Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tuberville Raus!

In the customary five thoughts format...

1. This is a dreadful miscalculation by Auburn. I've had a lot of "rank the coaches in the SEC" exercises with friends over the last several years and Tuberville invariably came out in the top half of the deepest coaching pool in the country. Tuberville made a mistake with his handling of the Auburn offense this year, but he also butchered the offense in 2003 (not quite to the same degree as this year, but still...) and rebounded the next year with an unbeaten season, the only unbeaten season by an SEC team this decade. Any head coach can make a mistake in hiring a coordinator for his weak suit. Rich Rodriguez made a mistake in putting together his defensive staff this year. Steve Spurrier made mistakes in hiring defensive coordinators before finding Bob Stoops. Pete Carroll has a still-uncorrected mistake on the offensive side of the ball. Bob Stoops struggled to replace Mike Leach and Mark Mangino before finding Kevin Wilson. The point is that Tuberville made a correctable mistake this year, but that doesn't change the underlying fact that he's a good coach.

The big variable here regards the discussions between Auburn and Tuberville about changes to his offensive staff. As a guy who constantly whined about Lloyd Carr keeping personal friends on staff who were substandard at their jobs (namely Andy Moeller and Mike Debord), I'm in no position to begrudge Auburn if they got annoyed with Tuberville putting his personal loyalty ahead of putting a top product out on the field. Tuberville handed his offense to Ensminger and Nall in 2003 and it was a disaster. He kept them as position coaches and they apparently became a major thorn in the side of Al Borges and Tony Franklin. If Tuberville was going to stick with them as a driving force in the offense, then this move makes a little more sense, although I would still direct some blame at Auburn for not trying to reach a middle ground. Sadly, we'll never know what really happened unless Tuberville and the Auburn decision-makers speak up and tell a relatively consistent story.

2. What does it say that two major programs in the South - Clemson and Tennessee - have made coaching changes this season and they guys they tabbed as their new head men have resumes that are completely inferior to the guy that Auburn just hired?

3. Tuberville's termination illustrates the danger of the coaching arms race going on in the SEC. As I've argued in this space before, the SEC has left the rest of college football in the dust in terms of turning increased revenue from football into brand name coaches. While an arms race can cause the participating nations to end up with vastly improved forces, it can also create major miscalculations. Country A is worried about the new tank being developed in country B, so country A abandons its current plans and goes hog wild in a new, uncertain direction. Or, country A foolishly invades country B because of fears that it won't be able to defend itself in a year's time from country B's new tank.

Auburn is overreacting to the fact that Nick Saban just had an unbeaten season at Alabama. Saban has proved himself (yet again) to be an excellent coach, but his success doesn't make Tommy Tuberville a bad coach, especially since Tuberville has a 4-3 record against Saban. Auburn's overreaction illustrates the danger of the SEC coaching arms race: program decision-makers getting too emotional and carried away by recent events and making irrational decisions as a result.

3a. Or maybe the lesson is simply that Bobby Lowder is a nut who always had it out for Tuberville and was going to axe him the moment he got a chance to do so. If so, good luck to Auburn convincing a new coach to come into this situation.

4. Auburn's and Tennessee's decisions to fire their coaches sure raise the stakes for coordinator hirings, don't they? The lesson coming out of this season may very well be that head coaches in the SEC cannot take risks on bringing in outsiders to make significant changes to their offenses.

5. In the summer of 2007, I started on a project comparing SEC coaches to World War II generals. I never got very far into the project, in part because of time constraints and in part because I didn't think there'd be much interest in such a specialized set of articles. The two posts that I did write compared Steve Spurrier to Heinz Guderian and Tuberville to Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower was not a great general, but he was masterful at assembling a good set of men under his command and then managing those underlings. Eisenhower managed to keep Patton and Montogomery, two massive, headstrong egos, effective in the same theater. Eisenhower made mistakes in his managing of the generals below him, namely in letting Monty go ahead with Operation Market Garden, but his overall work in command in Europe was excellent. He didn't intervene and let the generals on the ground do their thing.

In the summer of 2007, this seemed to be a good way to describe Tuberville. He brought in excellent coordinators and then gave them space to operate. He made good personnel decisions, such as replacing Gene Chizik with Will Muschamp. Tuberville's demise reflects that he is no Eisenhower. Tuberville lost his job for mishandling the conflict between his offensive coordinator and his position coaches.


Anonymous said...

Two Thoughts:

1) I tend to agree with the school of thought that Lowder was going to can Tubberville at the first possible moment he could do so. Tubberville may have been stubborn in keeping his dead weight on staff as well, but Lowder was going to drop the axe to settle his personal score.

2) It will be interesting to see how the Kiffin hire turns out. As of now, I have you down as predicting it to be major disaster. I'm a Tennessee fan and can see how some would question Kiffin's resume. However, summarily dismmissing Tennessee for hiring a coach with a shorter resume than Tubberville (as did Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops and many others at their current schools) is strange given that Richt had zero head coaching experience prior to becoming UGA's coach.

Kiffin seems to understand the value of surrounding himself with the best assistants available, which is something Tubberville and Fulmer (and possibly Richt in the future) had to learn the hard way.

Michael said...

I'm fine with hiring successful college coordinators as head coaches. That's what Georgia did with Richt and it makes perfect sense. My problem with Kiffin is that I don't think he was a successful college coordinator.

Anonymous said...

One of Auburn people's biggest concern with Tuberville was his recruiting falling off over the last several years.

He hasn't been able to sign any kind of offensive play-makers since the loaded 2004 team.

Winning despite your offense is the Tuberville way (he's said so himself), and it has led him to be unable to sign quality quarterbacks and receivers. He finally realized this last year and hired Tony Franklin, hoping to generate excitement among high school skill players. It worked initially (in terms of recruiting), but unfortunately he did not let Franklin hire his own staff, and that doomed it from the beginning. You can't mix the spread with old guard position coaches, and that was Tubs ultimate mistake.

He's has had the same core of position coaches for 14 years (really amazing). I think the Auburn brass finally confronted him about cleaning slate on the offensive side of the ball, and he balked.

10 years is a long time to coach anywhere these days, especially in the SEC. Part of me is sad to see him go, but the other part is excited about a fresh face. Hopefully they make a smart choice, and go with a young, energetic, offensive minded coach.