Dumb and Dumber -- War Eagle style

Originally Published: November 22, 2003
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN The Magazine

Some of the most drop-dead-funny fiction you'll ever read can be found on pages 322 and 323 of this year's Auburn football media guide.

Bobby Petrino
Bobby Petrino plans on working on conditioning more than ever before to get Louisville ready for the Big East.
That's where AU president William Walker details his philosophy of management: ". . . you surround yourself with good people then get out of the way and let them do their job." It's where a quote from athletic director David Housel's 1994 introductory news conference is featured: "People may agree or disagree with decisions that are made, but they will never be able to question the reasons for those decisions. There will be no agenda other than the betterment of Auburn."

Is that so? Turns out Mr. Management and Mr. Integrity -- the dumb and dumber of college athletics -- have spent the last week or so, probably longer, running the worst covert ops this side of the Three Stooges. Rumors. Deception. Lies. You name it and Walker and Housel have done it as they arrogantly kept one coach flapping in the wind while offering his job to another coach who, by the way, also could use a remedial lesson in ethics.

The short version is this: Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville finished 7-5 this season. Walker and Housel, along with longtime AU trustee, kingmaker and puppeteer Bobby Lowder, decided this was unacceptable.

Last Thursday -- two days before Tuberville played and beat archrival Alabama -- Walker and Housel flew to Indiana in Lowder's private jet, crossed the Ohio River and met with Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. They offered the job, in one form or another, to the former Auburn assistant, Petrino accepted, in one form or another, and D & D snuck back to the most dysfunctional village of the plains.

There were a couple of teensy weensy problems, beginning with the fact that Tuberville was, you know, still the Auburn coach. Then he beat Bama for the third time in the last four years. Tuberville knew he was probably Tiger toast, but Mr. Management and Mr. Integrity didn't say a peep -- only that Walker would be on "vacation" this week and that he, Housel and Tuberville would meet Dec. 1 to discuss the situation. Lowder, presumably, would be in an adjacent room, mind-melding with the prez and AD.

Of course, it's obvious the unofficial decision to fire Tuberville was made long before this Monday's bogus meeting was scheduled. An 0-2 start didn't help Tuberville's cause, nor did the SEC or national championship expectations (some of it fueled by Tuberville's preseason optimism), nor did semi-blowout losses to LSU and Georgia, nor did a heartbreaker loss to Ole Miss. But he did beat Tennessee, Arkansas and Bama, among others, and he did get Auburn to a fourth consecutive bowl game.

For this Tuberville gets hung out to dry like the morning wash.

Petrino, who spent a year on Tuberville's staff as an offensive coordinator, has since withdrawn his name for the job. That's big of him, especially since he had recently waxed poetic about his fondness for Louisville. . . blah, blah, blah. But the simple truth is that Petrino, again, in one form or another, accepted the Auburn offer. His only request was that no announcement be made until after Louisville's Friday game at Cincinnati.

Oh, so that's why Walker couldn't possibly meet with Tuberville until next Monday.

Auburn has since issued a statement, saying a consultant arranged the meeting, that it was some sort of fact-finding trip in case Walker chose to make a change. I'm sorry, we should believe this because why? Auburn didn't volunteer this information, however true or false, because it wanted to. It did so because some smart reporters from Louisville and Montgomery had tracked down the tailwing number of Lowder's jet.

Poor Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich. Last season he watched in horror as Louisville players discovered during a bowl game. . . on cell phones that John L. Smith was ditching them for Michigan State. Now this. If I were Jurich I'd tell Petrino to take a very long walk off a very short sideline. Instead, Louisville is going to redo Petrino's contract.

If I were the Auburn Board of Trustees I'd ask Walker to explain that boffo management policy of his. Oh, wait, Lowder apparently is the Auburn Board of Trustees.

If I were Housel, I'd be thinking how I'd like to word my letter of resignation. Housel is a good man, but he has all the credibility of Enron these days. After all, how would Housel react if the Auburn administration treated him the same disrespectful and honorless way he has treated Tuberville? And we haven't even mentioned how this botched firing/hiring episode suddenly makes 4-8 Bama and its rookie head coach an equal, maybe even a superior in that state.

Which brings us to Tuberville. . .

Late Wednesday Walker issued yet another statement, this time all but asking. . .begging Tuberville to return next season. Never mind what damage this disaster movie has done to their relationship, to recruiting, to the local, regional and national perception of Auburn. But if I were Tuberville I'd tell Walker, Housel and puppeteer Lowder to cut my $4 million settlement check -- the sooner, the better.

All I got Wednesday from Tuberville was his cell phone message greeting. Before the beep he says two words.

"War Eagle."

Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

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