The most comforting thing about Tommy Tuberville running the Auburn football program? Tiger fans know exactly what to expect. The most disconcerting thing about Tuberville running the Auburn football program? Tiger fans know exactly what to expect.
In 14 years as a head coach, which includes four years at the University of Mississippi, Tuberville clearly established what he can do for a program.
He has just as clearly defined what he cannot.
History suggests that a Tuberville-led team will lose four games per year. Sixty losses over 14 years equates to an average of 4.28 losses per season.
In his career, Tuberville fielded only three teams that finished the season with three or fewer losses. All three came in the wake of his only undefeated season at Auburn in 2004. Auburn posted a 9-3 mark in 2005 and followed that with an 11-2 campaign in 2006.
Four of the Tuberville coached teams lost four games. Four of the Tuberville teams lost five games. Three lost six or more, including the seven-loss debacle in 2008.
Two of those five-plus loss seasons occurred at a time Tiger fans had high expectations. The talent-laden 2003 team was expected to contend for the national title but stumbled out of the gate and staggered to an 8-5 finish. Auburn was picked to win the SEC West in 2008, but instead imploded and finished in a tie for last, and out of bowl contention.
While it’s not rational to use an unrealistic, glorified houndstooth standard by which to judge every coach as fans of rival schools are want to do, Tuberville’s Auburn record does lose some luster when held against that of former Tiger coach Pat Dye.
While seven of Tuberville’s ten seasons at Auburn produced four or more losses, only five of Dye’s dozen ended with as many. Seven of Dye’s Auburn teams lost three games or fewer. Five lost two games or less. Four times in Dye’s twelve years, Auburn finished with double-digit wins, including the 1983 Auburn team that was the nation’s uncrowned best.
When Dye posted back-to-back four-loss seasons in 1984 and 1985, those were considered down years and brought renewed commitment from Dye and the Auburn staff. Under Tuberville, those “down” seasons are business as usual.
The only advantage Tuberville owns over Dye is against Alabama where his teams own a commanding 7-3 record. It’s worth noting, however, that Dye broke Alabama’s nine-year stranglehold on the series, crafted a four-game winning streak over the Tide and was a botched fourth-down run and miracle Van Tiffin field goal away from owning an eight-game string over Auburn’s in-state rival.
With Tuberville at the helm, history also suggests that the the team will struggle offensively. Despite myriad changes on the offensive side of the ball, Tuberville-led teams traditionally have difficulty scoring points. Over his career, Tuberville’s teams average a meager 24 points per game.
Only three teams in Tuberville’s career averaged more than 30 points per game. Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino helped power the Tigers to a 30 point per game average in 2002. When Al Borges took over the play-calling in 2004, Auburn’s per-game average improved to 32 points and the Tigers retained that average in 2005.
Seven times in Tuberville’s career his teams averaged less than 24 points per game over a season. Three of those teams—including his first two at Ole Miss—failed to score 20 points per game.
During his tenure at Auburn, Tuberville has recruited reasonably well. Auburn currently boasts more than 30 players on NFL rosters with more than 20 of those coming from Tuberville coached teams.
There’s no question Tuberville runs a clean football program. There’s no question is represents the athletic program and the school well in public and private. Auburn has no academic issues and graduates players. The Tigers rarely have disciplinary issues and the rare instances are handled swiftly and sternly by Tuberville and the staff.
The question that faces Auburn administration is whether that’s enough.
The answer is no. Those intangibles and winning football are not mutually exclusive.
Look no further than Florida where Urban Meyer is building a dynasty. Meyer runs a tight ship, his teams are disciplined, his players graduate. Meyer does a tremendous job with public relations for the school. His teams also win. Before he arrived at Florida, Meyer spent two years each at Bowling Green and Utah where he lost eight games...combined.
Meyer took the Gators to the BCS national championship in his second year in Gainesville, building a 13-1 record in the process. Ironically, his only loss that season came at Auburn. Meyer’s 2007 team skidded to 9-4, the first four-loss season of his career.
The Gators response in 2008 is a one-loss campaign that has the team in line for a potential second BCS Championship.
Meyer replaced Ron Zook at Florida who recruited fairly well, graduated players, represented the school well and was competitive against the Gator’s biggest rivals but couldn’t get over the four-loss hump.
Auburn officials promised to consider Tuberville’s entire body of work when determining what course the program would take. If Auburn is serious about joining the SEC elite, the time has come to part ways with Tuberville. It’s time for the Tigers to find a coach for whom a four-loss season is the exception, not the rule.
TCU’s Gary Patterson fits that description. In his seven full seasons Patterson guided the Horned Frogs to five ten-plus win seasons including a 10-2 record in 2008. His pattern consists of back-to-back seasons of double-digit wins followed by a six-loss rebuilding season.
Tuberville is the devil Auburn knows.
Should the Tigers take the risk as Michigan did with the devil they don’t and perhaps end up burned? Or should they take the risk as Florida did and end up crowned in glory?
Auburn’s answer will determine more than the future of a coach or his assistants. The answer will define how Auburn officials perceive the program and what they want it to be.