When Tommy Tuberville exited the Auburn sideline after last Saturday’s 36-0 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in what turned out to be his Tiger finale, he did so as the winningest coach not named Bryant (by percentage) in the history of the storied rivalry.
His winning percentage of .700 in the Iron Bowl trumped that of Auburn legends Pat Dye and Shug Jordan. It also bested the record of revered 'Bama coach Gene Stallings.
When Auburn and Tuberville parted ways on Wednesday, Alabama fans were quick to claim credit for his demise, gloating that Tuberville couldn’t survive a loss to the ascendant Tide.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If beating Alabama was Auburn’s singular focus, the Tigers wouldn’t have cut ties with one of the rivalry’s winningest coaches.
The reasons for Tuberville’s eventual demise are myriad and certainly not a reflection of his performance against Alabama. The loss to the Tide was just one brick in a much larger wall.
Tuberville failed, and failed spectacularly, when his Tigers had opportunities to make a national impact.
The five-loss 2003 season that followed preseason No. 1-ranking predictions was a factor in denying Auburn a shot at the title in 2004, when the Tigers went undefeated. Seven losses in a season when Auburn was picked to win its division was galling to Tiger fans and administrators.
If you want to point fingers at a particular series, three straight losses to Georgia, two by blowout, were far more damaging to Tuberville than losing a single game to Alabama.
Consecutive losses to LSU didn’t boost his position, either.
Losses to Vanderbilt and Arkansas in 2008 did more to bring about Tuberville’s fall than any loss to Alabama ever could have.
Tuberville’s Auburn future was decided long before his final bow. It was obvious prior to the Alabama game that a change was needed, and as the season churned to its unsteady end, the scope and scale of that change grew.
By season's end, minor changes weren’t enough.
Auburn’s decision to go in a different direction proves that the program’s focus is on things far beyond the rival Crimson Tide.
If Auburn’s chief objective was to beat Alabama, the Tigers could have stood pat and stuck with a coach who proved that was the one thing he could do with regularity.