Can Coaches of Tigers And Tide Be Friends?

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn football and basketball.

Mike Price and Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville have been friends for more than a decade. It'll be interesting to see if they are able to stay that way.

Price, named head football coach at the University of Alabama on Wednesday, is known as one of the good guys in the coaching profession. He's said to be a caring man with a quick sense of humor. He and Tuberville came to know each other when Dennis Erickson left Washington State for Miami. Price became head coach at Washington State and Tuberville was on Erickson's staff. Price's son was a graduate assistant at Miami. Tuberville, like Price, is well-liked by his peers. He is good and caring man who is loyal to his friends and intensely loyal to his players. But friendship does not come easy between coaches at Auburn and Alabama, especially in football and basketball.

Shug Jordan and Bear Bryant shared mutual respect, but it would not be accurate to say they were friends. Pat Dye and Ray Perkins were friends before Perkins became Alabama's coach and friends after Perkins left, but there was tension between them when they were competing against each other. Dye and Bill Curry never saw eye to eye on much of anything. There was scarcely concealed antagonism between Terry Bowden and Gene Stallings.

Sonny Smith and Wimp Sanderson managed to pull it off. They were friends before they came to share the same state, friends while competing and are friends today, doing a radio show together in Birmingham.

It's not on the field or the court that coaches at Alabama, Auburn and other SEC schools get cross ways. It's on the recruiting trail. When Price goes recruiting in SEC country he's going to learn just how vicious college football can be. I hope Tuberville and Price can pull it off. Maybe they can. From what I've heard of him, I can't see Price doing something as silly as Dennis Franchione's refusal to mention Auburn by name.

If Tuberville and Price can remain friends or just have a publicly friendly relationship, it might go a long way toward turning the volume down on the rivalry in this state. And it desperately needs to be turned down. Price is a good coach. Tuberville is a good coach. That's as it should be. With the tradition at Auburn and Alabama and the salaries they pay, there would never be a reason for either one not to have a good coach. Auburn has a good program. Alabama has a good program. Is it a pipe dream that we could have healthy competition in this state and everybody could get along? Probably.

HOOPS TROUBLES

Even during last season's meltdown, Auburn's basketball team never looked any worse than it did in losing 72-54 to Western Michigan on Tuesday night. With the SEC season fast approaching, one has to wonder now just how much of a chance the Tigers really have to stay in the race.

Turnovers have been a problem all season, and they proved costly against Western Michigan, a decent team from the Mid-American Conference. Coach Cliff Ellis has said consistently that something must be done to stem the tide of turnovers, but it hasn't happened. Ironically, the turnovers have not come from inexperienced point guards but from veteran players. Against Western Michigan, seniors Marquis Daniels and Derrick Bird and sophomore Marco Killingsworth accounted for 17 of 22 turnovers.

Auburn fans have to take a share of the blame for basketball troubles, too. Crowds for December games have been pitiful. At schools where basketball is really big, fans turn out to watch their teams, regardless of the opponent. It's been that way in short bursts at Auburn, but never for long. A better schedule would help, of course. A more battle-tested team might not have had such a puzzling lapse as the Tigers did against Western Michigan. There are whispers that Ellis needs to get his team to the NCAA Tournament or his hold on his job could be shaky. If what happened against Western Michigan is anything more than an aberration, that could be an all but impossible task.

BOWL SEASON

The bowl season is under way. Already, North Texas has beaten Cincinnati in the New Orleans Bowl and Marshall has beaten Louisville in the GMAC Bowl. You'll hear and read for the next few weeks about how there are too many bowls. I don't agree.

I had no interest in watching the New Orleans Bowl, so I didn't. I had only a little interest in the GMAC Bowl, so I only watched a little of it. But I don't understand why it bothers some people that the games are played. Fifty-six teams will play in bowls. I wouldn't care if there was 156. What does it hurt for more young men to have that experience and feel good about their seasons? No one has to watch.


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