Auburn wants Tuberville to return in 2004

Updated: November 27, 2003, 1:38 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Auburn president William F. Walker apologized Wednesday to head football coach Tommy Tuberville for holding a secret meeting with a possible replacement. Walker also said he wants Tuberville to return next season.

"If Coach Tuberville elects to do so, he will continue as Auburn's head football coach next year," Walker said in a statement. "I sincerely hope he chooses to remain at Auburn."

Two days before Auburn's biggest game of the season, Tigers' officials covertly met with a candidate to replace Tuberville, according to several newspaper reports. After repeated denials, Auburn officials admitted meeting with Louisville coach Bobby Petrino regarding their head coaching position.

"I understand also that my actions have placed Coach Tommy Tuberville in an awkward and uncomfortable position," Walker said. "I am truly sorry this has occurred."

The meeting with Petrino took place 48 hours before Auburn took the field against archrival Alabama. Auburn won the game 28-23, but there has been widespread speculation that that the victory would not save Tuberville's job. After starting the season in the top 10, the Tigers are 7-5.

In his statement, Walker said, "In my desire to provide leadership ... I solicited opinions from a wide variety of individuals more knowledgeable about the game than I. One of those individuals was University of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino. My discussion with him went beyond his analysis of the Auburn program and, unfortunately, resulted in an understanding that I would favor his candidacy for the Auburn head coaching position if it were to become available."

Walker also apologized to Petrino for the "untenable position" he put the Cardinals coach in. Walker apologized to the University of Louisville as well.

Auburn officials, including Walker and athletic director David Housel, visited Petrino on an airplane that landed at a small airport near Louisville on Thursday night, several newspapers reported.

When reports of the trip came to light, Housel issued a statement admitting the trip to Louisville. That led to a series of admissions, capped by Petrino's. As late as Tuesday afternoon, Petrino had continued to deny the meetings before apologizing and withdrawing his name from consideration for a coaching position that was not vacant.

"First of all, I made a mistake in meeting with those people that came in, and for that I apologize," Petrino told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "I should have spoken to [Louisville athletic director] Tom Jurich and the University of Louisville. I want to apologize for that. I'm very grateful that Tom has given me the job here at Uof L. ... And I'm going to stay here at the University of Louisville. It's the place I want to be and the job I want."

Petrino has apoloized to Tuberville and to Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich.

"I'm happy that Bobby is committed to us, and believe it or not, I'm happy that he went through this experience," Jurich told the Courier-Journal. "I only want people that want to be here, and I mean that throughout our program. I think this is one of the best coaching jobs in America hands down, with our new opportunities in the Big East, and we feel very lucky to have a coach like Bobby."

Jurich, however, was still angry.

"I can deal with Bobby Petrino on my own campus," he told the Courier-Journal. "But the national perception of how a university leader would come into my own back yard, behind my back, is highly disturbing. Auburn University is damn lucky to have a coach like Tommy Tuberville, and they're damn lucky if he would even think about coaching that program again."

Tuberville signed a five-year contract extension after last season. Petrino is in his first season as Louisville coach. The Cardinals are 8-3 following Saturday's 66-45 victory over Houston.

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