Battle.
When asked if he is open to an extension beyond four years, Battle smiled and answered, "Ask the university if they're open to an extension."
He said his first order of business will be to conduct a "listening tour" of the university and the athletics department.
"I’m going to try to be a sponge and soak up everything that I can soak up from everybody I can get in front of to learn every facet that I can about this athletics department," he said. "I want to learn about its people. I want to learn about how they perform. I want to learn about what they do. I want to learn if that is what they should do."
Battle said he had wrestled with the decision about whether to accept the job for the past two weeks. Although Moore announced his retirement Wednesday, Bonner said at a news conference she had discussed the future of the athletics department with him several times in recent weeks and Moore had recommended Battle.
Moore has been hospitalized since last week at Duke Medical Center, getting tests and receiving treatment for pulmonary issues.
"I was able to spend a significant amount of time with Bill in this process and in my experience here at the University of Alabama over the last six years," Alabama football coach Nick Saban in prepared remarks at Battle's news conference. "Even though we lost a valuable statesman for the university in Mal Moore, he will continue to be with us a part of the university, which we look forward to continuing to work with Mal. But we’ve also added a gentleman that is going to be a first-class person and a leader in our community as well as our university and our athletic department."
Battle said he had met but hadn't spent a lot of time with Saban before he was contacted about the AD job. Saban has become the centerpiece of the school's athletics program by restoring the football program to brilliance, including three national titles in four years.
"We had talked to him on several occasions, but never really sat down and talked like we did during this process," Battle said. "The relationship of anybody at the University of Alabama and Coach Saban is important because Coach Saban is important. What he’s done in football, not many people have done in college sports.
"He’s gotten ahead of the field. So we want to be supportive as we can be to his needs and his team’s needs, give him the best chance that he has to give his players the best chance to compete, as we want to do with all our coaches."
Battle said he also wants to learn from Saban.
"He’s good. I mean, he’s really good," Battle said. "There’s a lot of lessons that he teaches in his program that could be applicable to all of our lives and certainly to our athletic department."
Battle played at Alabama for Bear Bryant and was a starter in 1960-62, including on the 1961 national championship team. He served as Tennessee's head coach in 1970-76 before entering private business.
He worked at Circle S Industries in Selma before starting the Collegiate Licensing Company in 1981 and serving as president and CEO until 2002. CLC created revenue for schools through licensing of official merchandise. The University of Alabama was his first client.
He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 and was presented the University of Alabama's Paul W. Bryant Alumni Athlete Award in 2005.