In a conversation with a friend over the weekend, I was asked to write a column about what went wrong with Tommy Tuberville at Auburn and how it seemingly happened so fast.
It’s actually a pretty interesting topic and one I had previously given consideration. In the four-year period between 2004 and 2007, Auburn football experienced the greatest win total in any four-year period in its history. The Tigers went 13-0, 9-3, 11-2 and 9-4. That’s 42 wins in four seasons, which is the best stretch in any era.
The next closest was from 1986 to 1989 when the Tigers won 39 games going 10-2, 9-1-2, 10-2 and 10-2.
Of course, Tuberville’s teams in the 2000s were playing mostly 12-game seasons and a conference championship game. Pat Dye’s earlier teams were playing only 11-game schedules and Shug Jordan played just a 10-game schedule for a lot of his career.
Obviously, there were more opportunities to win games, but the league had expanded and one could argue there was more parity. Regardless, 2004-2007 is statistically the most successful run in Auburn history. Tommy Tuberville resigned or was fired the next year in 2008.
So, how did things go so wrong so fast?
Like anything else in life, the answer is a little complicated. First of all, winning does not equal a championship. Those 42 wins were wonderful, but all that winning resulted in only one SEC title. On the flip side, Dye and the Tigers won three SEC titles in 1987, 1988 and 1989.
Some people will say, “Yeah, but there was no SEC title game back then.”
So what? The Tigers were still SEC championships whether they were shared or not.
In 2005, one overtime road loss to LSU cost Auburn a chance to go to Atlanta. In 2006, a humiliating 37-15 home loss to a very mediocre Georgia team meant it was yet another year the Tigers didn’t go to Atlanta. Even back in 2002, a home loss to an Arkansas team with a true freshman quarterback kept them from a possible conference title.
Tuberville racked up a lot of wins, but only one SEC title in 10 years.
When things bottomed out in 2008, I think Tuberville was just worn out. Perhaps, he expected the fans to rally around him when he resigned like they did in 2003. It turns out the fans were worn out too.
Secondly, college football was beginning to evolve offensively. The Tigers’ offense ranked No. 25 and No. 37 in total offense in ’04 and ’05, respectively. Offensive coordinator Al Borges had come along at the right time implementing his West Coast offense with a roster full of NFL talent.
Then in ’06 and ’07, Auburn’s offense slipped to No. 76 and No. 97 in the country, respectively.
Only 17 teams in all of Division I averaged over 400 yards of total offense in 2006. That number jumped to 55 teams in 2007. There were 70 teams who averaged over 400 yards in 2019.
Tuberville was a little ahead of his time and knew he needed to update his offense. He hired Tony Franklin as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach which turned out to be a dreadful mistake. It might’ve worked if Tuberville allowed Franklin to bring in his own staff, but it was a house divided and predictably came crashing down.
Finally, a lot of people talk about recruiting and how Tuberville had gotten lazy toward the end. Actually, the ’06 and ’07 classes were two of the highest rated of his tenure at No. 11 and No. 9 nationally, respectively. Things did drop off in 2008 when Auburn’s class was ranked No. 21, but it was what was happening on the other side of the state that made the biggest difference.
Alabama’s Nick Saban was a juggernaut on the recruiting trail and it was painfully obvious to everyone he was a different animal altogether. Little did we know.
The 36-0 Iron Bowl whipping was just the final nail in the coffin.