By Jay Coulter
Greatness is a word that means different things to different people. That’s certainly the case when judging the success of a college football program. Earlier this week, Phillip Marshall of The Huntsville Times questioned whether Tommy Tuberville has built a great program at Auburn.
No one will argue that he’s build a solid program. And there’s little argument the program is in better shape than he found it. That all goes without saying. But has he truly built a great program – one of the very best in the country?
Marshall says not yet. But the numbers beg to differ.
Let’s take a closer look at Tuberville’s first nine years on the Plains and compare them to the standard-bearers of Auburn football – Shug Jordan and Pat Dye. Most would agree that both built great programs. After all, they have their names on and in the stadium and both are members of the College Football Hall Of Fame.
In nine years at Auburn, Tuberville has a record of 80-33. During this time he’s made eight bowl appearances, won an SEC Championship, finished in the top 25 five different times and carries a 7-2 record against Alabama.
Most importantly, his 2004 team finished 13-0; the best season in school history. In the 2005 NFL Draft, Tuberville had four players taken in the first round.
During Pat Dye’s first nine years on the Plains he had a record of 81-25-4. He led Auburn to eight bowl games, won four SEC Championships, finished in the top 25 seven times and had a 6-3 record against Alabama. He also produced a Heisman Trophy winner in Bo Jackson.
Like Tuberville, his third-ranked 1983 squad (11-1) was passed over for the national championship despite beating Michigan in the Sugar Bowl on a day when the top two teams lost.
Shug Jordan posted a 63-27-3 record during his first nine years at Auburn. He led Auburn to three bowl games, a national championship, an SEC championship, finished in the top 25 six times and was 5-4 against Alabama. His 1957 national championship team was ineligible for a bowl game due to probation.
When you look at the numbers side-by-side, it’s hard to argue that Tuberville hasn’t built a program that’s every bit as good as Jordan’s and Dye’s. One could argue that Dye was more successful at this point due to his four conference championships.
It’s a point well taken and is probably what caused Marshall to stop short of calling Tuberville’s program great. Some will argue that it’s much more difficult these days to win a conference title than it was during Dye’s tenure because of the SEC Championship Game. I’m not sure you can argue that point with any validity. Name me a year when it has been easy to win the SEC?
While the numbers do compare Tuberville favorably to Jordan and Dye, I can see Marshall’s point. Tuberville has made it to the mountain top only once, although it was Mount Everest. Will one more conference title cement his greatness?
What about Jordan? He only won one conference title, but it was paired with a national title. Should Tuberville be penalized because the voters got it wrong?
You’ll have to decide for yourself. My mind is made up.
Tuberville has reached greatness at Auburn – his program is among the elite in the country. He’s raised Auburn’s profile in the college football world, expanded the recruiting base, consistently wins against top 10 teams, competes for championships and has dominated the state of Alabama in a way that’s unprecedented in the history of the school.
More important than anything else is how he does it – the right way. His players make their grades and graduate, they stay out of trouble (for the most part) and the NCAA has not so much as sniffed Auburn’s way since he arrived on campus. This alone makes Tuberville one of the all-time Auburn greats.