As the 2008 Auburn football season unfolded, I began to grow more nervous about Tommy Tuberville's job status with each passing week.
Even though I knew that one bad season in which all but one game was winnable in the fourth quarter shouldn't be enough to terminate a coach with Tuberville's credentials, I also knew what kind of people truly run Auburn's football program.
On Dec. 3, my suspicions were confirmed. As Tommy Tuberville "resigned" from his head coaching position, one of the top three coaches in Auburn history and the face of Auburn Football was gone.
I will get to what I think about this entire situation in a moment, but I think it would be unfair and short-sighted not to mention all that Tuberville did while at Auburn.
On the field, Tommy Tuberville brought a winning attitude back to Auburn. When he began the job in 1999, he inherited a huge mess created by Terry Bowden. Almost immediately, Auburn began to move up the hierarchy of the SEC. After a 3-8 record in 1998 before he arrived, Auburn went 5-6 in 1999 and then 9-2 in 2000. They won the SEC West, and went to Atlanta to face Florida in the SEC Championship. Even while losing that game and losing the subsequent bowl game to Michigan, it was clear that Tommy Tuberville had the Tigers in position to be successful for years to come.
Tommy posted back to back winning seasons in 2001 and 2002. Then, the real fun began. To begin the 2003 season, many preseason magazines and writers tabbed Auburn as a top 5 team. Some even placed them at #1. Tuberville laughed at some of those placements in the polls, saying they were a year or two away from such lofty goals. After an ugly 0-2 start, Tommy rallied the team to win 8 of their last 11 games. Still, an 8-5 season with such high preseason expectations was disappointing. That led Auburn to do what it has been prone to do in recent memory—overreact.
While Tommy Tuberville was preparing to win his second consecutive Iron Bowl, Auburn's former President and Athletic Director—with the aid of a few trustees—quietly met with Bobby Petrino to discuss making him the next head coach. The media found out about the story, causing huge controversy. Tuberville beat Alabama at home, then won their bowl game against Wisconsin.
Somehow, Tuberville outlasted high-status school officials that wanted him gone. The President and Athletic Director were terminated, and Tuberville stayed.
Although his relationship with Auburn's leaders would never be the same, he handled the situation with unbelievable class, refusing to fuel the fire of the controversy. He quietly prepared to coach an underrated, senior heavy football team—a team that would go down as one of the best in Auburn history.
We all know what happened in 2004. An undefeated season and an SEC championship were only countered by being left out of the national championship game, which is another issue entirely. Tommy was brilliant that year, coaching flawlessly in multiple close games.
After losing four first round draft picks that year, Tuberville's 2005 team was very good as well. The Tigers went 9-2, and would have gone undefeated in the SEC again if John Vaughn could have made one or two of the five field goals he missed. Auburn had established themselves as a dominant force in the SEC.
In 2006 Auburn went 11-2, beating two BCS teams in LSU and eventual national champion Florida. That was probably one of the least talented 11-win teams I have ever seen, which is another testament to Tommy's coaching ability. 2007, brought a somewhat disappointing 9-4 record. After starting 1-2 with losses to South Florida and Mississippi State, Auburn rebounded to win 8 of 10—including another top 5 upset of Florida.
Somehow, after all this success, there were loud yells for change on the Plains.
People wanted a more explosive offense. Tuberville listened. He brought in Tony Franklin, a move that was very popular among fans. It quickly became evident that this was not a good fit. Tommy took full responsibility for the hiring and firing of Franklin at mid-season, and moved on. After his first Iron Bowl loss in seven years, he was as motivated as ever to attack this off-season and fix what had gone wrong. He was adamant that he would return in 2009 and the great results would return. Then, less than a week later, he "resigned."
All in all, his statistics are staggering. He went 85-40 at Auburn, recorded 8 consecutive winning seasons, and had 6 straight Iron Bowl wins. He was an amazing 5-2 against top 5 teams while at Auburn. But what was more impressive was the way he handled himself off the field.
Tommy Tuberville is a well-respected Christian man in the Auburn community. I attended church with him since he came to Auburn. One of the first things he did when coming to the Plains was to hire Chette Williams as a spiritual adviser and leader for the young men coming to Auburn University to play football. He was not afraid to allow his players to show their faith. Who can forget the 2004 Tigers singing "Hard Fightin' Soldiers" after each game and at many other team appearances?
Even if you don't think religion is important in the football realm, Tuberville and his players always handled themselves with class. After eliminating troublesome players when he first arrived, no major university in America has had less problems with players breaking the law than Auburn. You can count on one hand the amount of arrests Auburn players have had over the last 9 years. Compare that to the rest of the SEC. Our teams were unified and rarely displayed visible dissension.
One of the things I will miss most is Tuberville's tradition of walking through the tunnel arm-in-arm with a couple of his seniors on each side, and seeing Auburn's players act accordingly before they took the field.
Auburn players are not thugs. Auburn players play with respect for their opponents and the game. I have never been ashamed of watching my players play, whereas if I was a Georgia or LSU fan, I would constantly be disappointed by their behavior.
