Sometimes the best move is standing pat

Published 4:36 pm Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Alabama football team is unbeaten, ranked No. 1 in the country and playing for a Southeastern Conference championship on Saturday. The Crimson Tide, of course will get its share of attention from state media this week, but how little people are talking about Alabama is a testament to the job Tommy Tuberville has done at Auburn.

There is less talk about the Tide, of course, because of the speculation surrounding Tuberville’s job status.

‘Bama fans are understandably giddy about their situation only two years into coach Nick Saban’s tenure. In a state where the team in the East constantly combats a complex of inferiority to the team in the West, the possibility of Alabama playing for a national championship would be enough to dominate headlines.

But, by orchestrating Auburn’s longest winning streak over its in-state rival and by compiling an impressive record in games against top-10 teams, Tuberville has made sure that his program matters. People are talking about the Tigers, for sure, they’re just talking about something other than what Tuberville would like. A questionable hiring, a questionable firing, a losing record and a 36-0 loss in the Iron Bowl will do that to an Auburn coach.

Perhaps we’ll know more about Tuberville after the conclusion of a series of meetings with Auburn University President Jay Gogue and Athletic Director Jay Jacobs. The length and number of these meetings, however, seem to indicate Tuberville doesn’t enjoy complete support at the moment.

The brothers Jay—or former coach Pat Dye or any number of trustees—may decide Tuberville’s time at the school has come to a close. That decision, however, will probably prove to be a much more difficult one than selecting a successor.

Tuberville’s firing, justified or not, should depend on the Auburn insiders’ confidence they can bring in a better coach. Much can be learned from a quick study of the coaching searches of two programs: Clemson and Tennessee. Other than wearing the color orange, all three programs are similar in that they play in BCS conferences, play for fan bases that have high expectations and struggled this season while playing for a coach with a long tenure.

Tennessee was looking for a sexy hire and came up with Lane Kiffin. Kiffin has coached in the NFL, had tremendous success as an offensive coach and recruiter at USC and may bring with him his defensive guru of a father, Monte Kiffin. Clemson took the interim tag off Pelham native Dabo Swinney after he led the Tigers to wins in four of their last five games, enough to earn a bowl trip.

While both of these hires may turn out better than we could ever imagine (and I especially hope that is indeed the case for Swinney), the fact remains that neither has proven himself as a college coach. The Auburn decision makers, and fans, should look at it this way: If you could strip away the personal feelings that may have emerged about Tuberville and look solely at the qualifications, which is the best choice for a head football coach, Kiffin, Swinney or Tuberville?

Clemson and Tennessee both tested the waters and came out with what they thought was the best coach available. Neither—or perhaps no one else Auburn could find—is a better coach than Tuberville.