Changes Taking Place On The Plains

Phillip Marshall takes a look at the Auburn coaching situation and the search for a new offensive coordinator.

In 34 football years of watching coaches do their jobs, I've never seen one pour more of his heart and soul into a season than Hugh Nall did last year.

He frequently worked from before daylight until after midnight searching for elusive answers. If life were fair, Auburn would have been an offensive juggernaut, piling up points as Nall was praised. But life often isn't fair. Nall was asked to run another man's offense with yet another man calling the plays. It didn't work.

Earlier this week, he got the word that he'd known for months could be coming. He will not be Auburn's offensive coordinator next season. Nall accepted the decision with class and dignity and said he looked forward to concentrating on coaching the offensive line. That's the kind of man he is.

Cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley, pushed off the field to make room for Nall's successor, accepted things the same way. That's also the kind of man he is.

Head coach Tommy Tuberville's search for a new offensive coordinator started Thursday when Toledo's Rob Spence came to town.

It's difficult to argue with Tuberville's decision. The Tigers scored 10 or fewer points five times in going 8-5 last season. They got better in the final two games, but even in those games they struggled for consistency.

In January 2003, Tuberville made what turned out to be a bad decision for good reasons. When Bobby Petrino left for Louisville after just one season, Tuberville didn't want to change offenses. He made Nall coordinator and hired Steve Ensminger to be quarterbacks coach and call plays. It was a mixture that simply did not work.

Alabama tried the same thing in 2000. Neil Callaway was the offensive coordinator and Charlie Stubbs called the plays. They were all fired after going 3-8.

For Auburn, it couldn't have happened at a worse time. Auburn was picked by at least two publications to win the national championship. It was ranked No. 6 in the preseason polls. Expectations were at an all-time high. Nall will never say it publicly, but he is convinced that things would have been different had he done it his way from the start. We'll never know.

What I do know is that no man could have worked harder or wanted it more than Nall did. Through it all, he has remained loyal to his adopted school. He could have been gone by now to become offensive line coach at another SEC school. But despite harsh criticism, despite nasty telephone calls to his wife and children at all hours of the day as the season went bad, despite the numbing disappointment of his first chance as an offensive coordinator, he wanted to stay at Auburn.

Maybe someday at some school Nall will get another chance, but for now he can go forward with his head up and his pride intact. He gave it all he had. And in the end, that's all anyone can do.

Tuberville must quickly make a decision on a new coordinator. As has been widely reported, Toledo's Rob Spence was the first candidate interviewed. He visited the campus Thursday. His offense has been tremendously successful in the Mid-American Conference. Would it be as successful in the SEC? Who knows?

Tuberville faces what could be the biggest decision of his coaching career. The professional futures of a lot of people are at stake. After all the shenanigans of the last three months, Tuberville is in a strong position as Auburn's head coach. But, like other coaches at big-time Division IA schools, he must win.

There is no reason Auburn should not win next season. Expectations won't be as high, but the Tigers are in good position to have a big season. The schedule isn't nearly as demanding as last season's and LSU and Georgia must come to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Maybe a new offensive coordinator will provide the jolt of energy needed to get over the top. Maybe not. No offensive coordinator is going to bring secrets to Auburn that SEC defensive coordinators haven't seen. Auburn's fate will ultimately be decided by whether the players buy into the system and make it work on the field. So it has always been.


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