Almost one year ago to the day, an emotional Tommy Tuberville told a crowd of reporters that he wasn't going anywhere and the Tigers would be playing for a national championship during his tenure.
Preparing for Saturday's SEC Championship game against Tennessee, Auburn finds itself 11-0 and number three in the latest BCS standings behind USC and Oklahoma. Although it appears unlikely Auburn will be in the Orange Bowl unless one of the two loses, there is no doubt that Tuberville felt good about the future of his program back then, and rightfully so.
Surviving a botched attempt by former AU president William Walker and a group of board of trustees members to replace Tuberville last year, tens of thousands of Auburn fans rallied to support the Auburn coach, who is held in very high esteem for his handling of last year' controversy and this year's impressive football season.
The 2004 Tigers have been one of the most dominant teams in modern SEC football history. Senior Bret Eddins says that everything that happened last year has had an influence on the success the Tigers have had on the field this year.
"I think it was last year when everything kind of went bad for us and we were losing games," Eddins says. "The way that Coach Tuberville handled it with so much character and class, that kind of set in motion what happened this year. I think last year was just so frustrating because everybody on the team just kept saying 'this is not the kind of team that we are.'
"The players, we weren't playing as good as we should have, but the coaches never turned on us and never gave up even when they knew their jobs were in a lot of danger. They never quit working. I think when everything came to light guys on the team have seen that and it makes them want to work that much harder. When your leaders are doing that how you could not want to do better for them."
Watching Tuberville and the coaching staff handle the stress of the 2003 season with grace under pressure, the players accepted the challenge of being better in 2004. Something that probably pushed the Tigers even more was a lack of respect in the preseason. Nearly everyone predicted Georgia and LSU would be playing in Atlanta, but sophomore Stanley McClover says they forgot about one team that was ready to show what it was capable of doing.
"It has been building up every week," McClover says. "When all the magazines came out at the beginning of the season all the magazines were talking about Georgia and LSU playing again. That just gave us the motivation and fire to show them that they're forgetting about a team over in Alabama. It just feels good that we proved a point and we're on our way to the SEC Championship Game 11-0. We're going to go and deal with Tennessee."
Looking back on the past year, McClover says it has been a learning experience for everyone involved. While the coaches learned who they could and couldn't trust among Auburn supporters, the players got a chance to learn some lessons, too. McClover says that watching Tuberville and his staff deal with their possible firing has given him a new outlook on life and it also made this team single-minded in its goal to win in Atlanta.
"It taught me a lot," McClover says. "It taught me that no matter how hard things get you still have to keep your head up and keep moving. He knew they were trying to get rid of them and if we lost a game that was it for him. That just showed me a lot of character about him and let me know that he's never going to give up on us no matter how hard it is. That just made me respect him and love him more as a coach. That's why I go out there and play my heart out for him. I would love to bring home a victory for him.
"It would feel good," McClover adds. "The biggest thing for me is just seeing Coach Tubs accomplish so much from last year. He was almost out of here. It would be beautiful to see him do something like that. To bring him a SEC Championship, I want to put that on his heart. We're just playing hard for Coach Tubs."