Thursday, November 22, 2007


Have to say, it's been an interesting few weeks watching Auburn's head coach perform the "Dance of the Reluctant Candidate" (one of the least popular and most rarely performed ballets of Tchaikovsky, a diehard Spartak fan), and by "interesting" I mean "increasingly troubling and depressingly predictable." Nothing that's happened so far in this saga has been surprising. Of course the national media plays the major coaching move card as often and as clumsily as possible; of course Tubby issues the classic "If you're asking whether I'm going to take that other job, why, I don't even know what you're talking about I've been so focused on beating Tennessee Tech" dodge in his effort to keep leverage; of course Auburn fans want the coach who just put together the best three-year stretch in program history to get his due; and of course just days later the combination of Tubby's continued let's-change-the-subject non-denial denials, demon in he shap of a pine box hanging over his left shoulder, and 25-point loss in a situation (road 'dog) he historically thrives in leads many of those same fans to angrily wish Tubby the best of luck in his new position if he wants it so friggin' bad. Jerk.

That talk has calmed down over the past few days with Tubby and Jay Jacobs apparently getting together to duet on REO Speedwagon songs and share a milkshake ... and with the focus naturally shifting from the coach involved to the game of some importance said coach will coach tomorrow.

The question is what prompted Tubby's change of tune, what took him from wriggling away from every attempt to pin him down like a wet bar of soap to saying the words "We're going to be at Auburn" in his press conference. None of this is accidental. Tubby didn't suddenly wake up at the beginning of the week and say "Oh, I thought I'd made myself clear about all that already. Guess I'd better just be a bit more straightforward."

Jay G. Tate called it PR-conscious "damage control." It's reasonable to think maybe Jacobs (or certain ethically-questionable trustees with their fingers on the pursestrings) let Tubby know through whatever channels get used for these things that his conditions are going to be met. It doesn't strike me as likely, but perhaps Tubby never really had the stomach for a battle, went ahead and threw in the towel, and added the "as long as they want us" as a qualifier in case Auburn stiffed him completely.

But the JCCW's take is that Tubby's new leaf is about his team. It's about this game, the one I feel he's had circled on his calendar since the day fall practice opened. He let his players twist for a while, trusted them to walk around for a few weeks getting asked "Hey, does your coach even want to stay here?" and stay focused enough to get it done in Athens. Maybe that had nothing to do with what happened there; maybe it did. With the Tide and the media's pre-season Chosen One now looming only a few days away, perhaps Tubby simply decided he couldn't hold out any longer, couldn't risk it having any bearing on Saturday.

I'm certain many Auburn fans would have preferred he didn't take those chances with the Georgia game, either. When Auburn is winning, it doesn't matter, but after a loss it comes down to the question Jay asked last week: does Tubby see Auburn as his final stop, the position and program that defines his career, as the job ... or just a job?

Honestly? I think it's somewhere in between. I think Tubby is happy. I don't think he wants to go anywhere for a while at least. But he's going to listen to other offers. He's going to angle for raises. He's going to consider leaving from time to time. To answer Jay's question, it's a job Tubby likes ... but yes, it's a job.

And I'm fine with that. I don't blame him for not wanting to get too attached to a program still lorded over by the same guy who provided the plane that flew to Louisville. I don't blame him for necessarily pushing for a salary closer to that of coach across the state. Don't blame him when no more than five or six of the top-25 have coaches committed and established enough that they couldn't/wouldn't dance the dance we've seen from Tubby.

So no, I don't care if it's just a job Tubby likes. All I want is for Auburn's coach to conduct himself and his program properly, show a little bit of a human side, and win.

That's the rub: at what point does Tubby treating it like a job hurt his ability to win? At what point is he putting his own concerns above those of the team? Because that's the point where I bail.

But based on Tubby starting this week--the most important of the season for his team--the way he did tells me we're not at that point yet. It will be nice to have Tubby around for another year (something I feel exceedingly confident saying we'll have), but it's even nicer having a coach who's not going to screw around, even if he might like to, with a game as like Saturday's, the one that colors and shades how we judge all the rest of them.

And it would be nicest having a coach who's beaten Alabama more times in a row than any other coach in Auburn's history. Go get 'em, Tubby. We're behind you.

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