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Auburn Football Head Coaches

By on June 8th, 2019 in Football 9 Comments »

The last Auburn head coach to get hired away

     War Eagle, everybody! This week, I thought about previewing Auburn’s week two and week three football opponents. The Tigers have a couple of evening tilts scheduled against nonconference foes Tulane and Kent State. I took a brief look at the history of the two series, and learned a few things. Auburn has an all-time losing record against Tulane, which surprised me. Against the Green Wave, Auburn has 28 wins, 34 losses, and 6 ties. As best I can tell, Auburn and Kent State have never played in football.

     Last season, Tulane showed improvement, completed the regular season 6–6, and had a big bowl win over Louisiana in the Cure Bowl to finish 7–6. Now an American Athletic Conference member, the Green Wave team will come into Auburn looking to spring the big upset after a season opening tilt against Florida International in New Orleans.

     Kent State finished last in the MAC East last season, and 2–10 overall. Frankly, I expect Auburn to work on issues the second and third weeks. The games will likely be boring as Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn likes to show as little as possible in these sort of contests. Auburn will line up and try to run over both of these teams. Might have to do a little bit more against Tulane, but the Tigers should dominate Kent State.

     Rather than go through a mostly pointless position by position matchup, I decided to pull out the record book and look at Auburn SEC records by head coach. My main source on this is a book from 1991, called Where Tradition Began, put together by Wayne Hester of the Birmingham News.


     The Southeastern Conference was put together in early December, of 1932. For this study, I’m considering only games between SEC opponents. Games earlier than 1933 don’t count nor do tilts against foes when one or the other is no longer, or has not yet become, an SEC member. Auburn has had 12 coaches since the conference was founded. I’m going to rank them from worst to first, based strictly upon winning percentages in the SEC.

     The worst head coach in Auburn history was interim coach Bill Oliver, who won exactly zero percent of his SEC games in 1998, after the sudden resignation of Terry Bowden. Oliver’s SEC record was 0–3. Was Oliver the worst coach? Probably not. He inherited a pretty dismal situation, and the whole year was handled pretty messily. Oliver was basically told that he was going to be the next permanent head coach. Then a struggle against Central Florida ensued, a bad beating by Georgia, and Auburn blew a 17–0 lead in the Iron Bowl. Oliver was not retained, and a lawsuit followed.

     Checking in at number 11 is Earl Brown. Brown took over a struggling postwar Auburn program in 1948 and lasted 3 seasons. His record in the SEC was 2–18–2, with his lone claim to fame being a stunning 14–13 upset of Alabama in Birmingham in 1949. That works out to an SEC winning percentage of just 13.6 percent. Brown was fired, and a man named Ralph “Shug” Jordan campaigned for, and won, the Auburn head coaching job.

     Auburn coach number 10 is Carl Voyles. Due to World War Two, Auburn suspended football operations in 1943 and resumed having a team in 1944. Voyles was given the task of resurrecting the Auburn program and struggled badly. He lasted 4 seasons before being fired and replaced by Earl Brown. Voyles’ SEC record was 4–17, which works out to a winning percentage of 19.0.

     Coach number 9 is Gene Chizik, the only Auburn head coach to win a consensus national championship. Chizik was hired in 2009, peaked in 2010 when he won the SEC championship and Auburn was the national champion, then suffered a number of embarrassing blowout losses the next couple of seasons, which led to his firing. Chizik’s SEC record finished at 16–17, a winning percentage of 48.5.

     Number 8 in the countdown is Jack Meagher, who served 9 seasons on the Plains. He replaced Chet Wynne, who left for Kentucky in 1934. Meagher never won a championship but did take Auburn to its first 2 bowl bids, the Bacardi Bowl in Havana in 1936 and the Orange Bowl in 1937. Meagher’s SEC record was 26–25–7, a winning percentage of 50.9.

     Number 7 on the list only had 1 SEC season at Auburn, its first, in 1933. Chet Wynne finished 2–2 in the SEC, or 50 percent. Wynne was hired away by Kentucky after the 1933 season.

     Checking in at number 6 on the list is Doug Barfield, who replaced a legend in 1976 and lasted 5 seasons. Barfield was fired after going 0–6 in 1980 in the SEC. On the field, Barfield actually finished with a losing record, but Mississippi State was forced by the NCAA to forfeit a couple of wins over the Tigers. Officially, Barfield finished at 15–14–1, an SEC winning percentage of 51.7 percent.

     Standing in at number 5 on the list is current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, who was hired in 2013 to replace Gene Chizik. Malzahn took Auburn from worst to first in the SEC in 2013, but has been pretty mediocre since that year. Malzahn did get Auburn to the SEC title game in 2017 but suffered a blow-out loss to Georgia. Malzahn’s current SEC record is 29–21, or 58 percent. That percentage will go up or down this season and possibly beyond.

     The 4th best coach in Auburn history was also the longest-tenured. Ralph “Shug” Jordan started as head coach in Auburn in 1951 and retired at the end of the 1975 season. In his 25 seasons, Jordan had just 1 SEC title, and also the national title, in 1957. A long string of probation seasons hamstrung the squad in the early 1960’s, and the school transitioned to the color television and integration eras with Jordan at the helm. His SEC record was 98–66–4, 59.5 percent.

