Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
State of the Hogs: Tuberville still has soft spot for Arkansas
Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville stands with his players after an NCAA college football game against Memphis, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
FAYETTEVILLE — Tommy Tuberville isn't a coach. He's not an athletics director. He hasn't lived in Arkansas for more than 30 years, but he talked to the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club like he knew what was best for the Razorbacks' football program.
Among the topics covered:
• Don't leave the SEC; it's tougher than the Big 12, but the rewards are greater.
• Recruit east Texas with a fervor.
• Don't quit playing football games in Little Rock, but War Memorial Stadium needs improvement.
• Build your coaching staff with recruiters; the coaching can be done by one or two men.
“You don't want any part of the Big 12,” said Tuberville, who coached at Texas Tech from 2010-12.
“It might be easier, but the attention you get in the SEC is very valuable. You don't know what's going to happen with the Big 12. Texas and Oklahoma could move.
“You can struggle in the SEC then one year hit it big. I do think what Alabama is doing now is odd. It could change.”
Tuberville is out of coaching this season. He resigned after four years at Cincinnati, aching for a return to the South. He and his wife live in Destin, Fla., and he does TV work for ESPN on the weekends.
There's little doubt he's still in touch with the happenings at Arkansas. He has many friends in the state and makes frequent trips back to duck hunt. He's a graduate of Harmony Grove High School near Camden and Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia. He started his coaching career at Hermitage. He spent 1980-84 on the football staff at Arkansas State.
Tuberville's best years were at Auburn where the Tigers beat Alabama six straight seasons, including Nick Saban's first with the Crimson Tide. His 2004 team won the SEC title with a 13-0 record, but was not invited to play in the national title game because it finished in the BCS rankings behind Southern Cal and Oklahoma, also undefeated.
Tuberville was the choice of some for the Arkansas job when Houston Nutt was hired in 1998. He left Ole Miss for Auburn in 1999.
It sounded like he's ready to coach again. He told the TD club that he wants to return to athletics in some fashion.
“I'd coach,” Tuberville said when former Razorback football player Eddie Bradford - a member of the '98 search committee - asked about his future plans. “Do you have a job for me? I will be back in athletics in some form. I like being around young people. It keeps you young.”
Tuberville never played or coached for Frank Broyles, but he considers himself part of his coaching tree.
“I coached under Jimmy Johnson at Miami,” Tuberville said. “I coached with other Arkansas guys. I worked for Larry Lacewell. He worked for Barry Switzer. That puts me in that tree. I'm one of thousands in that tree.
“I got to know Coach Broyles pretty well. We played a lot of golf together at Augusta National. We'd go over things. We'd argue, but he always won.”
They discussed the problems with playing games in Little Rock.
“I knew why he wanted to move games out of Little Rock, but I think it's a mistake,” he said. “I grew up in south Arkansas. You can't take that away. It's going to cause problems.
“Now I may not understand the situation entirely, but I think it's a mistake to turn the Razorbacks into a regional team. To take the games out of Little Rock will slowly diminish the program."
Tuberville reiterated that the entire state needed to be behind the Razorbacks. He said War Memorial Stadium needs to be upgraded, but it can be done.
“You leave Little Rock, you start cutting people off," Tuberville said. "It will make it more difficult.
“I know some probably say it's about money, but, hell, find the money. If it costs money to keep all of the fans together, then find the money.
“Kids in Texarkana and Little Rock are not going to grow up as Razorback fans.”
Clearly, Tuberville did.
“I cried in 1969 for a year when we lost to Texas,” Tuberville said. “I'm still mad at Bill Montgomery for throwing two interceptions. I tell him that every time I see him. I was a huge Razorback fan. I still am.
“I think it's a special place. I think it got more special when the Razorbacks came to the SEC. It just got a little tougher.
“Little Rock is important. I wouldn't be standing here if there hadn't been games in Little Rock. It's the reason I wanted to get into coaching.”
Tuberville said the “SEC is a different animal” than any other league. It's about recruiting.
“I don't think the coaching is different,” he said. “It's the recruiting. You better understand the recruiting and it's different for every school.”
For Arkansas, it must be about working east Texas and Louisiana, along with protecting the borders of the state.
“I learned what Texas Tech recruiting was about,” he said. “I had to go to east Texas and Houston. You have to find the area that's 200 miles from your school and find the players there. You have to work the relationships.
“And, then in the SEC, you hire the right recruiters for that area. I always felt like one or two men could coach the team. I told coaches when I was hiring a staff at Ole Miss that they better be able to recruit, or it wouldn't matter who was coaching. Yes, you better hire some good coaches, but they become better coaches when there is talent.
“I don't think there is any doubt Bret Bielema can coach. He's my friend, too. Maybe he's learning the league. Maybe he's learning where he has to recruit. But I know he can coach and I tried to hire him to be my defensive coordinator at Auburn.”
Tuberville isn't friends with Bobby Petrino. Petrino had coached at Auburn, then came close to taking Tuberville's job early in his tenure at Louisville. Petrino was contacted in secrecy while Tuberville was still coaching.
“The way that deal went down was bad,” Tuberville said. “I've forgiven him, but I don't think I need to be around him. What was bad is that he knew all of our players. He'd just been there the year before.
“One thing I'll say, he got me a buyout. My agent negotiated the first coaching buyout because of that. I guess all of these coaches should pay me a little residual for that. There weren't any coach buyouts until then.”
Tuberville said coaching has changed. Part of that is social media. It's changed how the fans and players communicate. Some of that is not productive.
“These phones are great,” Tuberville said, pulling a smart phone out of his jacket pocket.
“You get a lot from it, but it takes a lot from you.”
Tuberville said he decided to reduce phone time for his players at certain points in game week.
“I went into the locker room and they all had head sets or were looking at their phones,” he said. “There were no fights, no horse play and no pranks. You need a little bit of that.
“So three years ago at Cincinnati there were days they couldn't have them. We started getting fights back and people getting popped by towels.”
Tuberville is amazed at the success Saban has had at Alabama, but doesn't think it will always be that way.
“It will turn some day,” he said. “But right now, he's managing everything exactly right. He's managing every aspect of recruiting.”
And, there is no replacement for recruiting.
“It's everything,” he said. “It's not coaching. Coaches are just managers. Who has the best players wins.”
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