AU President Admits Mistakes and Backs Tuberville

A detailed interview with Auburn University president Dr. William Walker is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn University President Dr. William Walker said Monday evening that he made a mistake in his evaluation of Tommy Tuberville's Auburn football program and is positive that the Tigers are on the road to success under Tuberville's leadership.

In an interview with Inside the Auburn Tigers, Walker said that he had made a "dumb" move in secretly flying to Indiana to meet with University of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino. He also said that he has found that Tuberville has plenty of support from alumni and friends of the university and noted that he plans to make more of an effort to stay in closer contact with Tuberville.

"The alumni opinions are very important," Walker said. "It is really kind of interesting because when I first started getting email, it was a barrage of email that essentially said, ‘Fire Tommy.' Then it seemed to turn around. It has been a curious phenomenon. What happened was, when I began to get that first batch of email...what you don't do is make decisions based on email for a write-in campaign.

"I decided to conduct an assessment of where we are in this program based, frankly, on that outpouring of opinion. I have done that and in my opinion we have got a good program. We have got a program that is on its way to being a great program. We have got good leadership and I am satisfied with it. There are a lot of people out there who don't agree with that and lot of people that agree with that, but that is where I stand."

The university has received much adverse publicity, both on the regional and national level, with how it handled its courtship of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino while not letting Tuberville know that his job at AU could be in jeopardy after earlier in the year giving the coach a raise and a contract extension.

"I don't know," Walker said on what the university can do to improve its image after its recent black eye. "That is a good question," Walker added. "I don't have an answer for that that satisfies me. I am not quite sure why the media took out after us quite so hard. The fact is I made a fundamental error at not having better communication with the head coach. But beyond that I really don't know."

Walker said that he little direct communication with Tuberville prior to a meeting with the head coach and athletic director David Housel on Monday at Samford Hall. "We had talked somewhat, but we had a good conversation today," Walker said. "We are going to stay in close contact."

William Walker

Walker said that his original decision to consider a coaching change was based on the team not playing up to high preseason expectations in 2003. The Tigers finished the regular season 7-5 with one more chance for a victory in a bowl game.

"The mistake was just looking at the won/loss record because what that is is a snapshot in time," Walker said. "If you make a decision on that you are going to be more prone to make mistakes. I think what we needed to look at was where we were when Tommy started and where we are today and the change is indeed dramatic.

"Certainly, we want a won/loss record that is better than we have got this year. If we continue in the direction we are in and Tommy's recruiting continues to be the quality it is, and if he continues to bring in the quality of young person he is bringing in, then that path is going to continue.

"My goal and his goal is for us to have a program in football that is recognized as one of the leading programs in the country," Walker notes. "Where that shows up is in the rankings. Obviously, we would like to be No. 1, but you have got to be realistic. I am not going to put a number on it because people begin to focus on that, but over a period of time I want our program to be considered when people mention the top programs in the country. I want them to say Auburn University and I think we are on track to do that."

Following his meeting with Tuberville on Monday, Walker issued the following statement. "Coach Tommy Tuberville and I met this morning to discuss the future of the Auburn football program. The events of the past two weeks have been put behind us and I look forward to working with Coach Tuberville and Athletic Director David Housel to ensure Auburn's success.

"I regret and apologize for mistakes that were made in the past two weeks. My meeting with Coach Tuberville acknowledged the errors both he and I have made, and we have have agreed to move forward with more open lines of communication between us for the good of the Auburn football program and Auburn family. I want to echo what Coach Tuberville said in his news conference today--the university has refocused and is moving forward.

"Coach Tuberville and I agree on many issues, but the matter about which we agree most clearly is that we hold high expectations for Auburn's football program. I am convinced, as is Coach Tuberville, that Auburn has a bright future ahead in terms of its football accomplishments.

"The decisions that I make and the actions I take are always in what I believe to be the best interests of Auburn University, both academically and athletically. Today's meeting with Coach Tuberville is the beginning of better and closer contact between my office and his, which will have a positive impact for Auburn in 2004 and beyond."

When asked about who made the decision to fly to a small airport in Indiana on a Colonial Bank corporate jet to secretly meet with Petrino, Walker said, "I think it was probably my decision and David's. Petrino had been here and we had some successes when he had been here. Primarily, he knew Tommy, the players, the program and was a good person to talk to. I talked to a number of people. I have talked to ex-players, a whole variety of people--anybody who has got a perspective who can shed light on it. You get a wide range of opinions from people."

Walker said he had met Petrino last year when he served as offensive coordinator for the Auburn football team. He said in hindsight he now wishes he had not made the trip to talk to the coach. "It was a dumb thing to do," Walker said. "I think having the information from Bobby is very important. I hate to get important information from a telephone call, but maybe that was the approach to take."

Walker admitted that he was not up to speed on protocol for contacting coaches at other colleges who are under contract. "I am not sure I agree with those hoops or what purpose they serve," he said. "I have tried to be open-minded about this, but kind of the impression I have gotten is that everybody expects you to not abide by the rules, but that is okay as long as you don't get caught and I don't like that. I just have some real problems with that. It is just my personal thing. I don't know what is wrong in the middle of the season if you are going to replace a coach picking up the phone and calling coach at the University of Oklahoma and saying, ‘Are you interested.' Apparently you don't do that. I am not fully attended to that culture."

Athletic director Housel, who does know the athletic protocol, said on Monday that he also regretted the decision to make the trip to Indiana to discuss the Auburn job with Petrino. Walker says that flight was paid for by Colonial Bank, whose leader is a key member of the AU board of trustees, Bobby Lowder of Montgomery.

When asked if he believes that Tuberville and Housel can successfully work side by side after Housel was involved in a search for a potential replacement to Tuberville, Walker said, "Well I hope so. That is something I am going to have to take under advisement."

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