Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tuberville's departure confusing, sad and regrettable

(Originally published 12/6/08)

I wanted Tommy Tuberville to stay.

Sure, it's been a disappointing year. But if you're wondering whether he could have turned things around, think back to what he inherited when he came to the Plains.

Tuberville wasn't just a fireman. He has been a reconstructionist.

And isn't it a testimony to Tuberville's success that 5-7 has been so painful? Thanks to Tuberville, we have had the luxury of forgetting the true despair of being 3-8.

On Oct. 20, amid rumors that his job may be in jeopardy, Tuberville said he was "looking forward" to being in Auburn 10 more years. "I put my heart and soul in this thing and we ain’t going to stop now," he said.

Sunday, Tuberville was similarly aggressive: “There's no doubt that we can get this thing turned back around ... I know what it takes ... I'm fully committed to doing it."

Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs told reporters Thursday that as late as Monday, his goal was to fulfill Tuberville's desire to stay at Auburn for another five years.

"Up until Tuesday, nothing was different," Jacobs said Thursday.

But then, Wednesday, the coach who had never showed any signs of wanting to quit suddenly did.


"I don't know. You'd have to talk to Tommy about that," Jacobs told reporters, recounting in a curious news conference that produced more questions than it answered how he and Auburn President Jay Gogue basically begged Tuberville to stay.

It is the newest and greatest mystery about what goes on behind closed doors in the Auburn Athletic Complex, how the coach who wanted to stay so much that he has said he will remain in Auburn for at least the foreseeable future couldn't work things out with the administration that wanted to keep him so much that it will continue to use him as an ambassador for the university.

Asked whether he believes Tuberville really resigned, Auburn center Jason Bosley looked as confused as everyone else.

"I just know what I'm told," he said.

Eighty-five wins over 10 years. Winning the SEC West. A conference title. Bowl bids in eight of the past 10 years. Cherished wins over our rival in six of the last seven. An undefeated season. A team that should have played for the national championship but was denied the opportunity by the BCS.

If that was all Tuberville had produced, it should have been enough. But there's more.

Student-athletes who placed an increased emphasis on their studies, proven by rising graduation rates. A cleaned-up program that never found itself in trouble with the NCAA, a welcome change from what Tuberville found when he arrived. A program that cares in equal measure about developing the character and athletic abilities of young men.

Tuberville leaves a record that stands for more than numbers -- though the numbers were great. He leaves a record of integrity.

Word has it that Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach would "walk on water" to coach in the SEC.

Given the curious circumstances of Tuberville's departure, Auburn's next coach –- whoever it is –- will likely find that skill handy.

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