Marshall Column: Tuberville and the LSU Vacancy

It was bound to happen, I guess. Once Nick Saban said he was leaving LSU for the Miami Dolphins, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville's name was going to come up.

It started with Tony Barnhart's story on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution web site Sunday and took on a life of its own. "Sources" were saying all sorts of things. Barnhart, one of the more respected sports journalists in the nation, reported that a source said that Tuberville had told his agent, Jimmy Sexton, to listen if LSU wanted to talk. The Mobile Register even quoted a source, not a very good one, saying that Tuberville wanted the job and would take it if offered.

The fact is that Tuberville never had serious interest in the LSU job. Why? Because it's no better than the job he has now. He led the Tigers to the first 12-0 season in school history, and that buys a considerable amount of good will. He will soon sign a seven-year contract worth more than $15 million. And let's be honest. It wouldn't be a good fit anyway. LSU fans, for the most part, can't stand Tuberville. The kind of program he has built at Auburn would seem out of place at LSU. Can you really see LSU players locked arm in arm and singing "Hard Fighting Soldier" in the locker room? I can't.

The word dynasty has been thrown about a lot since Saban announced Saturday he would leave after LSU's game against Iowa in the Capital One Bowl. It is popular to say that Saban was building a dynasty at LSU, but I find that a bit puzzling.

What is it that makes it appear LSU is or was about to be any kind of dynasty?

Sure, Saban won a national championship last season, a magnificent accomplishment. But the fact is that season wasn't as good as Auburn's season this year. LSU lost 19-7 to a mediocre Florida, team at home. It was the Bayou Bengals' good fortune that nobody went through the season unbeaten. It was Auburn's bad fortune that the top two teams in the preseason poll did it this season.

Before 2003, Saban had a five-loss season and a four-loss season in his first three at LSU. In 2002, he lost 31-7 to Auburn and 31-0 to Alabama on consecutive weeks. His first LSU team, in 2000, lost to UAB. LSU won the SEC championship in 2002 with a 5-3 conference record by upsetting Tennessee in the championship game. Had it not been for Auburn's collapse down the stretch, LSU wouldn't have been in the picture at all. That LSU team was crushed at home by Florida and even lost at home to Ole Miss. In five seasons at Michigan State, Saban lost fewer than five games in a season just once.

LSU has plenty of advantages, no doubt. It has its pick in a state with plenty of players and has a rabid and loyal fan base. But that same school had eight losing seasons in 11 years before Saban arrived. For all the talk about how fearsome Tiger Stadium is, LSU's home record is in the bottom half of the SEC.

Tuberville is shown at Auburn's SEC Championship Celebration at Toomer's Corner.

Saban is a terrific coach who did a terrific job. He may have done his best coaching job this season, getting his team through numerous close calls and going 9-2. But unless you base building a dynasty on the meaningless number of stars given to recruits, that talk just doesn't hold water.

There are six really good jobs in the SEC. They are Florida, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, Auburn and Alabama. History says each of those schools will have its time in the sun. Arkansas isn't bad, but it isn't on that level. It remains to be seen if Steve Spurrier can take South Carolina where it has never been before. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky simply don't have what the others have.

There's a reason Mike Donahue was the last head coach to leave Auburn for another head coaching job. You can win at Auburn. The resources are there. The fan base is there. Players in three states live closer to Auburn than any other major football school.

Tuberville was given the first draft of his new contract shortly before he boarded a plane for New Orleans on Monday. Once on the ground, he emphatically denied any interest in the LSU job or any other job. He repeated what he said last Wednesday, that he is committed to Auburn and has no desire to leave.

Who knows who LSU will hire? There is talk of Louisville's Bobby Petrino, Oklahoma State's Les Miles and of Butch Davis, late of the Cleveland Browns and formerly of the University of Miami. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher could get into the mix, but athletic director Skip Bertman has said he wants someone with experience as a head coach.

What is safe to say is it won't be Tommy Tuberville.

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