Marshall: Tuberville Upbeat About Recruiting

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn's head football coach and the AU program.

Tommy Tuberville won't announce it at next Tuesday's Alabama basketball game when Auburn accepts the ODK Trophy for its fifth straight Iron Bowl victory. He's really not comfortable talking about it.

But it's a matter of public record that Tuberville and his wife, Suzanne, contributed $250,000 last year to Auburn's Legends Campaign, an athletic department fundraising initiative that has exceeded $115 million.

It is vintage Tuberville that he made no effort to publicize the gift. There was no press release, no announcement, nothing. Despite a remarkable run as Auburn's head football coach, Tuberville doesn't seek out the spotlight. Maybe that's because of his small-town roots. Maybe it's because he remembers well what it was like to make the long climb from high school coach to volunteer college assistant to college head coach.

"Football coaching is not rocket science," Tuberville says. "The geniuses are the players who handle what we put on them. I want the players and my coaches to get the publicity."

Tuberville is heading now toward his ninth season as Auburn's head coach. His record speaks for itself. He has coached two of the four seasons in which Auburn won 11 games or more. He is the only Auburn coach ever to go 13-0, amazingly the only Auburn coach ever to have a perfect record that included a bowl victory.

No other Auburn coach ever won 33 games in three years or 41 games in four years or 50 games in five years. Only Shug Jordan matched Tuberville's five-game winning streak over Alabama.

Tuberville is a popular target for autographs and photographs, but he doesn't get the rock star treatment that some coaches get. That bothers him not at all. He wouldn't want it any other way.

"Everybody has an ego," Tuberville says. "You have to have an ego or you wouldn't be in this business. But I don't need that."

Tuberville is wealthy and successful, but away from Auburn football, he is not much different than husbands and fathers. He goes to watch his boys play sports. He goes to the store. Like most of us, he takes orders from his wife.

But there's nothing ordinary about what Tuberville has done at Auburn. That some, even in the Auburn camp, still find reasons to complain is a reality that's part of the job.

"If they are complaining, hopefully they understand we are trying to do what is best for Auburn," Tuberville says. "We all hurt when we lose. It's the toughest thing in the world. It's 24 hours a day for us."

Tuberville can joke now about December 2003, when he almost lost his job. There is little doubt that infamous airplane flight damaged some relationships and will always be a painful memory.

But Tuberville laughs at the seemingly annual speculation that he is unhappy and eager to get revenge by leaving town. .

"As long as I have my health, I feel good and Auburn wants me around, I'm going to be here," Tuberville says. "We've been pretty danged good, but we think we can be a lot better."

Getting better is what Tuberville and his coaches are concentrating on these days. With 20 commitments, they believe they already have an outstanding recruiting class in hand. If a few others come their way, they are convinced it will be the best yet.

Recruiting talented players, of course, is where it all begins.

"It's gotten stronger every year," Tuberville says. "That's what I look at. Recruiting takes care of the next few years and how you are going to win games. Going undefeated in 2004 helped recruiting. We had a great (recruiting) year last year. We are almost finished this year."

Tuberville has accomplished almost everything he could have hoped to accomplish at Auburn. He has dominated his in-state rival. He has winning records against every other major rival. He has an SEC championship ring and has won or shared five West Division championships.

What he does not have is a national championship ring

"I told Auburn people when I came I wanted to be a Top 10 program," Tuberville says. "We are a Top 10 program. One year, it is all going to go the right way. It almost fell into place in 2004. It was just fate that caused us not to win it."

When will the next opportunity come? With road games at LSU, Florida, Arkansas and Georgia, it's not likely to be next season.

Then again, it didn't seem likely in 2004, either.

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