Jeopardy time on the Plains
In the wake of Jetgate in 2003, most college football observers concluded that Tommy Tuberville was probably the most secure head coach in America. It didn't hurt that Tuberville followed up that public relations meltdown for schools officials by going 13-0, 9-3 and 11-2. Toss in five straight over Alabama and Tuberville had more job protection than the Queen of England.
There was another factor as well – t price tag on his head.
Thanks to some shrewd moves by his lawyer, Jere Beasley, Tuberville walked away from the negotiations (more like a heist thanks to Ed Richardson's naivet/) following the perfect season with a buyout that began at $7 million (for the first two years) and is now down to $6 million.
But here's the rub for Tub.
Is that such a big price in light of what $4 million a year has seemingly done for Alabama? After watching the ESPN Instant Classic between Arkansas and Alabama Saturday night, is there a Tide fan alive who doesn't believe the $4 mil for Nick Saban was the best investment since Manhattan Island was grabbed for $24 from the Indians?
So flipping the coin for a moment, how many Auburn fans right now believe paying off Tuberville wouldn't be such a bad idea to turn this quick fade around?
Let's face the facts. Auburn has one game that matters in the remaining nine regular-season contests – Nov. 24 at home against Alabama. A win against Alabama and some of the sewage spillage can be cleaned up. A loss and all the typical Tubervillian excuses will go on deaf ears. Excuses work in the first year or two. Not in a head coach's ninth season.
Oh, a big win on the road against Florida or LSU would go a long way toward changing the direction of the program. However, the chance of either happening is about the same as Saban being hired back next year by the Miami Dolphins.
Tuberville still has some good will with fans based on his restoration of this Auburn program from the mess it was in when he inherited it nine years ago. But he's spending capital like the winner of the Powerball on a drunken binge with his buddies in Las Vegas.
The result of being "Croomed" by Mississippi State, particularly at home, is usually disastrous. See Ron Zook and Mike Shula.
If you want to keep up with a coach's popularity, take a look at empty seats in the stadium and the demand for tickets. There were plenty of seats to be had Saturday at Jordan-Hare – despite a chamber of commerce day – and you will be guaranteed your own section this weekend for the game against New Mexico State. After that, home games loom against Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Tennessee Tech.
You can bet good tables at Lee County's finer restaurants, and plush luxury suites at area inns will be easy to find for that collection of stinkers.
One can only imagine the misery of the Auburn fan on Saturday. After suffering through the humiliation of losing to a program like MSU (everyone's preseason pick as the SEC's worst), the only salvation would be watching Alabama lose to the Hogs. However, before the fried chicken could be gobbled and the sweet tea downed, the Tide was out to a 21-0 lead and seemingly putting the game away at 31-10. Then, then there was the reversal of fortune and adrenaline rush of watching the Hogs pour 28 points on Saban. For the first time all year, Auburn fans were able to take pleasure in someone else's misery.
Then, the dagger through the heart as Bama pulled out the last-second heroics. For all the bravado from folks about Tuberville's 3-2 mark against Saban, which coach do you think Auburn fans would rather have today?
What makes it more difficult is you can easily see the obvious weaknesses on Alabama's team. That wasn't hard to pick up during the full metal assault by Arkansas in the third and fourth quarter. But you could also see the brilliance of the head coaching by making the right moves at the right time and the confidence he has instilled in his players.
Can the same statement be made about Tuberville's decisions against Mississippi State? I'm behind Brandon Cox. No, I'm not. I'm behind Kodi Burns. No, I'm not.
So, has Alabama already passed Auburn without even taking a shot at ending the five-game losing streak?
Clearly, much of this is yet to be determined on the football field.
However, in the world of perception, Alabama fans feel like their program is back and competing again only three weeks into the season and Auburn folks are despondent and playing the blame game.
Which brings us back to Tommy Tuberville. Is he the right man to be leading this Auburn program? Can he get this mess turned around?
Or is he leaking oil worse than the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound?
The fact these questions are even being posed and discussed might tell the story. Tuberville has the security of a $6 million price tag on his head. However, if things don't change quickly, will it be enough to keep him in the good graces of the Auburn family?
Paul Finebaum is a guest columnist for The Franklin County Times. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.