A Look At the Football Tigers

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football Tigers as they prepare for the second half of the 2002 season.

Since Saturday night, I've been contemplating what to say in this space today. I have read countless emails from unhappy Auburn followers about Saturday's 38-17 loss to Arkansas.

People are unhappy, angry, disappointed. That's understandable. It was, to say the least, a surprisingly poor performance, especially by the defense. I don't care if the opponent is a combination of Miami, Texas and Oklahoma. I don't care who's playing hurt and who's not playing at all. No Auburn football team should ever give up 426 rushing yards in a game.

How did it happen? Head coach Tommy Tuberville said it was his fault, that the loss was on him, that he put the defense in schemes that didn't work. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said it was his fault. The players said it was their fault. There's plenty of blame to go around. Coaches and players agree that it had nothing to do with not being ready to play. Tuberville said Sunday his team played harder against the Razorbacks than in any other game this season. Coaches and players felt good about the way they prepared.

Why didn't it work? The urgent search for answer started as the sun rose Sunday morning. Tuberville knows as well as anyone that such games can't become a habit. In the end, the inability to stop the run, three turnovers and a blocked punt were too much to overcome. Arkansas was the better team on the field that day. Would it be the better team on another day? We'll never know and it doesn't matter. You only get one crack at it. There are no excuses, and I haven't heard anybody within the Auburn football program trying to make any.

Having said all that, those who angrily call for Tuberville's job, who seem to believe they have answers the coaching staff doesn't, do only harm. The disgusting booing of quarterback Daniel Cobb serves only to make the job of a young man who is giving all he has more difficult, not to mention the emotional turmoil it causes for his family. Even a college student ought to be able to recognize what it must do to Cobb's parents when they hear organized cheers calling for his removal from the game. Maybe they don't care. The opinions of those who conduct themselves in such a manner aren't worth hearing.

Here is what I know: Coaches at Auburn, Alabama, Georgia or any school you can name want to win far worse than any fan. The players they are putting on the field are the ones they believe can best help them win games. Those players, who put in long, grueling hours year-around, want to win far worse than any fan. All the booing, all the emails, all the calls to radio shows, all the Internet posts in the world aren't going to make them want to win any worse.

The building of a program is not a quick or easy process. Tuberville took over a mess in late 1998. He and his players accomplished an amazing feat when they went to the SEC Championship Game in his second season. It probably raised expectations higher than they should have been. Tuberville is putting things together piece by piece. It's not done yet. There is enough talent at most positions to compete for championships, but not enough experience at some. There's not enough of either on the defensive line, which certainly had a rough go of it against the Razorbacks. There's plenty of talent on the offensive line, but not enough experience.

Much has been made of the quarterback situation. Cobb has had his ups and downs. Take away the turnovers, and he's actually done pretty well. The problem is, of course, you can't take away the turnovers. I've said before and I'll say it again, I believe Jason Campbell is going to be an outstanding quarterback before he's done. But he's not there yet.

That the talent level has increased remarkably since Tuberville arrived is beyond debate. Auburn players are bigger, faster and stronger. Just as important, it is a team of solid citizens. Tuberville has turned down big-time recruits because of character questions and he will do it again.

Like it or not, building a program isn't as easy at Auburn as it is at Alabama. It's not as easy at Texas A&M as it is at Texas, not as easy at Michigan State as it is at Michigan, not as easy at Georgia Tech as it is at Georgia. That's just the way it is. That doesn't mean it can't be done. It certainly can be done. Nothing in the process is more important than stability. If the Virginia Tech administration had listened to complaining fans, Frank Beamer would have been gone years ago and the Hokies would not be a top five team right now. LSU administrations had little patience and the result was 10 losing seasons in 12 years at a school with a magnificent tradition.

It's all about building a program, not whether one game is won or lost.

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