Dealing With Iron Bowl Week Rumors, Facts

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville.

The most bizarre Iron Bowl week in my memory is almost over now. The ridiculous rumors that have been presented as fact have at least been good for comic relief. Take your pick of the best ones. My favorite was that Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville would resign and Pat Dye would take his place and have an opportunity to win his 100th game. And then there was the suggestion that Steve Spurrier might leave his $5 million a year job with the Redskins to coach at Auburn. And the one that said Jimmy Rane had said he would pick up the tab of more than $3 million for Tuberville's buyout. And let's don't forget the one that said Bobby Petrino had told Louisville coaches to have their bags packed Sunday, five days before the final game of their season.

I'm not going to deal in rumors or guesses here today. I'm going to deal in the facts as I know them. Disagree, if you will, but facts are facts. If Auburn loses to Alabama on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, there is little chance that Tuberville will return as Auburn's coach next season. Notice I didn't say no chance. I said little chance.

If Auburn beats Alabama, Tuberville might or might not return as Auburn's coach next season. It is a decision that will probably be made early next week. The decision is not in the hands of the Board of Trustees or Bobby Lowder or Rane. It is in the hands of President William Walker who, regardless of what some with agendas of their own will tell you, is nobody's puppet. He will seek advice and input as any president would, but in the end, it will be his call.

If Tuberville is fired, it will not go down well with Auburn players. Tuberville is beyond popular with his players. He is beloved. When players say they don't believe anything that has happened in this ill-fated season is his fault, they speak the truth as they see it. Regardless of what happens with Tuberville, there will be major changes on the coaching staff, and those changes aren't likely to stop with the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Tuberville and former Tiger Travaris Robinson (left) are shown during a golf outing in Orlando, Fla., prior to their bowl victory over Penn State on New Year's Day.

As hard as they have tried to ignore it, the swirling controversy has been a distraction for Auburn players and coaches this week. How could it not have been? Who wouldn't be distracted if they were wondering if they will have a job next week? What player wouldn't be distracted wondering who his coach will be next week?

There you have it. A strange and sad situation is nearing a major turning point. Events will likely unfold rapidly once Saturday's game is in the books. And I am deeply troubled by where it could be headed. In the feeding frenzy of the past week, all sorts of names have been tossed out as possible replacements. None of those who would be realistic options have ever beaten the No. 1 team in the nation, have ever carried a team to the SEC Championship Game, have ever beaten Top 10 teams back to back to end a season, have ever taken a team to even one New Year's Day bowl game, have ever gone into the hostility at Bryant-Denny Stadium and emerged victorious. Tuberville has, of course, done all those things. He has also run a clean program, recruited good people as well as good players and created an atmosphere in which they can thrive as students and as people.

Tuberville also has lost too many games by lopsided scores and lost this season to at least two teams he shouldn't have. He made a terrible decision when he turned the offense over to Hugh Nall and Steve Ensminger after Petrino left for Louisville. It's not that Nall and Ensminger aren't quality coaches, but they were asked to run someone else's offense. It obviously hasn't worked.

Despite this disappointing season, there can be no argument that Auburn's program is far stronger than it was when Tuberville arrived in November of 1998. Next season, with a much more reasonable schedule, promises to be a good one. Given the opportunity, Tuberville will deal with the problems that have surfaced this season. The question is whether he will be given the opportunity. I hope he is.

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