Some people think these things don't matter, but I'm not one of them. Tommy Tuberville graduated his players, taught them how to play football very well, but most of all taught them to be upstanding citizens in the classroom and the community. All of those things are hard to find these days in college football.
So why was this man forced to resign? I'm not sure of the exact reasons why, but I have a few opinions. I think Tuberville was told to get rid of the assistants who have helped him be so successful for so many years. I think he refused. I think he was told that the administration and trustees would decide who he hired to run the offense. I think he thought that was disrespectful.
I also believe that he finally got tired of constant wondering about job security, despite all the work he has done here.
There are too many weird aspects of this story for Auburn to claim that Tuberville resigned by his own choosing. Why, especially in this economy, would Auburn pay Tuberville 5.08 million dollars if he wasn't living up to his end of the contract? Because Auburn "felt like it was the right thing to do?" Sorry, Jay Jacobs, I'm not buying that one.
Also, on the night of the resignation, Tommy went in to address the team. According to multiple players, Tommy was visibly emotional and had trouble getting through what he wanted to say. If this was his decision, I think he would have been more prepared to say farewell to his players.
Jason Bosley when asked if Tommy was fired or if he resigned didn't say one way or the other. I think that after long negotiations about the future of this program, Tuberville finally gave in and said "I'll step aside," or the administration came and told him that he was no longer wanted.
Either way, it's a shame that such a glorious run at Auburn came to such a disappointing end.
Throughout his tenure here, I never felt that Tommy Tuberville was given the respect that he deserved. Imagine if Auburn officials had been successful in 2003...we never would've had that great 2004 season! Without that, there is little to nothing to celebrate in Auburn football over the last 20 years.
Trustees such as Bobby Lowder who have been obvious in their hatred for Tubs should be ashamed and should be held accountable for their actions. Jay Jacobs should be ashamed for lying to the press dozens of times during his press conference. These are the men who deserve the blame for this situation. Not Tommy Tuberville, not our new football coach.
So, a coaching search began. Auburn was determined not to repeat their mistakes in 2003, causing them to make it clear who they officially interviewed at each turn in the coaching search. As is the case with college football in the South, rumors ran rampant. But that was from television stations, newspapers, and overanxious fans. Auburn interviewed eight candidates, none of which have great name recognition, but all of which were at least deserving of an interview.
Enter Gene Chizik. One of the last to interview and a name not talked about during the search at all. He was Auburn's defensive coordinator from 2002-2004, and was named the nation's top assistant coach in 2004 for his defense that allowed just over 11 points per game. He had great success here defensively, and laid the foundation for the success that Gibbs, Muschamp and Rhoads had at Auburn on defense.
After Auburn's undefeated season, Chizik went to Texas as their defensive coordinator, leading them to a national title and another undefeated season. He then became the Iowa State coach in 2006, putting up less-than-stellar numbers there for the last two seasons.
When I first heard that he was the choice, I freaked out like everyone else. I didn't think it was a very smart decision. I believe that much of the disappointment came from hiring a name that hadn't been talked about over the last couple weeks.
As I think about it more, I think this decision isn't as bad as Auburn fans are going to make it seem.
First of all, we all need to reserve speculation on Chizik until we see the product that he puts out on the field next year. Chizik has been at Auburn; he understands how things work here. He has said he loved his time here, and this was a "dream job" for him. I think he really wanted this job, and that's what separated him from the other candidates. It is never bad to have a coach who really loves that school, and one who is happy to be there.
He also has the mindset that I wanted in a coach. Auburn DID NOT need an offensive minded coach. Any time Auburn has been successful, it has been because of great defense and special teams.
You can't come in and win with offense in the SEC. Alabama was good this year because of their defense. LSU has won national championships because of their defense. Florida might win two titles in three years because of their defense.
Don't get me wrong, all those teams have quality offenses too. But it is continually proven in the SEC that defense wins championships. Auburn needed a defensive-minded coach because historically that's what brings success to Auburn.
Chizik is young and energetic. He immediately gets a talent and recruiting upgrade by coming to Auburn. His former Auburn players have loudly defended him as a smart hire. Current players thought his first words to them were inspiring.
Obviously his record as a head coach is worrisome. The almost-random nature of his hire is disappointing. But I'm going to try to withhold judgement on him until he coaches a few games in the SEC.
I don't particularly like the decision to hire Gene Chizik, but I wouldn't have liked any new coach in this situation, because I wanted Tuberville to be retained.
I know there will be a lot of negativity from the media and from Auburn fans over the next few weeks and months. My guess is that it will cool down by the time the spring game arrives. My only advice for Auburn fans is to direct your anger and animosity at the administration and the trustees who created this need for a coach in the first place.
Don't hate a man who wants to be here to coach this football team and who took his dream coaching job. He only took the job offer. If you hate the hire, go after the people who went after Chizik and chased off Tommy.
But after your anger subsides, let's support our new football coach.
He hasn't done anything wrong and already played a huge role in one of the greatest seasons in Auburn history. Just give him a chance, and direct your anger to places where it deserves to be felt.
Thanks for reading and War Eagle!