Marshall on Tigers-Tide and Coaching Search

Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn vs. Alabama football rrivalry and the Tide's search for a new coach.

The state of Alabama is abuzz, as it always is when there is vacancy in the head coach's office at Alabama or Auburn.

I don't know who will be chosen to replace Mike Shula, though I am convinced it will be an accomplished coach who will excite Alabama fans. I wouldn't count out any of the big names that have been thrown around just yet.

Alabama is prepared to pay an obscene amount of money to get who it wants. Coaches, like the rest of us, can be influenced by cold, hard cash.

And as sure as night turns to day, Alabama's football program will escape the mess of recent years. Alabama will win big again. Alabama will beat Auburn again. It's going to happen, regardless of who is the head coach.

As much as fans of either school enjoy winning streaks over the other, they always end. And as much as fans of both schools would like to believe otherwise, neither is in a position to consistently dominate on a national level like Southern Cal or Ohio State or a handful others.

Some schools have natural advantages that others don't. Neither paying coaches a king's ransom nor building glittering facilities can give Auburn or Alabama the kind of recruiting base enjoyed by the likes of USC, Florida and Texas.

And never doubt that winning is mostly about players. A bad coach can lose with good ones, but not even the best coach can win with bad ones.

Auburn and Alabama, really, are in quite similar positions, and they still will be after Alabama names its coach. Nick Saban wouldn't change that. Neither would Steve Spurrier nor Bobby Petrino nor Rich Rodriguez.

Since Bear Bryant left Alabama, Auburn leads the Iron Bowl series 14-10. Auburn has won five SEC championships. Alabama has won three. Each team has had a perfect season, the only difference being that things fell right for Alabama to finish at the top of the polls in 1992 and Auburn was left out of the BCS championship game in 2004. Auburn's unbeaten team was actually much more dominant on the field than was Alabama's.

Times have changed dramatically since the 1970s, when Alabama dominated the SEC. Those days will not return.

Tommy Tuberville, who will finish his eighth Auburn season in a bowl game, has Auburn's program in a position as strong as it has ever been or probably ever will be.

Alabama's new coach isn't going to change that, either.

What is almost certainly going to happen in the years ahead is that Alabama will catch up. Auburn will win some years and Alabama will win some years. For either side to expect anything more than that is not realistic.

I had a fascinating conversation with a prominent SEC coach from another state the other day. He was talking about the burden of expectations at schools accustomed to winning, about the abuse even wives and children take from some fans when things don't go well.

"What you try to do," he said, "is get to the point where you are winning 9-10 games most years. If you do that, the year will come when you win 11 or 12, but consistency is what's important. In this league, that's the most you can expect. It's not very far from first place to sixth place. You look at teams that win it all. You are going to find out that, in one game or maybe in more than one game, they are lucky. They get a good call or the ball bounces the right way.

"The fans don't really understand that. When you do it once, they think you should be able to do it every year. It's just not that way, not in the league we play in."

In Auburn's case, if going 13-0, 9-3 and 10-2 over the past three seasons isn't good enough, nothing ever is going to be good enough. If a similar run wouldn't good enough for Alabama fans, nothing ever is going to be good enough

And no coach, no matter how talented, no matter how respected, is going to change that.


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