Auburn AD says he pleaded with Tuberville to stay on job

Updated: December 5, 2008, 2:58 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville's job was not in jeopardy when he decided to step down and he declined several requests from his bosses to reconsider, athletic director Jay Jacobs said Thursday.

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Jacobs said Tuberville's departure after 10 mostly successful seasons was "completely his decision" and that the coach would be leading the Tigers next season if he had not chosen to leave.

"To say the least, I was a little shocked," the AD said. "But after three times of asking him would he change his mind, he convinced me that the best thing for him and his family and for this football program was for him to possibly take a year off and take a step back.

"I asked him three times [to reconsider], and so did the president," he said.

A person familiar with the situation told ESPN's Joe Schad that Tuberville believed he did not have the support of certain members of the Auburn board of trustees -- and therefore the full support of the Auburn administration.

Jacobs said he and the president agreed to pay Tuberville the buyout price of $5.1 million -- even though it was not required since he wasn't fired -- because they felt it was "the right thing to do."

Tuberville resigned Wednesday afternoon during the third day of meetings with Jacobs and at times university president Jay Gogue, following the Tigers' 5-7 season, the worst of his tenure.

Tuberville did not appear at Jacobs' news conference and did not immediately return a phone message.

Auburn has hired the consultant firm CARR Sports Associates Inc. to assist in the search, but Jacobs said "to my knowledge" no university representative has contacted any potential candidates regarding the job.

Auburn's wish list of replacements could include Texas Tech's Mike Leach and Louisiana Tech's Derek Dooley, and Tulsa's Todd Graham and TCU's Gary Patterson are interested and will be considered, sources told Schad. Current coaches-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher of Florida State and Will Muschamp at Texas are very unlikely to pursue the opening, although they haven't been ruled out entirely, the sources said.

Jacobs said he had a list of potential candidates and didn't rule out hiring current assistants. He declined to release names.

The cost of hiring a replacement has escalated in recent seasons. Southeastern Conference Western Division rivals Nick Saban at Alabama and LSU's Les Miles are both making in the $4 million range.

Tuberville's annual salary averaged $3.3 million. Jacobs said Tuberville will be paid the $5.1 million from athletic department funds.

"Financially, we will not have any constraints," Jacobs said, "but this league has stepped it up. The tree has gotten a lot taller. And it's gotten a lot more competitive. And we're going to hire someone who is equally competitive."

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, an Auburn trustee, said he would submit "one or two names" for the vacancy but wouldn't say who.

"This is up to Jay Jacobs. This is up to Dr. Gogue," Riley said. "I'm so proud of Dr. Gogue and the way he and Jay have handled this and Coach Tuberville. I think it's great that Tommy is going to stay on at Auburn University. He has built a fantastic program down there. But I think he resigned because he thought it was best for the university and best for he and his family."

Saban was critical of coaches' tenuous job security in the wake of Tuberville's departure. The top-ranked Crimson Tide beat four teams whose coaches have since been fired or resigned: Clemson (Tommy Bowden), Tennessee (Phillip Fulmer), Mississippi State (Sylvester Croom) and now Auburn.

"So I guess we're 5-7 away from the same thing," Saban said.

Jacobs said he offered Tuberville a chance to leave for another job without having to pay a buyout to the university, but that the coach said there was no other job.

"He said he wants to be here for about a year," Jacobs said.

Tuberville's contract did not require that he be paid a buyout if he resigned.

But Jacobs said that because of "Tommy's willingness and assurances that he wants to continue to be a member of the Auburn family and also for what he's done the last 10 years, Dr. Gogue and I thought that was the right thing to do."

He didn't set a timetable for making a hire but said the search would be "as efficient as we possibly can."

"We're going to be thorough," Jacobs said. "We're going to be strategic and we're going to hire the best person for Auburn, regardless of the timeline."

Tuberville met with the players briefly Wednesday evening to tell them he was leaving. Cornerback Jerraud Powers said they were surprised by his departure.

"We weren't expecting this day to happen," Powers said. "Nobody looked forward to this day and when he came in, he tried to talk, he tried to but the emotional side of it took heart of it. We all got together and prayed one last time and that was it."

Jacobs said assistant coaches will be paid for the duration of their contracts and gave them the option to stay on and help with the recruiting process. It wasn't clear how many would take him up on the offer.

Asked if Tuberville had been ordered to fire members of his staff, Jacobs said: "No, not at all. He wasn't given any mandates at all."

Auburn has had at least five of 26 recruits withdraw their verbal commitments since Tuberville stepped down.

Jacobs had asked Tuberville to draw up a plan for getting the program back on track. It was to include how the coach planned to get Auburn competing again for SEC and national championships, recruit at a high level nationally and keep the coaching staff stable.

Tuberville hired and fired Tony Franklin as offensive coordinator within about a 10-month span. The discussions never got to the point of presenting the requested plan before Tuberville resigned, Jacobs said.

"I said, 'Tommy, we've been visiting for two weeks and you haven't said anything about this,'" he said. "He said, 'I've been thinking about it a long time.'"

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad was used in this report.

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