It goes without saying that it's not what it once was, partly because of bungling by people in high places and partly because of the modern dynamics of college football. Here is one man's opinion of how the coaching jobs in the Southeastern Conference stack up.
1. Florida. It's not even close. Florida is the largest school in the SEC, has the most money and most fertile recruiting base. Florida State coaches will tell you privately that they rarely sign an in-state player that the Gators want badly. It's astonishing, really, that Florida never won an SEC championship until Steve Spurrier arrived.
2. Georgia. The Bulldogs have everything it takes. They, too, have money. They have a large and loyal fan base. Their state is second only to Florida among those in the SEC in producing big-time football players. Auburn and others make inroads, but it's rare for any of Georgia's top targets to leave the state. Former Auburn coach Pat Dye says, in his time, Auburn rarely outrecruited Georgia head-to-head. The same thing applies now. That doesn't mean Auburn (and others) don't get top players out of Georgia. Obviously, they do, but it's usually players who, for whatever reason, didn't want to go to Georgia in the first place or were simply overlooked by Georgia.
3. LSU. There is no more rabid fan base. The state has ample talent and there is no real competition. What LSU has is what Alabama or Auburn would have if there was only one school in the state.
4. Auburn. A quarter of a century ago, a realistic view of the Auburn program would have put it in the bottom half of the SEC. Facilities were lacking. Money was lacking. Alabama was clearly in command of the state. Like him or despise him, trustee Bobby Lowder was the driving force behind pushing Auburn football forward. It was he who made it possible to lure Dye from Wyoming. It was he who insisted that Auburn have facilities and commitment comparable to the top schools in the SEC. Auburn has geographic advantages. Players in parts of Alabama, Georgia and Florida live closer to Auburn than any other big-time football school. What Auburn doesn't have that the top three do have is a large area in which it is clearly the dominant school. But Tommy Tuberville has built a program that can attract attention from the kinds of athletes that win championships.
5. Tennessee. The Vols have facilities and support second to none. What they don't have is a large natural recruiting base. They have to recruit nationally. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. They won a national championship in 1998 and haven't even won an SEC championship since.
6. Alabama. Fans wear houndstooth hats to games. Uniforms are adorned with houndstooth trim. The fascination with the late Paul Bryant remains a large and often unhealthy part of Alabama football. His voice booms over the public address system before games. Bryant was the best ever, a larger than life figure who made Alabama one of the two to three most dominant programs in the game in the 1960s and 1970s. That's wonderful history, but it has nothing to do with what's happening today. For those playing the game today, Bryant is no more relevant than Knute Rockne. He died before they were born. Alabama has facilities as good as anyone's. It has tremendous fan support. It doesn't have the kind of recruiting base that leads to long-term dominance. It doesn't have Auburn's geographic advantages. And the weight of unrealistic expectations is a serious problem.
7. Arkansas. The facilities at Arkansas are as good as any, better than most. While others have gone head over heels in debt to upgrade facilities, Arkansas did it all with donations. The Waltons and the Tysons of the world can make those kinds of things happen. With no talent-rich recruiting base, it's remarkable that the Razorbacks have made three trips to the SEC Championship Game.
8. South Carolina. The Gamecocks could be upwardly mobile. They have terrific fan support. They sold out their stadium regularly even as Lou Holtz was going 0-11 in his first season as head coach. Spurrier has injected new life into the program. Considering all the things it has going for it, the real puzzle is that South Carolina has been so mediocre for so long.
9. Ole Miss and Mississippi State (tie). There are lots of players in Mississippi, but lots of them leave and some of them go to Southern Mississippi. The bottom line is that neither school has the resources to be a consistent contender in the SEC.
Bobby Johnson coaches the Vandy Commodores.
The latest salvo lobbed at Auburn's athletic department by New York Times reporter Pete Thamel and sociology professor James Gundlach seems to be more of the same, much ado about very little.
The issue this time is a grade Gundlach and fellow sociology professor Paul Starr say was changed from an incomplete to an A, allowing a student-athlete to graduate. According to the story, Gundlach said the athlete was not a football player.
Obviously, the sociology department had some problems, but the one and only way that Auburn's athletic department could run into trouble would be if it could be shown that athletes got treatment not available to others.
There is no indication that happened...
Don't be surprised if Jimbo Fisher, LSU offensive coordinator and former Auburn quarterbacks coach, surfaces as the leading candidate for one of the head coaching jobs still open. Louisiana Tech and UAB are possibilities for Fisher, who would probably have been the next head coach at West Virginia if Rich Rodriguez had moved to Alabama.
Alabama itself could do a lot worse than looking in Fisher's direction, but athletic director Mal Moore has consistently said he wants a proven head coach...
Auburn's ticket sales for its game against Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl have been somewhat disappointing so far. But then again, the game is still three weeks away.
No school wants to gain a reputation of not traveling large numbers to bowl games. Bowl games, after all, came into being to attract people to the cities in which they are played. Bowl officials are usually more interested in how many tickets a school will sell than how good its football team is...
In his eighth season, Tommy Tuberville will try for his 71st victory as Auburn's head coach in the Cotton Bowl. If he gets it, he will equal the number of games won by former head coach Pat Dye in his first eight seasons.
From 1981-88, Dye was 71-26-2. Tuberville, whose first season was in 1999, is 70-29. Dye won or shared three SEC championships in his first eight seasons. Tuberville has won one SEC championship and has won or shared five West Division championships. Dye, of course, didn't have to deal with an eight-game SEC schedule or with a championship game.
The bottom line is that their career tracks at Auburn are very similar...
Until next time...