March 18, 2009

Tuberville adjusts to life without spring practice

He spent last Wednesday playing golf at Augusta. Then, he drove his family down to the Florida coast for spring break. He's sharing more time with his wife and two sons, he has scheduled some speaking engagements, he's taking a trip abroad and he's cashing huge checks basically for doing nothing.

One would think Tommy Tuberville just won the lottery rather than just lost his job. One also would think he would be content to take it easy and live off the $5.1 million buyout Auburn had to pay for firing him.

One would be wrong.

Tuberville's internal clock is telling him spring isn't a time to relax; it's a time to rebuild. It isn't a time to catch Zs; it's a time to teach Xs and Os.

"It's different. This spring is the first time in a long time I haven't been around the Xs and Os part of football," he said via cell phone while driving to the beach. "A big part of coaching is being around other coaches, putting plans together and seeing it all work. But it's been good at times."

Tuberville enjoyed a bunch of good times in 10 years on the sideline at Auburn. He posted an 85-40 record, had a 5-3 record in bowl games, won or shared five SEC West titles, won an SEC championship, defeated 15 opponents ranked in the top 10, had a 7-3 record against archrival Alabama and fielded an undefeated team in 2004.

Now, again, why was he fired? Perhaps a better question: Where will he be hired?

Tuberville figures to be a hot commodity when coaching jobs start coming open in December. No job candidate out there will have a better résumé than Tuberville, who was a part of three national championship teams as an assistant at Miami and posted three winning seasons in four years at Ole Miss before moving on to Auburn. As soon as the 2009 season ends, the "Tuberville Sweepstakes" figures to begin.

This offseason, 22 new coaches were hired by Football Bowl Subdivision programs. Only Bill Snyder, who came out of retirement to return to Kansas State, has a résumé to match Tuberville's.

Tuberville wants to get back on the sideline, but not just any sideline. He's too good and too proven to take over a pseudo-program that would be content just to reach a bowl – any bowl.

Even though that avenue worked out well for Dennis Erickson, who went to Arizona State after a season at Idaho, it wouldn't be an attractive option for Tuberville. But the possibilities for his future are intriguing.

Miami is 12-13 in two seasons under coach Randy Shannon. If another disappointing season follows, will the administration look at Tuberville, remember that he was part of the Hurricanes' glory years and look to make a change?

What about Texas A&M, which had a disappointing 4-8 showing in its first season under Mike Sherman. What if the Aggies struggle again? Would A&M consider making a move after just two seasons to court Tuberville, who was the Aggies' defensive coordinator in 1994? By the way, A&M went 10-0-1 and ranked fifth in the nation in total defense that season.

"I don't wish anybody bad will," Tuberville said. "Something is going to happen somewhere. There are some places I'd coach and some I wouldn't. I want to go somewhere where they are committed. You've got to get everybody on the same page. If you can't get everybody on the same page, it's not going to work."

The key figures at Auburn often didn't seem to be in the same book. In 2003, with Auburn on the way to an 8-5 finish, the university president, athletic director and a prominent booster plotted to fire Tuberville and hire then-Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, who previously had been on Tuberville's staff.

The coup failed when the media learned of the plan, and the next season Tuberville led the Tigers to an unbeaten season. But USC and Oklahoma, which opened the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2, also went unbeaten and Auburn did not get a chance to play for the national championship. It is a slight that still eats at Tuberville today.

"We had a good football team, as good as I've ever been around and when I was at Miami we won three national championships," he said. "I'll never get over it, but I kind of understand it. How often do the No. 1 and No. 2 teams go undefeated the entire year? We just couldn't break in. Oklahoma and Southern California went wire-to-wire.

"I still think we could have given both of them a run for their money. We'll never know. That was the year after they tried to fire me. It's kind of ironic how that all worked out."

Tuberville said he has no bitterness.

"When I went there for the job, I knew the circumstances," he said. "I knew what I was going to be up against. Ten years at one place in the SEC is a long time. What [former Tennessee coach] Phil Fulmer did was amazing."

Tuberville has plenty going on to keep him from swimming in bitterness. He'll be a guest speaker at Notre Dame and USF spring clinics. In late May, he'll visit U.S. military bases in the Middle East as part of a coaches tour that includes Texas' Mack Brown, UCLA's Rick Neuheisel, Air Force's Troy Calhoun and Ole Miss' Houston Nutt.

