Marshall: Time For AU To Step Up For Tuberville

It's amazing, really. Auburn's football team is 12-0, the Southeastern Conference champion and is headed to the Sugar Bowl. Yet, one has the feeling there could be a gathering storm. And it nothing to do with being left out of the BCS championship game in the Orange Bowl.

Interim president Ed Richardson has said he plans to make a decision Monday on who Auburn's next athletic director will be. He sought and received input from Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. Who Tuberville recommended or whether Richardson listened is the subject of a lot of speculation. If Richardson didn't listen, that's not a good thing.

Richardson admittedly knows little about athletics, but here is something he should know: Right or wrong, the football coach is a far more important figure at Auburn than the athletic director. The football coach is a more important figure than the president. Whether the next athletic director is Jay Jacobs, Dan Radakovich or Greg McGarity--and it will almost certainly be one of those three--he and Tuberville must be on the same page or the athletic director is doomed to fail.

That doesn't mean Tuberville should name the next athletic director. It does mean he should be an integral part of the process.

Tuberville may be more popular at this point than any Auburn football coach before him. He has already won more games in a season than any coach in Auburn history. In his six seasons, he is 4-2 against Alabama, 4-2 against Georgia and 4-2 against LSU. He has beaten Tennessee three times in a little more than a year. He's been to the SEC Championship Game twice and finished tied for first in the West two other times.

More importantly, he has done it without a hint of scandal and he has done it with impressive and accomplished young men. All of that raises again the question of what in the world William Walker, Earlon McWhorter and friends were thinking when they got on that plane in November 2003.

But that's old news.

The question now is whether Tuberville is going to be properly rewarded, not just for this season but for the program he has built at Auburn. And we're talking about a lot more than money here.

Tommy Tuberville was named SEC Coach of the Year and is a candidate for the Eddie Robinson Award, which goes to the nation's top coach.

People close to Tuberville say what he wants is a contract along the lines of LSU's Nick Saban, Georgia's Mark Richt and Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer. It's not so much about money as it is guaranteed years. Heck, even Mike Price had a guaranteed 10-year contract at Alabama if he'd only signed it.

Tuberville deserves no less than what the top coaches in the SEC have. If he hasn't proved himself one of the league's best, no one has.

Richardson, amazingly, seems to be in no hurry to deal with it. After Friday night's SEC championship celebration, he said he wouldn't deal with it until after the Sugar Bowl.

The obvious question: Why not?

There is the potential for a challenge from the West. A lot of people who should know say LSU's Nick Saban is going to bolt for the Miami Dolphins. A lot of people who should know also say Tuberville may be No. 1 on LSU's wish list if Saban leaves.

If Tuberville feels left out of the athletic director decision and feels like Richardson is dragging his feet on a new contract, who could blame him if he responds to overtures from LSU or any other big-time school?

Richardson insists every chance he gets that he is making decisions and that no trustees are involved. Most people who deal with him on a regular basis believe that to be true, though some of them find McWhorter's frequent presence troubling. McWhorter had a lot to say a year ago in defense of the infamous trip and those on it. I'm still waiting for him to give Tuberville his due and admit the obvious, that the trip was one of the bigger and more embarrassing mistakes in Auburn's athletic history.

I'm afraid I'm going to be waiting a long time.

Richardson says he's calling the shots, so he needs to step up and call this one. Regardless of who is named athletic director, he needs to call Tuberville to Samford Hall next week and quickly come to an agreement on a new contract.

Tuberville does not want to leave Auburn. I know that to be a fact. Richardson, McWhorter and friends would do well to remember that, should Tuberville feel like he has no choice but to leave, he will not be the one who incurs the wrath of Auburn people.

That wrath will be directed at those who didn't step forward and do the right thing. And that means Richardson and whoever is giving him advice.

If Richardson really is the man making all the decisions, he needs to make the right one and make sure Tuberville knows he is wanted and needed. And he needs to do it now.

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