Coach almost replaced wins top honor

12/24/2004 - Auburn Tigers

NEW YORK -- Tommy Tuberville followed the most difficult season of his coaching career with the best.

A year after he was nearly replaced by Auburn, Tuberville is The Associated Press coach of the year.

"I learned a lot last year from what we went through at the end
of the season," he said. "I've been more relaxed this season."

In his sixth season at Auburn, Tuberville has led the
third-ranked Tigers to a 12-0 regular season and its first
Southeastern Conference championship in 15 years.

"It's probably been my easiest season as a head coach because
of the great senior leadership this team has," Tuberville said.
"Coaches tend to think the world is on their shoulders. I've
delegated more authority this season than before. Because of that I
think it's been an easier year."

But not quite perfect, despite the perfect record.

The Tigers failed to reach the Orange Bowl to play for the Bowl
Championship Series national title. Auburn never could get past
Oklahoma and Southern California in the BCS standings and will play
Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3.

Tuberville did far better in the coach of the year voting than
his team did in the polls. He was a runaway winner, getting 35 of
the 63 votes from the panel of media members.

Utah coach Urban Meyer was second with 14 votes. Meyer led the
Utes to an unbeaten season and a berth in the BCS before taking the
Florida job.

USC's Pete Carroll and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz received four votes,
California's Jeff Tedford got three votes and Texas-El Paso's Mike
Price got two. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Louisville's Bobby Petrino
each received one vote.

Tuberville is the second straight SEC coach to win the AP award.
LSU's Nick Saban was last year's winner.

As disappointing as being left out of the title game has been
for Tuberville and his undefeated Tigers, this season has been far
more enjoyable than last.

The Tigers began the 2003 campaign ranked in the top 10 and
favored to win the SEC. But they lost their first two games of the
season and stumbled to a disappointing 8-5 finish. There was
speculation late in the season Tuberville might be on the way out.

It almost happened. It became public that Auburn officials,
including the university president, had covertly courted Louisville
coach Bobby Petrino to replace Tuberville.

"A little bizarre is an understatement," Tuberville said.

The failed coup was an embarrassment for the Auburn hierarchy
and helped rally support for Tuberville from Tigers fans who felt
he was treated unfairly.

Tuberville never griped about the administration's sneaky move
and decided to stay with Auburn.

"I came back for two reasons," he said. "The players stayed
behind us 100 percent and 99 percent of the people in the Auburn
family stayed behind us.

"I told my staff 'We're not going to dwell on it. We're not
going to hold grudges."'

Tuberville's actions strengthened his relationship with the

"I always respected him. I respect him even more now for
staying with us, even though they plotted to get him out of here,"
receiver Courtney Taylor said. "It takes a bigger man to stay here
and face everything that went on down here during that time. I love
the man."

But even Tuberville admits he wasn't completely off the hot
seat. So he made some changes to his staff, most notably hiring
offensive coordinator Al Borges.

Auburn entered this season with modest expectations and a No. 17
national ranking. The Tigers cleared an early hurdle by beating
defending co-national champ LSU 10-9 at home.

"I thought that showed a lot of character. We grew up a lot
then," Tuberville said.

Auburn got into the national title race two weeks later with a
34-10 victory at Tennessee.

"We knew then we had something special," Tuberville said.

Tuberville's specialty is defense and the Tigers have excelled
this season with a rebuilt front seven, having lost several players
to the NFL. Auburn is allowing 11.2 point per game, best in the
nation, with a slightly undersized but blazing fast defense, led by
cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Junior Rosegreen.

On the offensive side, Borges' West Coast offense finally cured
the woes that have ailed Auburn under Tuberville. Quarterback Jason
Campbell blossomed in his senior season and the Tigers finally were
able to maximize the ample talents of tailbacks Carnell Williams
and Ronnie Brown.

And just like that, Tuberville has gone from embattled to
beloved on The Plains.

"You've just got to believe in what you're doing," he said.
"We believe in hard work, teaching work ethic on and off the
field. Let the players know you're here for them."