This fall, he'll work as an analyst for ESPN, though he's uncertain whether he'll be in the studio or in press boxes.

He'll even have an opportunity to attend his oldest son's football games. This fall, Tucker Tuberville will be a sophomore quarterback at Auburn (Ala.) Lee Scott Academy.

All that will keep Tuberville busy – but he really wants to coach. He hopes to reassemble his old staff, to scheme, draw some Xs and Os, to develop game plans, to take the field on Saturdays and celebrate wins.

He will. He's had too much success for an athletic director in need of a coach to ignore. Look for him on the sideline somewhere in 2010.

Until then, he'll keep playing Augusta, taking trips to the beach, hanging out with family – and cashing big checks.


Not so lame

Detractors labeled Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin as "Lame" Kiffin after his rocky start on Rocky Top. Recall that he rankled feathers across the SEC with smug comments and falsely accused Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating. He'd only been on the job a few weeks when a newspaper columnist in Birmingham, Ala., suggested Tennessee should fire Kiffin to avoid further embarrassment.

But then he signs running back Bryce Brown, the nation's No. 1-rated prospect, to cap a top-10 recruiting class. Tennessee, which was 5-7 last season, may struggle again this fall, but if Kiffin continues recruiting like that, the Vols will be nationally relevant again soon.


Have arm, will travel

Former Miami quarterback Robert Marve has listed USF, Michigan, Texas Tech, UCLA, Nebraska and Purdue as schools to which he'd consider transferring. Not surprisingly, all but USF have uncertainty at quarterback, but their situations could be stabilized by 2010. Under NCAA rules, Marve must sit out the 2009 season. Marve started 11 games for Miami last season and passed for 1,293 yards with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions.


On the Edge

Each week, we'll match two teams to determine which has the edge in various categories. Got a matchup you want to see? Send it to olin@rivals.com and we'll work on it.

USC vs. Florida State
1. Head-to-head competition
Florida State leads the all-time series 2-0 (14-7 in 1997, 30-10 in 1998).
Edge: Florida State
2. Most impressive streak
Florida State: Fourteen consecutive top-five finishes in the final AP poll from 1987-2000.
USC: Seven consecutive top-four finishes in final AP poll from 2002-present.
Edge: Florida State (Still twice as impressive as USC's run.)
3. Heisman-winning quarterbacks
Florida State: Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke.
USC: Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart
Edge: Florida State (Ward, Weinke and Leinart led national-title teams. Palmer did not.)
4. NFL first-round draft choices
Florida State: Has had 34 first-round selections, most recently Lawrence Timmons in 2007.
Southern California: Boasts 71 first-round selections, most recently Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers, Sam Baker and Lawrence Jackson in 2008.
Edge: USC (The Trojans boast more first-round picks than anybody, and that total will rise next month.)
5. Former players turned movie stars
Florida State: Burt Reynolds
USC: John Wayne.
Edge: USC (Nobody beats "The Duke.")
6. Ill-fated recruits in major motion pictures
Florida State: Quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) wrecks his knee and his playing career ends prematurely in "Varsity Blues."
USC: Running back Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut) is killed in a drive-by shooting in "Boyz n the Hood."
Edge: USC ("Boyz n the Hood" was a better movie – and I had a speaking part in "Varsity Blues.")
7. NCAA scandals
Florida State: A recent academic cheating scandal. The Seminoles were forced to vacate wins, serve four years' probation and face reductions in scholarships.
USC: Reggie Bush's agent scandal. Bush's family allegedly received more than $100,000 in benefits from an agent. That supposedly included rent-free use of a $757,500 home for a year.
Edge: USC (The NCAA has taken no action in the Bush case.)
8. Successful former coaches who failed in the NFL
Florida State: Bill Peterson
USC: John McKay
Edge: USC (As Tampa Bay's first coach, McKay had one of the greatest quotes ever. Asked what he thought of his team's execution, he responded, "I'm in favor of it.")
9. Insulting reference to school's initials
Florida State: FSU = Free Shoes University
USC: USC = University of Spoiled Children
Edge: Florida State (Steve Spurrier's jab was funny.)
10. Equestrian mascot
Florida State: "Chief Osceola" charges down the field aboard Renegade, an Appaloosa, and plants a flaming spear at midfield to open home games.
USC: A Trojan warrior sits astride Traveler, a white Andalusian who gallops around the Coliseum as the band plays "Conquest" when USC scores.
Edge: Florida State (Any act involving fire gets the nod.)

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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