I do understand the Auburn spirit is real and that it is alive and well. People would love Auburn University if we were going to class in tents. They love Auburn no matter what. Auburn people are spiritually, emotionally and intellectually--any adjective you can come up with--connected to this university. Because of that, they couldn't see the things that I saw when I came in 1981.
What I saw when I came here was a depressed looking campus and the football stadium was the most depressed looking place of all. The stadium was a big, fine facility with potential, but it had not had any upkeep and maintenance on it for years. It cost us $750,000 to do a concrete renovation to keep it from falling down.
The aesthetics of the campus were not what they should be. Academic buildings were run down. The athletic department was having to get money from administration to keep the doors open, which meant it was taking money out of academics.
The situation could have been very depressing to me, but I looked at it as an opportunity, a challenge. We just got to work to make things better. We went through the firing of Dr. (Hanly) Funderburk, or the resignation, whatever it may be. I know the faculty gave him a vote of no confidence and as Auburn's president he was the person responsible for hiring me and that scared me more than anything because I was going to have a new president that had no connection or obligation to me.
Then Lee Hayley resigns and we were without an athletic director. With the president and athletic director gone I had to rebuild a football program that was broke at a school that is helping fund the athletic program by taking money out of administrative budget. You can bet your bottom dollar they were squeezing every nickel and penny they could squeeze just to operate.
I remember we were having some kind of function at the stadium and Dr. Funderburk made the comment to me saying, "Pat, we have got to fill this place up."
I said, "Dr. Funderburk, I know how to do that." He looked at me and smiled and he said, "We have to win." I told him he was right and I told him we were going to do that.
However, before that meeting with Dr. Funderburk at the stadium there was a question about whether or not I was even going to get a chance to be Auburn's football coach.
I met the Auburn board of trustees the night I was confirmed because the selection committee recommended me to be the head football coach, but the board would not vote on it until they met me.
When I flew in expecting to take the job, which I?had been told was mine, I found out that the job really wasn't mine yet and I had to go before the entire board of trustees to get their approval. The guys on the search committee were nervous about that, but I told them it was great.
I guess they were afraid I was going to get rejected and they would have to start over again on their search, but I said if I can't convince the board I am the right person to be the head football coach at Auburn then maybe I don't need the job.
It was a blessing to me to go before our entire board of trustees. This was before Jimmy Rane and Bobby Lowder were trustees and before anybody else who is currently a member of the board was serving in that position.
I remember going before the board and they asked questions for around 20 minutes. I will never forget that Mr. Henry Steagall from Ozark asked me, "How in the world can you grow up in Georgia, play at the University of Georgia and coach at Alabama and think that you can be a good head coach at Auburn?" I said, "Mr. Steagall, all that did was give me better preparation to be the head coach at Auburn because I know every high school coach in both states as well as every highway and backroad to every school."
I also told him, "We have got to base our recruiting on signing kids out of Alabama and Georgia and my knowledge of the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama will do nothing but help us win at Auburn." That satisfied him and then Dr. Funderburk asked me to step out of the room. When I came back in the room he said, "Congratulations, you are going to be the head football coach at Auburn tomorrow."
Having me go before the board scared the search committee because everybody on the board at that time was not together. There was some controversy on the board back then so it was a challenging time to come to Auburn to rebuild the football program.
With Dr. Funderburk out, Dr. (Wilford) Bailey was our interim president for a couple of years and then they hired Dr. (James) Martin, then Dr. (William) Muse and then Dr. (Ed) Richardson. Now we have Dr. (Jay) Gogue serving as Auburn's president. All of those presidents had different personalities, but what they had in common is that they moved Auburn forward during their tenure.
An important thing that has helped Auburn is that these presidents have had the support of a board of trustees that has done an unbelievable job in the 30 years I have been a part of this institution. I have not got amnesia. I remember what it was like in 1981 and I know what Auburn is like today. There are a lot of positive differences.
That is something I was thinking about the Saturday of the A-Day Game when I walked from J&M Bookstore across campus by Samford Hall, past Haley Center and then on to the stadium. I have never been so proud in my life to see the change in this campus that has taken place in the last 30 years. Those improvements have been the result of strong, positive leadership of the presidents and the leadership on the board of trustees.
When you start dealing with people and names, particularly at an institution where people are spiritually connected, they have all got their choices to lead the university, they all know what is best for Auburn. There are going to be hard feelings and some controversy is going to be natural, but looking at the whole picture of Auburn University as an outstanding academic institution with a beautiful campus, it is something everybody can be proud of for many reasons.
I know that with the improvements at the university that Auburn doesn't have to take a backseat to anybody, either academically or athletically. Everything is in place for the deans, the professors, the instructors and the coaches to give their students an opportunity to become the best Auburn men and women they can be. I believe that is what Auburn is all about.
I applaud Governor (Robert) Bentley for having guts enough to re-appoint members of the board who have done a fantastic job. We have got three new members coming on to the board to give it some new blood and that is important.
I believe in the concept of term limits, but sometimes term limits are not better when you have people on that board who know what Auburn is all about who have the guts and the wisdom to stand up and make the right decisions to move Auburn forward academically and in all other areas.
I look at Auburn kind of like a football team. You have the mental, spiritual and physical aspects. Academics would be the mental, the campus would be the spiritual part of it and athletics is the physical part.
It is exciting to me and makes me feel good to wake up every morning knowing that I?have been lucky enough to be a part of this institution for 30 years. Every Auburn person out there, whether you like somebody on the board of trustees or don't like somebody on the board of trustees, feels the same way. People who are upset about the process, don't worry about the process. Just love Auburn and you will be fine.
In the 30 years I have been here, Auburn has never been in better hands than it is now with Dr. Gogue as our leader. With the deans who are in place at Auburn and with Jay Jacobs as our athletic director working with our board of trustees, we have never been in a better position to continue to move forward and make progress in the direction they set for us.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns a week--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.