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How Tiffini Grimes Helps Keep the Alabama Machine Running

The Tide’s deputy athletic director and chief diversity officer rolls up her sleeves to make sure everything behind the scenes is a success.
Alabama deputy AD Tiffini Grimes

Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.

Tiffini N. Grimes was 16 years old when she connected with her purpose in life. She had been a briefcase-toting toddler, foreshadowing her innate businesswoman and attorney attributes, before she later became a sports lover, gravitating toward all things behind the scenes of athletics. All she needed to do was figure out how to marry the two into her dream job. Luckily for her, a prominent sports agent offered Grimes a coveted internship that would catapult her career and land her in her current role as Alabama’s deputy athletic director, senior woman administrator (SWA) and chief diversity officer.

Grimes’s success is the culmination of numerous athletic executives pouring into her professional journey. It was certainly helpful that Grimes recognized what she loved, focused on it, asked for opportunities to perform and executed. “I figured out that I could blend this love of sport with my desire to be a lawyer,” she says. “That came about from a close friend of my parents, Eugene Parker. They went to high school together. Eugene was a world-renowned NFL agent, one of the first, if not the first Black power agent in the NFL world. I said, ‘I’m going to be just like Eugene. That’s all that I want to do.’”

The Indiana native—who grew up a Pacers fan and played basketball, volleyball, tennis, and ice skating as a kid—was captivated by everything off the field in sports. Focusing on her own athletic skills wasn’t a priority, and Grimes was instead set on becoming someone who orchestrates a team’s success behind the scenes. “I was more interested in how the nets got set up, and getting the balls on the court,” she says. “And what went into making sure that everything was organized, the structure behind athletics, and what it took to allow us to have the opportunity to go out and play a game.”

Grimes finished high school and matriculated at Purdue University. But her eye was on getting that internship with Parker, who at that time was the owner of Maximum Sports Management. He was happy to give Grimes a shot, but with one condition. “He told me, ‘O.K., we get a lot of internship requests. So, you have to stick with something, show us that you’re serious about it,’” she recalls.

She agreed to his terms, and her first internship in 2004 was in her hometown with the Fort Wayne Freedom, which she describes as a lower-level arena football team. Grimes says she jumped in and did everything during their inaugural season.

“I sold tickets, did community engagement, painted the lines and the logo on the field by hand, and I loved every second about it,” she says. “I think my parents were thinking O.K., this is different, but she’s happy.’ I did that for the summer, between my sophomore and junior year of college. Then I came back to Purdue and worked in the John Purdue Club, which is the alumni side of the athletics department, and I loved that too.”

After graduating from Purdue, she earned her law degree from Valparaiso University. Grimes honed her skills in contracts with law school internships in the corporate development space, as well as inside the Houston Texans’ storage closet. “I loved it and it didn’t matter what the task was,” she says. “We had a huge storage closet in the stadium, and we would have to clean it out. I am not a girl that likes to be in spaces where there could potentially be critters that have four legs. I look back on that time and never once did I even think about it. You don’t know what you’re going to find behind one of these boxes. I was just so excited to be there.”

Grimes’s work ethic caught the eye of many mentors as she climbed her way up the athletics ladder and landed at Alabama. People like Vaughn Williams (Kennesaw State University); Matt Stolberg, Charmelle Green, Sandy Barbour, James Franklin, Bill O'Brien (all during her tenure at Penn State University); and Nick Saban at Alabama, just to name a few, noticed her dedication and helped her achieve her goals.

“Greg Byrne, the AD at Alabama, is another example of what it means to have an ally,” Grimes says. “And a male ally is so important. I look at what Senator Cory Booker did [recently] in the Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Supreme Court hearings. That’s an ally. So many of us have had those moments when we’ve needed to be uplifted. And for someone to do it openly is a game changer. I appreciate the conversations behind closed doors. And I think it takes it up a level when someone is willing to advocate for you.”

Since starting as an assistant athletic director for compliance at Alabama in 2016, Grimes has earned several promotions. When Byrne arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2017, he promoted her to associate AD for compliance in football, men’s basketball, and chief diversity officer. “Then I was promoted to executive associate AD still doing football clients, but I had oversight of the men’s basketball program. I was responsible for the sport at that point, instead of just doing their compliance operations, and still had the chief diversity officer role,” Grimes says. “My next promotion was deputy AD, senior woman administrator and chief diversity officer. So that was an expansion of responsibilities. And then I was promoted to senior deputy AD.”

Grimes’s duties include overseeing four sports, the student-athlete enhancement units, events, technology and more. She is also responsible for all elite athlete programming, which includes when their Olympians transition to Team USA for Olympic preparation, as well as prospects for the NFL and NBA. But just as important is making sure that the athletes have their needs addressed on all levels. And those can be very different scenarios for each individual.

Whether that’s an athlete who is not used to a stable environment that allows them to focus on school and their sport, or someone who is away from home for the first time and has to learn different everyday skills and time management, making sure the athletes thrive in all parts of their college is experience is the priority.

“I have witnessed situations where you have young people taking care of a lot of things outside of school and being unable to play a sport that they love, go to school, try to make good grades, and just be a kid,” she says. “So, when a parent drops their child off to us to become their family and their home away from home, in the recruiting process, you tell everybody all these great things that you're going to do. So, we do have a responsibility to make sure that we’re taking care of them holistically.”

Although she says she was not skilled enough to play at a collegiate level, Grimes does recall the overwhelming support she received when exploring her interest in sports. She says that she never had to think about the hurdles and the barriers, and never had to worry about what was going on at home because her home life felt secure.

“I never was missing anything. My parents, grandparents, and entire family supported anything I wanted to do,” she says. “There was just one rule in our household: If you start, you don't quit. You’re not allowed to quit in this family.” And that value has propelled her in life.

“If you had to ask me what my career was going to look like years ago, if you had to ask me when I got to Alabama, would this be possible? I would have said no, but it was another example of somebody seeing something in me that I probably didn’t see in myself at that time,” Grimes says. “And I appreciate [Byrne] for that. I appreciate all of our staff, supporting me through all the changes and allowing me to be a teammate.”


Bryna Jean-Marie is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.