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Birthday boy Tuberville a proud Arkansan

By: Wally Hall
Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville walks the sideline in the 3rd quarter of Saturday's game Oct. 11, 2008, at Pat-Day Field at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.
Photo by Michael Woods
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville walks the sideline in the 3rd quarter of Saturday's game Oct. 11, 2008, at Pat-Day Field at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.

It was obvious Tommy Tuberville felt at home and comfortable.

At the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday he kept taking questions from the audience until David Bazzel finally announced last call. Tuberville had just 1½ hours to catch his flight when he finished his last answer.

Tuberville, who shared his birthday with the crowd of about 400, is so well-liked in Arkansas he is claimed by both Hermitage and Camden as being his hometown, and both are serious about it.

Tuberville is in his first year away from college football since Larry Lacewell brought him to Arkansas State University in 1980. During that first year, he rode with Lacewell to Little Rock for a television interview. Before the cameras went on, Lacewell said Tuberville was on the bullet train in college football.

It didn't happen that fast, but in his 14 years as an assistant he got well-groomed. He worked at Miami and then Texas A&M before getting the call in 1994 asking him to interview for the Ole Miss job.

The Rebels had just been through an NCAA investigation and were under heavy NCAA sanctions. But in his third season, the Rebels were 8-4 overall and 4-4 in the SEC, and Danny Ford was fired at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks search committee, made up of former Razorback players, made him and Houston Nutt its finalists.

The story has been told that Tuberville got all but one vote on the first ballot. Then-Chancellor John White had told the committee he wanted a unanimous choice. Several hours later, after some loud debates and changed minds, the lone holdout for Tuberville broke his pencil and gave in.

Tuberville was never bitter.

He landed at Auburn a year later in 1999, and he once gave Nutt a ride on a private jet when the old Arkansas plane couldn't pick up its coach because of weather.

Tuberville was there 10 years -- the first and last were his only losing seasons -- but almost from the start he was challenged by a booster on the Auburn board of trustees who was so powerful that he refused to leave when his term expired and was allowed to continue to serve.

During an 8-5 season in 2003, midway through his tenure, the booster ordered Auburn's president and athletic director to contact Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino before the season was over. At first they denied contact, as did Petrino, but the airplane manifest proved they had flown to Louisville. Confessions followed immediately, and Petrino broke all contact.

Tuberville was offered a new contract and at the suggestion of his agent, Jimmy Sexton, the first-ever buyout clause was added to the written agreement.

Tuberville went 13-0 in 2004, then 9-3, 11-2 and 9-4. During a 5-7 season, another head coach was contacted by the booster, which violated the contract and forced Auburn to pay Tuberville $5 million if he opted to leave.

He soon after took the job at Texas Tech and ended up at Cincinnati, where he went 29-22 overall and 18-14 in league play.

But Tuberville, who turned 63 Monday, decided it was time to settle down in Destin, Fla., (his wife's choice) and go to work for ESPN.

It was his second time to speak at the Little Rock Touchdown Club, his first since he retired from coaching.

Monday he was funny -- especially when taking good-natured shots at yours truly -- and humble. He was adamant that Bret Bielema is a good coach and that Arkansas should play Arkansas State.

Mostly, he was an Arkie who came to his home state to celebrate his birthday talking football and having some fun.

Sports on 09/19/2017


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