Commentary

Auburn split with Tuberville echoes other SEC changes

Originally Published: December 3, 2008
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

You're Auburn University and your cross-state rival Alabama, after lying dormant for a decade, has become formidable again. You've had a mediocre season and you won't play in a bowl game for the first time in nine years. But you're OK. You have a coach who has been the model of stability in an unstable business.

You've had Tommy Tuberville for 10 seasons. That became the longest tenure of any coach in the Southeastern Conference once Tennessee fitted Phillip Fulmer with a pair of cement coaching shoes. Even after going 5-7, your coach has won nearly 70 percent of his games against everyone (85-40, .680), and exactly 70 percent (7-3!) against the hated Crimson Tide.

Tuberville has won one SEC and five Western Division titles and been unbeaten one season. That 2004 team performed well enough to play for a national championship. Too bad the BCS ripped you off.

Having a coach like that is good. The last thing you want to do when facing Nick Saban Inc. is call in the moving vans and start over. Only someone with an athletic death wish would trade in a coach with 10 years of recruiting ties throughout the Southeast for a staff that might not be able to find 6A finalist Hoover High with a pack of bloodhounds and a Garmin.

You're Auburn, and you're too big, too sure of yourself to panic every time someone in Tuscaloosa raises a trophy. Once upon a time you panicked. Remember five years ago, when the university president led a secret delegation to interview Bobby Petrino at Louisville? That president and the genius boosters who egged him on forgot that Auburn still employed a football coach. They also proved to be about as clandestine as Inspector Clouseau.

[+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesTommy Tuberville coached the Tigers to an 85-40 record during his Auburn tenure.
The media mocked you for months, and you looked even dumber when Tuberville took the team to a 13-0 record a year later.

Good thing that president is long gone. You've got a new athletic director, too. Surely they wouldn't be stupid enough to make the same mistake and run off Tuberville. During games, he barely has a pulse. They call him the Riverboat Gambler for his play-calling guts. And big games? Not only is he 7-3 against Alabama, he has won nine of his past 14 games against top-10 teams.

Off the field, his players don't get in trouble. They go to class, too. In 2007, 20 players had at least a 3.0 GPA.

It's like they say on Wall Street. When the masses are selling, the smart guys are buying. The SEC masses are selling. Tennessee is starting over with 33-year-old Lane Kiffin. Mississippi State forced out Sly Croom. You want to know what not to do? LSU fans are grumbling about Les Miles one year after he held the crystal football!

That leaves Ole Miss and Arkansas, and if you're worried about them, you're not the Auburn you claim to be.

Sure, Tuberville doomed this season to mediocrity the minute he hired that offensive coordinator, the high school guru who promised to install the spread offense. Turns out that knowledge-wise, the guy had outkicked his coverage. Tuberville fired him a month into the season, admitted his mistake, and tried to minimize the damage. He didn't pawn off the responsibility on anyone else. He took the blame and promised to fix the problem.

Yeah, those boosters, the ones who embarrassed you over Petrino, are still unhappy, but you're Auburn. You're bigger than that. No coach is going to win in the SEC every season. Tuberville has delivered for you for 10 years. Surely that engenders some loyalty from you to him.

Besides, you signed a contract that promised him $6 million if you let him go after the 2008 season. In these economic times, with people everywhere trying to hold on to their jobs and their mortgages, you surely aren't stupid enough to spend $6 million paying a guy not to coach. No one could be that insensitive to the message that would send. Talk about misplaced priorities.

What's that?

You let him go?

You're going to pay him $6 million not to coach?

And start over from scratch? Against Nick Saban?

You're kidding, right? Is there something about Tommy Tuberville that causes you to make agonizingly stupid decisions?

Forget I ever brought it up. Good luck finding a coach better than the one you just forced out. Whoever he is, give him a message:

Hoover High is just south of Birmingham.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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