Ray Melick has been a consistent producer in the Birmingham newspaper business for 27 years. His stellar career includes stints as the Auburn beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald from 1983-85, then the Alabama beat writer for the Post-Herald from 1985-2000. He matriculated to columnist at the Post-Herald in 2000 and took that same position when he moved over to The Birmingham News in 2005. Melick has been an institution in sports writing in the city and state and has made many friends along the way among his colleagues and the coaches he's worked with. From Pat Dye, to Ray Perkins, to Bill Curry, to Gene Stallings (one of Ray's all-time favorites) to Mike Dubose and finally Nick Saban, it's been a great ride for the talented veteran.
Ray is retiring from The News and moving to St. Louis with his wife and three children (two sons and a daughter) as he will look at some free lance opportunities in the Midwest. Some of Ray's wife's family lives in the area and she has some businesses she co-owns out there that she will be working with.
"There are some things I've not been able to do, that I want to pursue," Melick said. "Some days I wake up terrified, other days thrilled. I'll have a chance to do some stuff outside sports; magazines, maybe books. It'll be nice to spend some time with my children. As you know, the newspaper business is a 24-7 job. I'm moving to a different town, but I have loved this."
Ray, a graduate of the University of Georgia with a journalism degree from one of the better journalism schools in the country, has a daughter who just finished her freshman year at Furman, a son (17) who will be attending an Air Force Academy seminar this summer in hopes of possibly attending the Air Force Academy for college. He has another son in high school who is 15.
Ray coached me in football in seventh grade and I remember him as a knowledgeable, encouraging and intelligent guy. He made a big impression on me. The next time I saw him was in Tuscaloosa when he was the beat writer for the Post-Herald and I was a sports reporter for a radio station there. I respected his work and his sports knowledge. I remember he predicted to me when I asked him before Alabama's 1987 football season that 'Bama would go 7-4 in the regular season. He was exactly right.
Ray made great friends in the coaching fraternity. One guy whom he remembers best is Gene Stallings.
"He was one of my favorites," Melick said. "We disagreed early, but he gave me complete access. I never abused our trust the way I reported on things. I have great admiration for Bobby Bowden. He always called back. I appreciate all of the personalities I dealt with. They had different ways of doing things, but there was mutual respect among us. The run in the late 80's, early 90's was a great one. Getting to know guys like Bill Curry, Homer Smith, Woody McCorvey and seeing Dabo Swinney go from a guy cleaning gutters to pay for school, to becoming what he is today is wonderful. Mal Moore is a great one."
I asked Ray what one of his toughest times in the business was.
"The end of the David Hobbs era ('Bama basketball coach in the late '80's early '90's). I liked the guy so much. I had to be honest in my reporting and that was difficult. I really respected David Hobbs.
"And the Mike Dubose situation. His lying to us about his affair. I came out and defended him. And then I found out it was true and lost all trust in him. I had had an incredibly good relationship with him. It was hard to hear that he cheated on his wife."
Ray has had plenty of dealings with Nick Saban and admires Saban.
"He is one of the most informative coaches you will find," Melick said. "He doesn't let you get that close, but if you call him he will call you right back. I appreciate what he's doing."
Ray is also impressed with what Auburn is doing.
"I am real impressed with what Auburn is doing with both Gene Chizik and Tony Barbee. They are being aggressive saying, 'Hey, we're not backing down from Alabama. We're going to compete with them.' "
Ray said writing a column could be demanding. The constant demands of creating something three or four days a week on a deadline could be taxing. But he enjoyed relaying his wide array of opinions.
"There were some times I wrote something and I thought 'wow, I'm just filling space.' But there were other times where I wrote on something that people didn't agree with and later I was proven right. That was gratifying."
Ray is also proud of what he and the paper have done to promote all college sports in the state. SEC baseball has gotten huge because of the efforts of Melick and company at The News. Gymnastics has grown.
"I hope that continues," Melick says. "We've caught up to people like Ole Miss, State and LSU in baseball. It's fun to watch all of these sports. When I came in it was all football. I've really seen these other sports grow. I hope they're not going backwards."
Melick loved the relationships he made in the media. His collegues at the News, the guys at ABC 33-40, Mike Raita and Doug Segrest (also a News reporter for many years), and Herb Winches, whom he did radio with for many years.
"I've had a great ride, and I'm going to be here a couple more months so I can visit with people, sell our house, things like that," he said. "I've never watched other teams outside the South. I grew in Atlanta with the Falcons, Hawks and Braves. It'll be fun to take the kids to a game and be a fan. I haven't been a fan in a long time. But we're going to get the cable package of SEC games for next fall. I'm going to spread the word about Alabama, Auburn and Georgia."
Melick says he will keep doing sports in some capacity. It's deeply ingrained in him and he's very good at it. It's been a great career, and, at 53, far from over. Ray deserves a lot of appreciation for what he's done for sports in the state. He's been special.
(Ray Melick pictured above)