     Number 3 on the list is Tommy Tuberville. Hired in 1999, Tuberville won the SEC title only once in his 10 seasons, but won or tied for the SEC Western Division crown 5 times. Tuberville resigned after a disappointing 2008 season and a blowout loss to Alabama. Tuberville finished with an Auburn SEC record of 52–30, 63.41 percent.

     The 2nd best coach in Auburn history was Patrick Fain Dye, who was brought on in 1981. Dye served a dozen seasons and won or shared the SEC title 4 times. He resigned under pressure at the end of the 1992 as Auburn was suffering allegations of improper benefits to players and ended up on NCAA probation for a couple of seasons after Dye left. Dye was also important as an Auburn leader and administrator, taking a program drowning in red ink to a fiscally solvent operation. Dye also was able to force Alabama to play the Tigers every other season in Auburn. Dye’s SEC record was 48–27–3, 63.46 percent, just a photo-finish ahead of Tuberville.

     The top coach on the Auburn all-time SEC list may surprise you. Terry Bowden inherited an Auburn program on probation and in turmoil when he took over in 1993. Bowden won his first 14 SEC games and took the program to the SEC title game in 1997. Midway through the 1998 season, convinced that he was going to be fired, Bowden resigned. Bowden’s SEC record finished at 30–15–1, 66.3 percent.


  1. Jason Wright says:

    Interesting stuff Acid. Enjoyed the article, but if your considering only games between SEC opponents since the league was founded, seems to me you have to include Georgia Tech and Tulane in the percentages since they were part of the SEC for a good number of years.

    • AUwaterboy AUwaterboy says:

      Let’s not forget SEC charter member the Sewanee Tigers!

      • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

        …..I noted that. Auburn has not played Sewanee since the SEC started.

  2. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I did count Georgia Tech and Tulane games, till those pair left the league in the 1960s. What got me started on this track was when I saw a list of “fun facts” about Auburn vs. Tulane, and realized that Auburn had a losing record to them. In fact, 6 games under .500.

  3. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..People just thought Chizik’s last year was bad. Those Voyles and Brown teams would take one drubbing after another, for weeks on end.

  4. zotus zotus says:

    Acid, speaking of Terry Bowden and his place in history as Auburn’s football coach, I’ve heard some people say that (in more ways than just a few) Terry Bowden will go down in history as Auburn’s Mike Price.

    People who say that, mention a bunch of similarities the two ill-fated SEC coaches shared, here are a couple: Good record? Yes. Good hire? Not so much.

    We all remember Mike Price. Mike Price never lost a SEC game as head football coach at the University of Alabama. Pretty good record as far as it goes. But, what is done (or not done) on Saturdays is not as far as it goes. Not in the SEC.

    Mike Price’s legacy at Alabama is that he has no legacy. Mike Price appears to have been “air-brushed” from history in UAT circles, official and otherwise. You won’t find Mike Price’s name any lists. It’s as if Mike Price was never there.

    Nobody I know is suggesting air-brushing Terry Bowden from Auburn history. Leave that for places like Tuscaloosa and Moscow. Whether there’s “Lists” or “No Lists” — I believe Terry Bowden’s history at Auburn has already been written in Lee County Alabama: Good record? Yes. Good hire? Not so much.

    P.S. In retrospect, the smart money would have said — back when the wheels started to come off at Auburn in 1998 — that it was never going to end well for Terry Bowden. And, of course, it didn’t end well for Terry Bowden. Sad really. But, as Linus once said in the funny papers: “There is no heavier burden than a great potential.”

  5. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Bowden won some big games at Auburn, unlike Mike Price. Our issue from about the end of 1996 thru 1998 is that “smart money” didn’t get its way. I thought it was really awful when athletic director David Housel publicly called Bowden out after the 1996 season, and said basically “we have no confidence, and aren’t extending his contract.” Bowden was dead in the water, at that point. Recruiting fell in the tank, as opposing coaches leaped on this sentiment.

    …..Bowden wasn’t blameless in the story, either. There have been various internet rumors about certain conduct, but I’ll stick to the issue that can be substantiated. Bowden bailed on his players, in 1998. I think it was a costly financial decision. It took a dozen years of recovery, but Bowden did have stints in coaching at North Alabama and Akron. No sniff of a Power Five job, not to mention the SEC.

  6. zotus zotus says:

    I would like to make the following part of the official TET record.

    To address the TET readership for one minute, and to revise and extend my remarks of last week, when I said, ” In retrospect, the smart money would have said — back when the wheels started to come off at Auburn in 1998 — that it was never going to end well for Terry Bowden. And, of course, it didn’t end well for Terry Bowden.”

    Turns out, I may have jumped the gun. Turns out, the last chapter of Terry Bowden’s career in college football has not been written yet, or so we’ve been told.

    In this morning’s fish-wrapper it has been reported that recently terminated Akron Zips Head Football Coach Terry Bowden has entered the Master’s Degree program at Clemson and will an unpaid graduate intern.

    So there you have it folks, the world will have to wait a while longer to see if it ends well, or otherwise, for graduate intern Terry Bowden. I am happy to be able to set the record straight.

    I yield back the rest of my time, Mr. Speaker.

  7. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I was surprised by the story, myself. Don’t guess he’ll get to call plays in this gig. That was a strength of his with the offense at Auburn, during his tenure.

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