Destin, Fla.--After a whirlwind tour to Germany, the Middle East and a Memorial Day visit with President George W. Bush at the White House, Tommy Tuberville said on Tuesday that he is tired but glad he joined a group of four other college football coaches who spent the past week hanging out overseas with United States servicemen.
“It was even more productive that I would have ever imagined,” Tuberville said from Destin, where he is involved in the annual Southeastern Conference meetings that started on Tuesday.
Tuberville joined Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, Georgia’s Mark Richt, Miami’s Randy Shannon and Yale’s Jack Siedlecki on the tour sponsored by Under Armour in association with Armed Forces Entertainment and Morale Entertainment.
Tommy Tuberville is shown aboard the USS Nassau.
Tuberville says he enjoyed spending time with the coaches as well as the military personnel and others he met on the tour. “I had known most of the coaches,” he says. “I coached Randy and I know Mark Richt pretty well. Charlie Weis, I didn’t know him that well, but I spent a lot of time visiting with him. Jack Siedlecki from Yale, I had never met him before.
“I thought everybody worked real hard together,” Tuberville notes. “We had one common cause, which was to go over there and do as much goodwill as we possibly could. I am not so sure at the end, as I told President Bush, that we didn’t get more out of it than the troops because it was really fulfilling to go over there and have the opportunity to see what you see on television every day in a more positive light.”
He points out the coaches probably spent 50 hours flying together in a C-150 tanker and were involved in activities from sunrise to midnight every day on their tour. “We were around each other almost 24 hours a day for seven days and we never really talked football because there was so much to do and so many people to talk to,” Tuberville notes.
Tuberville left poses for a photo on the USS Nassau along with (left to right) Yale's Siedlecki, Notre Dame's Weis, Miami's Shannon and Georgia's Richt.
The Auburn coach says when he began the tour he already had a great deal of respect for the men and women in the military service. He notes that the trip more than just confirmed that opinion.
“I was very much encouraged by the determination of troops,” Tuberville says. “They are not over there just to put their time in, they are over there to do it right.”
The coach adds, “It is good to know that people over there really enjoy what they are doing and are good at it. I thought they went over there dreading going and when they got home they were excited about getting home and didn’t want to go back.” He says it didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t the case.
“One kid we saw the first day we were in Germany had lost part of his leg,” Tuberville recalls. “Charlie Weiss and I were talking to him. He told us, ‘Coach, this is my fourth tour. I wanted to come back every time and if they let me come back after this I am going to come back again.’ It was very emotional."
Tuberville notes in the next bed there was another seriously injured soldier. “He said, ‘This is not going to run me out of here. This is just a setback for me.’ The courage these young people have is just amazing.”
Other highlights of the trip for Tuberville include:
*“The commander of the western fleet is an Auburn man,” Tuberville says. “I had a chance to speak to him for quite a bit of time and he told me a lot about what is going over there.”
*The coach notes that crew members on the USS Nassau were particularly excited to have the coaches as visitors. “I enjoyed spending time on the ship with young men and women who are on there for eight months or a year at a time,” Tuberville says. “It is a tough duty that helps secure the Marines and Navy.”
Airman Romaine Taylor participates in an NFL style combine the coaches ran on the USS Nassau.
*Tuberville told President Bush he is impressed with the troops and the technology he saw in the theater of military operations. “I told them I know we are on the right team,” the coach says. “The troops are very mature and they have a lot of enthusiasm. They really know what they are doing and they are very well trained.”
*Tuberville says he enjoyed meeting soldiers from across the country and got a kick out of how many college football fans were there to see the coaches. “A lot of these people had been waiting for a long time to see us. They had drawn up posters and they had flags they had been flying they wanted us to sign and not just Auburn. I signed LSU things, I signed Alabama things, Tennessee things...Notre Dame things. It was fun being around all of the people there who love college football. One thing that stood out is that every one of them told us they appreciated us coming because they don’t get to see many people from back in the States. They see each other and that is about it.”
*Tuberville points out the security was very tight and very impressive. “It was triple or quadruple the security when you go to the bases as compared to going to the White House.”
*Under Armour, which has a marketing arrangement with Auburn as the university’s official apparel supplier, won praise from Tuberville. “Under Armour was the big sponsor of the trip, which we do appreciate,” he says. “They were the ones that stepped up and paid for everything and for everybody to go over there. Kevin Plank and his organization deserve a lot of credit for that.”
*Dealing with the heat was a challenge, but the coaches were able to cope. “We signed (autographs) in 110 degree weather,” Tuberville says. “At times they tried to get us out of the heat, but there are not a lot of ways to do that over there. We tried to spend as much time as we could under tents.”
*Commenting on the addition of the side trip to the White House to see the president, Tuberville says, “They called about halfway through the trip and asked if we would stop by and see him on Memorial Day. President Bush was going to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at noon and he was actually waiting for us when we got there and we all decided to go (to the White House). We changed clothes, put a suit on, and it actually felt great to take a shower and clean up a little bit. We marched right in and they took us in the White House. He was in the Oval Office waiting on us. He was very appreciative and he knew each coach’s name.”
Tuberville says that Bush told him that he remembered his campaign appearance on the Auburn campus at Plainsman Park as one of “the best ones” he ever made. “I told him I saw him come by,” Tuberville says. “We were practicing and didn’t have the opportunity to take the team over there.”
Tuberville (in orange hat) and the other coaches participate in a question and answer session with Ivan Maisel as the moderator.
*Commenting on what he talked to the president about on Memorial Day, Tuberville says, “We talked to him about what we saw, the emotion of the troops, and he asked us questions about morale and things like that. He talked a little bit about the Middle East and our involvement there, which we have all heard, and trying to give those people a better way of life so they can handle their own affairs, which I think is a great thing to do because there is not a lot over there in terms of organization.
“He asked us each about what we thought about our trip and the troops. We talked about the Oval Office and the responsibilities. He said he was the president, but the office of president is not about a person, it is about leadership. He was good. He gave us a good speech. You could tell he is a very smart guy. You could tell he is very understanding and sympathetic for what is going on over there. He has been over there many, many times.”
Tuberville adds that he got the impression that Bush enjoys college football. “I think he hated to see us go because he was glad to talk to somebody who just got back from over there,” the coach adds.
Tuberville poses with Auburn graduate Justin Cobb, a Navy helicopter pilot.
*Joining Richt to coach the winning team in a flag football game at a military was fun., the coach says. The contest was played on an 80-yard field of compacted sand and dirt that the troops had built during their time off. Tuberville notes that the players took the game seriously and had trained for a long time prior to the coaches’ arrival.
Mark Richt and Tuberville (background) are carried off the field after their "SEC Team" defeated an "ACC team" at U.S. Air Base in the Middle East.
“We played for about an hour, or hour and half,” Tuberville says. “One player on our team was an Air Force Academy graduate who played football there. He was a tight end who could really catch the ball. We had a running back who I think played at Marshall University. There were some good athletes. They were into it. We kind of got out of their way. It was very competitive and it went went down to the end. They had a big barbecue for all of the troops who wanted to come. I am sure there were 8,000 to 10,000 people there.”
Tuberville's team (in yellow) won the football game.
*The coach says he enjoyed passing out souvenirs with an AU theme. “I brought coins to hand out that said Auburn University, God Bless the Troops with an American flag and a football. In the military they do pass coins around and swap them around. It is kind of like a business card. For some, it is more of a recognition thing.”
2008 Inside the Auburn Tigers Football Guide
Premium Subscription Signup
Subscribe to Magazine Only