By Jay Coulter
If we've heard it once, we've heard it debated a million times this summer. Who's the best coach in the SEC? This is typical summer fodder for football fans. I mean, you can only talk about the spread offense for so long until you finally just have to see it.
Numerous writers have tried to characterize the quality of this year's group of SEC coaches. The best ever? Maybe.
So where does Tommy Tuberville stand? It has to be frustrating to continually hear about the five coaches who've already won national championships in the conference. Add in the coverage Georgia Coach Mark Richt is getting because of his Bulldogs being ranked preseason number one and suddenly Tuberville is the forgotten man.
I was listening to the College Football Insider podcast last week hosted by Ivan Maisel and Beano Cook and they were pontificating about the great coaches in the SEC. They mentioned all the big names: Meyer, Spurrier, Richt, Saban, Miles and Fulmer. What about Tuberville? Not a word.
It's doubtful Tuberville sits around and thinks about these things. But I'm sure Auburn fans do. It's hard not to notice. So why does Tuberville appear to get less credit and coverage than the other big names in the SEC?
To say that 2004 was terrible luck for Tuberville and Auburn is an understatement. No time in recent memory have the top two ranked teams started and finished the year that way. Unfortunately, greatness is measured by how many championships you win, whether they are national or conference titles.
Even though Tuberville's team ran through the conference schedule unscathed four years ago, something few of the SEC's national champions have done, it still doesn't get him the credit he deserves. You either win it or you don't. It's a tough reality for all of us.
The strength of Tuberville's tenure at Auburn has been its consistency. Few teams can match what he's accomplished after nine seasons on the Plains. The numbers are staggering. Over the last four years, he's compiled a record of 42-9 which is fifth best nationally. Since coming to Auburn, more than 33 percent of his opponents have been ranked in the top 25 at the time of the game. Amazingly, Tuberville has won nine of last 12 games against top 10 opponents.
Does not winning it all mean he's less of a coach than the others who have in the conference? Certainly not. But for the national media, it's an easy line to draw in the sand.
Few ever point out that he's manhandled Saban, Fulmer and Meyer since coming to Auburn and held his own against Richt and Miles. Using this criteria it's hard not to place him in the top two of the SEC.
Tuberville knows this and has acknowledged that he's got to get a little better to complete the last hurdle. Give him credit: he's rolled the dice by bringing in Tony Franklin and his Spread Offense. It's the great mystery of the upcoming season. Can it work in the SEC? Tuberville is betting it can and believes it can get him back to Atlanta and beyond.
I can't imagine any Auburn person not being pleased with the man from Camden, Arkansas. He does it right. The NCAA has not sniffed Auburn since his arrival and most importantly, he graduates his players.
If the Auburn administration and board of trustees will keep its distance from Tuberville, chances are he'll win more conference championships and get a shot at another national title. Consistency breeds champions.
Auburn is so close.