I have been called a liar and worse. Former editor Lee Davidson called me corrupt in The Auburn Plainsman without so much as picking up the telephone and calling me. I have heard and read innuendo and outright distortions of the facts surrounding that column.
Here is the truth:
In my column on that Monday, I quoted sources saying Bowden was in serious danger of losing his job as Auburn's head football coach if there wasn't a dramatic turnaround in a season that had started 1-5.
As Auburn's season unraveled, my perception was that Bowden was in trouble. It wasn't based on anything anyone told me, but just the general atmosphere. After Auburn lost a very ugly 24-3 game at Florida without even being competitive and Bowden publicly thanked Gator coach Steve Spurrier for not running up the score, I began to make calls.
I promised those I talked to I wouldn't divulge their names then, and I won't divulge their names now. But there were numerous sources--five or more--used in writing that column.
The quotes attributed to an athletic department official in that column came from just that, an athletic department official. They did not come from a member of the Board of Trustees.
I initiated every conversation about the issue. No one called me and suggested I put anything in the newspaper. No Auburn trustee or administrator has ever suggested I put anything in the newspaper, not even once. Most of the people I talked to about Bowden's situation expressed concern that I was going to put anything in the newspaper.
In a transcript of a Bowden interview that is making the rounds, Bowden says the following: "The last week I was coach--Monday-The Huntsville Times runs a story that says an undisclosed source says that Bowden has lost the confidence of the Board of Trustees and he must win four of the last five games to keep his job. I lied to my staff and told them that I had talked to Lowder, the story was not true and everything was OK. I was trying to keep up morale. Tuesday--(Defensive coordinator Bill) Oliver brings a hidden tape recorder into our coaches meeting. I believe this was because Lowder wanted to have proof that I told a lie about talking to him the day before. Wednesday--I had a 7 a.m. meeting with Housel. He asked if I had seen the article in The Huntsville Times. He said he had talked to Lowder, and Lowder wanted me to know that he was the undisclosed source."
I have no idea what Lowder told Housel or Housel told Bowden. What I do know is the column said not one word about the Board of Trustees. It did not say Bowden had to win four of the last five games, and I was as shocked as anyone when Bowden announced his resignation a few days later.
I called Bowden the Sunday night before the column ran on Monday. He told me if it was negative, he didn't want to talk about it. I told him I thought he needed to listen. He wouldn't. He called me two days later and asked if I got it from Lowder. I told him I couldn't tell him who I talked to but that I had talked to several people. The next time I talked to Bowden was at his fishing lake the day after Auburn beat Louisiana Tech in Oliver's first game as interim head coach.
Bowden's bitterness over the ending of his Auburn career has puzzled me for a long time. Coaches are fired every year. I feel certain that most of them feel they deserve to be retained. Most don't walk away in midseason. Bowden gave the interview more than two years ago. It was resurrected last fall in a ridiculous dog and pony show on ABC in which Bowden participated in an interview as staged as any you'll ever see.
Of course, I am puzzled by a lot of things. I am puzzled by people throwing around words like "evil" and "corrupt" about officials who have done things with which they disagree. I am puzzled by those who feel they have done something good by contributing to Auburn being placed on SACS probation. I am puzzled by people who seem willing to destroy a university's good name to further their own agenda. I am puzzled that disagreement over policies and decisions has disintegrated into the hateful atmosphere that permeates a school so many love.
And I wonder where it is all going to end.
Questions or comments for Phillip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org