It's the game, stupid--or at least it should be

We all know college football head coaches are important. <br><br>The powers that be have told us this much every time they raise another coach's salary hundreds of thousands of dollars higher into the stratosphere, with annual paychecks big enough to subsidize a Third World nation's debt. <br><br>But when did coaches become bigger than the game itself?

Their comings and goings have become a yearly occurrence around Iron Bowl time, and it's about time somebody stepped up and said something about it.

Stop the coaching carousel. I want off. Now.

Over the past 10 years, the Iron Bowl has become less a classic confrontation between Alabama and Auburn and more an opportunity to ride off into the sunset.

First came Pat Dye, who tearfully announced his resignation the night before 1992's Iron Bowl.

Lot of good it did him. Alabama blanked Auburn 17-0 in Legion Field, completing a perfect regular season on its way to its last national championship.

Four years later, counterpart Gene Stallings did him one better, announcing his retirement minutes after Alabama slipped past the Tigers 24-23 in 1996, also at Legion Field.

Despite achieving success in line with what Auburn fans should expect historically, Tommy Tuberville once again enters the Alabama game on the proverbial "Hot Seat." (Getty Images)

In 2000, Mike DuBose beat both of them. He was fired a good three weeks before Tuscaloosa's first Iron Bowl in 99 years, but he hung around to watch his team finish a truly horrific 3-8 season by losing 9-0 to Auburn (who clinched the SEC West championship).

Last season, after a whole year without Iron Bowl coaching strife, Dennis Franchione got the carousel cranking again.

Two days before the game, rumors began circulating about his imminent departure to coach at Texas A&M (which then had yet to fire an embattled R.C. Slocum).

24 hours before the game, the rumors hit print in Texas newspapers: Slocum was out after the season and Franchione would replace him. Franchione, of course, angrily denied the rumors on his personal Web site -- coachfran.com -- and the game went on as planned.

Or did it? A heavy favorite, Alabama looked uncharacteristically unfocused that day, and Franchione made several questionable coaching decisions and appeared to lack passion on the sidelines. The result? A surprising 17-7 loss in Bryant-Denny Stadium to Auburn.

Several Crimson Tide players later said they first got an eerie sensation about Franchione that day, one that was confirmed shortly after the season when Franchione bolted for A&M.

Another year, another ride on the coaching carousel.

I remind you of this unwelcome joyride as I consider the fate of one Tommy Tuberville. If one believes the rumors floating in cyberspace, the airwaves -- and even print -- Tuberville needs to win Saturday to save his job, with some saying that even a victory might not save said position.

I come here today not to debate whether or not Tuberville deserves to keep his job. That's not my opinion to spout, and I don't feel comfortable writing about something that really isn't in my domain. I typically visit Auburn two, three times a year tops, which is strictly contingent on my coverage of UA athletic teams visiting there.

My knowledge of Tuberville is limited to the two or three times I've heard him speak at SEC Media Days. My job -- at least for the moment -- is covering UA teams; at least that's what the people who sign my checks tell me.

What really gets me going, though, are the aspects of the Iron Bowl that fuel the carousel -- and might cost Tuberville, a man who is one victory away from matching Auburn's most successful four-year stretch in SEC play, his job.

Right or wrong, fans in this state base much of their opinions about a coach and coaching staff on performance in the Iron Bowl.

BamaMag.com is pleased to feature regular columns from Greg Wallace, one of the most talented writers on the Bama beat.

An avid sports fan whose job "just happens" to give him a seat in the front-row, Wallace is entering his third year writing for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He is a 2000 graduate of the University of Iowa, where he was a journalism and history major.

You can contact Greg at: gwrite1178@aol.com, and read his work daily at PostHerald.com.

Just ask Bill Curry, who went 26-10 at Alabama from 1987-89 (including an SEC title in '89) but never beat Auburn. Weeks after the 1989 season concluded, he took the first train out of town and wound up in Kentucky. By his own admission, the move was not so much to take the Wildcats' job as to get away from Tide fans who never embraced him or his 0-3 record against Auburn.

Some fans are so wrapped up in the 365-day-per-year back-and-forth tussle that is Alabama v. Auburn that they forget teams play 11 games per season, and that the Iron Bowl really does just count for one of those games.

To some, the season might as well start and end on Saturday, with discussion of said "season" continuing until next year's Iron Bowl.

That's why the Iron Bowl has so often become a constant coaching carousel. New Alabama Coach Mike Shula hasn't gotten on that carousel yet, but if success eludes him against the Tigers in the next several years, with the Tide's record suffering as a result, he'll ride.

Is the carousel right? Of course not.

Is it real? Absolutely. It's as real as the power that fuels the rivalry, good and bad.

Stop the carousel -- and save me a seat on the green zebra.


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