Tuberville out at Auburn after 10 years

Published 4:18 pm Wednesday, December 3, 2008

AUBURN – For most of Tommy Tuberville’s 10 seasons as Auburn coach, the Tigers were the best college football team in a state where that title is almost as important as the national championship.

In 2008, Nick Saban and Alabama took the state back as Tuberville’s Tigers faltered, and that was enough to make Auburn want a change in leadership.

Tuberville stepped down Wednesday, ending a tenure that included a perfect season and a string of teams that contended for Southeastern Conference championships.

He was 85-40 in his decade with Auburn, including a 13-0 season in 2004 when the Tigers finished No. 2 in the nation and won the SEC title for the first time in 15 years. But Auburn went 5-7 this year and was routed 36-0 at the end by rival Alabama, currently ranked No. 1.

“The last 10 years have been a great time in my life, both professionally and personally,” Tuberville said in a statement. “It’s been a great place to coach and live, and we’ve had a lot of success along the way. I’m going to remain in Auburn and help the Auburn family however I can. I’m very appreciative of the coaches, players, staff and Auburn fans over the last decade.”

Tuberville informed the players in a team meeting at the football complex after three days of meetings with Auburn officials. The players were not allowed to speak to the media as they walked out or lingered in the parking lot afterward.

“Tommy and I have had the opportunity to discuss the direction of the program,” athletic director Jay Jacobs said in a statement. “Through those discussions, Tommy felt it would be in his and the program’s best interest to step aside as Auburn’s head football coach.”

The Tigers lost six of their last seven games this season after a failed move to the spread offense that was abandoned — along with first-year offensive coordinator Tony Franklin — at midseason. Their first five SEC losses came by a combined 23 points, falling just short of the end zone on final drives against Arkansas and Georgia and twice losing by one point after missed PATs.

The season also included an ugly 3-2 win over Mississippi State.

Tuberville did not immediately return a call to his cell phone Wednesday. His contract was extended through 2013 after the previous season and was worth $3.3 million annually. It also included a $6 million buyout if he was fired after this season

Auburn’s statement said the buyout will be paid but no state or university funds will be used. Jacobs is scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday morning to discuss the coaching change.

Tuberville had led the Tigers to 42 wins over the previous four seasons, the fifth-most in the country.

That included a six-year winning streak in the Iron Bowl to give the Tigers in-state bragging rights for longer than ever before. He went 7-3 against the Crimson Tide but the Tigers were handed their worst beating in the series in 42 years last weekend.

It didn’t help that while they were struggling Alabama was going 12-0 in its second season under Saban, winning the SEC West and rising to the top of the polls.

Tuberville met with university president Jay Gogue on Monday and followed that up with two days of meetings Jacobs.

Auburn’s offense sputtered badly the past two seasons. Tuberville gambled with the hire of Franklin and a departure from the team’s more traditional, run-oriented attack, going to the no-huddle, spread at a school noted for turning out NFL-caliber tailbacks.

The Tigers finished 11th in the Southeastern Conference and 110th of 119 teams in scoring offense, and a midstream switch back to the smashmouth style didn’t help.

The biggest problems all were evident in the season finale against Alabama. The Tigers had three turnovers and never got clicking behind sophomore quarterback Kodi Burns while a talented defense that kept getting put back out on the field sputtered.

Auburn finished with its worst record since going 5-6 in 1999, Tuberville’s debut season. The team went on to win the SEC West the following year and captured at least a share of the division title four other times.

The Tigers often overachieved but struggled in two seasons when much was expected of them, including this one. The 2003 Auburn team opened with a No. 6 ranking but finished 8-5. His perfect ’04 squad opened at No. 17.

Tuberville joins Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom and Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer as SEC coaches stepping down this season after both teams also failed to live up to expectations.