The President of the University of Alabama, Robert Witt, was named the chancellor of the three-school system today by the UA Board of Trustees. He replaces Malcome Portera who announced in January he would be retiring this year.
For Alabama football fans, this is something of a concern. Witt arrived in 2003 when the program was reeling from NCAA sanctions and a series of head coaching missteps. It wasn't long before the new president faced his first big crisis -- the Mike Price debacle. Witt didn't hesitate. Price was fired and the school president didn't mince words in explaining his rational.
"To be selected for a leadership position at the University of Alabama is an honor and a responsibility. When you accept the honor, you accept the responsibility," Witt said. "That responsibility includes conducting your professional and personal life in a manner consistent with university policy."
For some time now, we at Roll Bama Roll have directly credited Robert Witt's leadership as the primary cause for the return of Alabama football to the elite ranks of the sport. Without him, the hiring of Nick Saban would never have come to pass. As Outsidethesidelines wrote in 2010:
Witt deserves the credit for understanding the interrelation between the success of the football program and the university as a whole. If nothing else, he understands that his career as president or the university itself cannot succeed while everyone is up in arms over the football team getting smoked on Saturdays. It was his leadership that ultimately helped finish the facilities upgrade -- which Sorensen attempted to stall at every turn -- and it was his leadership that allowed tough (though ultimately correct) decisions to be made on Mike Price and Mike Shula. Furthermore, it is also to his credit that he properly realized a situation in which the correct move would be to delegate power and to largely relinquish his own control over the football program (and that can be contrasted to many administrators who merely look to aggregate their own power at any and every opportunity).
While we tend to focus on the personnel changes within the football program itself the fact is Alabama has seen a significant amount of administrative talent depart in the past year. Executive Director of Athletics, Dave Hart, decamped for Knoxville and he was soon followed by Mike Ward, who headed UA's compliance department, and John Gilbert, who was in charge of external operations. Alabama moved quickly to bring in folks with quality backgrounds to take over these positions but the loss of experience is significant.
Change in personnel isn't necessarily a bad thing. New people with new ideas serve to enrich an organization if they are chosen correctly. And the demand for Alabama personnel is one of the most vivid testaments to the success Alabama has enjoyed under the leadership of Coach Saban, Athletic Director Mal Moore and President Witt.
Losing president Witt is a significant blow to the University of Alabama but his leadership will still be there at the system level. Saban and Moore are still in place in their respective positions as well. But the success of Alabama football has historically hinged on the balance of power between the program, the athletic department and the administration. We're hoping the next president of the school understands that and continues the tradition we are proud of.