Though nobody is talking publicly, Tuberville and Auburn officials reached agreement in principle earlier this week on a contract that will make it all but impossible, over the next five years, for him to be fired or to leave for another coaching job.
And that's a good thing for both.
The job Tuberville has done in his four seasons at Auburn might never be really understood by those who haven't watched up close. In November 1998, he inherited a program that was in serious danger of falling so far that it would have taken years to recover. The talent level was down, way down. Morale was at rock bottom. Though there were lots of good guys on scholarship, but there were too many malcontents, too many who weren't team players, too many who didn't grasp their responsibilities on and off the field.
That Tuberville had Auburn in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game two years after getting the keys to his office is truly one of the more remarkable coaching accomplishments in recent years in the SEC.
Tuberville has patiently rebuilt Auburn's talent base. The size, speed and athleticism evident on the field now compared to when he arrived is remarkable. Just as important, he has signed solid citizens and good students. It spoke volumes when Karlos Dansby turned his back on possible first-round money from the NFL because he said he wanted to play one more year with his teammates. Tuberville has had two nine-win seasons. He has held his own or better against Auburn's biggest rivals. He is poised to field what could be the best team of his head coaching career next season. And he's done it all without a hint of scandal.
Auburn showed its commitment by guaranteeing Tuberville would be paid at least $3 million should he be terminated for reasons other than NCAA violations. That amount will go up $200,000 each year of the contract. If Tuberville stays five years, he will receive another $1 million.
Tuberville showed his commitment by agreeing to pay Auburn $3 million should he decide to leave for another job. That is an all but unheard of commitment from a coach. What it all means is that Tuberville isn't going anywhere. It's not logical to think any new job would be worth ponying up $3 million. And it's not logical to think that Auburn would come up with $3 million or more to get rid of him.
Are big-time head coaching salaries getting out of hand? Of course they are. But that's the atmosphere in which athletic departments that strive to be the best operate these days. Mike Price got a guaranteed seven-year contract at $1.5 million a year at Alabama. Mark Richt got a similar contract at Georgia. Faced with an historic opportunity in football, Auburn needs stability. It has it. Any reports in the near future about Tuberville leaving or being on the "hot seat" should be greeted with a loud laugh.
From a personal standpoint, I didn't know Tuberville well when he was hired as Auburn's head coach. I know him well now, and he is class act professionally and personally. He is first and foremost a family man, devoted to Suzanne, Tucker and Troy. He takes his job very seriously but doesn't take himself too seriously. At heart, he's still the country boy from Camden, Ark.
Tuberville plays with his sons, Troy and Tucker, prior to bowl practice in Orlando, Fla., in December. Auburn defeated Penn State on New Year's Day at the Capital One Bowl.
It's at once amusing and sad to see how Tuberville is often portrayed by those who don't know him well. I've never been around a coach who cares more for the young men who play for him and the grown men who work so hard for him. Anyone who doubts that shouldn't take my word. They should talk to the players or assistant coaches.
Does it all mean Tuberville will win national championships? Not necessarily. He will put a team on the field next season that should be able to compete with anybody. But you can bet that USC, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee and others on Auburn's schedule will do the same.
At the highest level of college football, the difference between a great season and a good one often comes down to the bounce of the ball. All you can do as a coach in the shark-infested waters of the SEC is put yourself in position to win. When the season comes along in which you keep the right players healthy, have the right games at home and get a few bounces, you win a championship. What Tuberville has done is build a program on a solid foundation of commitment, hard work and doing things the right way. And that's what it's all about.