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Tuberville: Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now?

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By Jay Coulter
jccoulter@gmail.com

The tenure of Tommy Tuberville at Auburn has been a most unique one. Rarely does a coach get fired in-season and then return to take his team to an undefeated season the next.

There is precedent at Auburn for this kind of run. Back in the mid-1980’s Auburn basketball coach Sonny Smith resigned in the middle of the season (effective at the end of the year) and went on to take his team deep into the NCAA Tournament and be welcomed back with open arms by the fans and administration.

There has been speculation in the last few days that Tuberville may be a candidate for the Texas A&M job should Dennis Franchione be fired. Tuberville served as defensive coordinator for the Aggies in 1994.

There’s little doubt that he will be a candidate should the job open. He’s also likely to be a candidate for other jobs as they come available. Following the 2004 season, Tuberville signed a contract that many thought locked him in at Auburn for the foreseeable future.

With a huge buyout clause for both Auburn and Tuberville should either decide they want to part ways, the feeling was that he was here for the long haul. But with escalating salaries (see Nick Saban) the buyout clause is beginning to look like a small barrier should Tuberville decide that he wants to leave.

The question is, does he?

All indications are that Tuberville is happy at Auburn. He has widespread support from Tiger fans. It could be argued that the primary reason he remains on the Plains is because of the outcry by Auburn people following the 2003 season and the Jetgate debacle.

Rarely do grass-root efforts by everyday fans result in a coach remaining in his job. It happened at Auburn.

However, the question remains: Do Auburn leaders and big donors support Tuberville 100 percent? It seems like a crazy question to ask considering his success over the past four years, but remember we are talking about Auburn – perhaps the most dysfunctional university in the South.

Very little is ever mentioned about the relationship between athletic director Jay Jacobs and Tuberville. There have been rumblings that the relationship is not the best. It appears that both accept each other for who they are and try to stay out of the other’s way.

The hiring of Jacobs as athletic director was widely considered a victory for the old Auburn regime – mainly board member Bobby Lowder and former coach Pat Dye. There was a large faction within the University who wanted to go outside and start anew.

Publicly, Tuberville has been supportive of Jacobs. And to his credit, he’s remained quiet about the controversy that surrounded him four years ago. Lowder has also remained mum on the subject and from all indications has given Tuberville room to manage. But has Tuberville gotten over the treatment he received back then?

His popularity is reaching an all-time high. Despite the hiccup earlier this season, he is loved by Auburn people. There’s little question that he’s an Auburn man now.

In his ninth season, Tuberville is starting the rise to legendary status on the Plains. He controls the state of Alabama. He’s proven to be one of the top recruiters in the country and is the best big game coach in the conference.

His last three recruiting classes should start paying dividends soon. It’s never easy to predict the SEC, but you’ve got to like Auburn’s chances at competing for another conference and national championship in the near future.

Tuberville is still a young man. He has many years ahead of him in the coaching profession should he choose to stay. It’s not a reach to believe that one day his name will be on the outside of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Intangibles like that are much more important than money.

Like anyone deciding whether to stay at a job or leave, it comes down to relationships. How much are you appreciated and how much latitude are you given to do your job? The Texas A&M job is no better than Auburn’s. Both are land grant schools and both have the facilities and means to win. Both must compete against a powerful state school on a daily basis.

The only argument for the Aggies is that they play in the Big 12, which you have to believe is easier to win in than the SEC. But winning hasn’t been a problem for Tuberville and probably won’t be a factor in any decision he makes.

Money is also unlikely to play a big role.  When you are pulling down $2.5 million a year, plus the use of a car, a clothing allowance and free groceries, money is no longer at the top of the list.

In the end, it will come down to whether his family is happy living in Auburn and whether he feels like he has the support of Auburn boosters and the administration. As for the fans, he couldn’t be more popular.

All indications are that on the whole, Tuberville is happy at Auburn. He recently moved into a new 9,000 square foot home that qualifies as a mansion in East Alabama. He has complete control of his program and the boosters and administration are leaving him alone.

We all know that the trick is keeping it that way at Auburn.