40 Years Ago: The 1974 Auburn Tigers

It was September 14, 1974 and the unranked Auburn Tigers opened the season at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL. The Tigers were led by Ralph “Shug” Jordan who was entering his 24th campaign as head coach. The opponent was the Louisville Cardinals who were coached by, then unknown, Lee Corso. Auburn came out on top that night, 16-3, in a game that didn’t give fans any reason to expect the run the Tigers were about to embark on.

I was sitting on the end of a bleacher seat in Troy, AL, with my ear glued to a transistor radio, listening to Gary Sanders call the Auburn game. It was incidental that the Trojans were embroiled in a hard fought game with Northeast Louisiana, a game which they won 20-19. I trudged back to my fraternity house, Lambda Chi Alpha, happy that Auburn had won but wondering what the remainder of the season held in store.

The Chattanooga Moccasins, not named for the snake but the moccasin shape of the river near their home, were next up and did not create much anxiety or apprehension in the week leading up to the game. Auburn summarily disposed of the visitors 52-7. Many of of us who attended the game left at halftime to get a head start on that evening’s festivities.

The following Saturday on The Plains was an entirely different story. The 14th ranked Tennessee Volunteers were coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time EVER and all in attendance would rarely even take a seat during this highly anticipated contest.

The previous year UT had beaten AU 21-0 in a driving rainstorm in Knoxville. Adding insult to injury, Tennessee punted on first down more than once knowing the combination of the downpour and the inept Auburn offense were probably not a threat to score that afternoon. They did not. The Vols came out on top 21-0.

The 1974 game was shaping up as a doozy. Neither team had lost and the Vols had been installed as a four point favorite. I told anyone who would listen to take Auburn and the points. This was a true “lock.” There was no way Auburn was going to lose this one… and they didn’t. The Tiger defense, led by linebacker Ken Bernich and bookends Rusty Deen and Liston Eddins, gave Vol All-American quarterback Condredge Holloway and his entire offense fits. The visitors would not score. They almost failed to cross the fifty yard line even once.

Auburn reserve fullback Kenny Burks scored three touchdowns in leading the Tigers to a most impressive 21-0 win. Yes, 21-zip. The same score the Vols had won by in ’73. People were beginning to take notice.

Visiting, and eleventh ranked, Auburn pulled out a squeaker in the rain against the Miami Hurricanes the following week. The Tigers vaunted defense was number one in the country. Miami had a stout group of defenders themselves. Auburn 3, Miami 0.

The Tigers were now on a roll as they mowed down their next three opponents. Their veer offense had come on strong to complement the stifling defense. Quarterback Phil Gargis along with running backs Secedrick McIntyre and Mitzi Jackson were putting up big rushing numbers. Gargis was also teaming up with wide receiver Thomas Gossom for some big plays through the air. The scores of said trifecta… Auburn 31, Kentucky 13, Auburn 31, Georgia Tech 22 and Auburn 38, Florida State 6.

On November 2, the undefeated Tigers went into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL ranked number five in the country. The Florida Gators were ranked at number eleven. The game was nationally televised. Hopes were high. Those hopes were dashed as the home team came away with a 25-14 victory.

Regroup and press on. In week nine Auburn got by a very tough Mississippi State Bulldog squad 24-20 in Jackson, MS. Even over the radio, the home team’s cowbells were deafening. This prompted Shug Jordan to complain loudly to the SEC office and the artificial noisemaker ban was spawned.

The Georgia Bulldogs were next up in Auburn. They came up on the short end of a real nail-biter, 17-13.

Now the stage was set for a showdown between seventh ranked Auburn and the number two Alabama Crimson Tide. Sitting with friends in the Auburn student section, I saw the Tigers come ever so close to pulling off the upset on a classic autumn day back in Legion Field.

Bama managed to go to the locker room with a 10-7 lead over the Tigers. They stretched their lead to 17-7 in the third stanza on a 13-yard run by Calvin Culliver. Late in that quarter Phil Gargis hit what appeared to be a 41-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Gossom. The points were put on the scoreboard, and then they were taken down. An official, who was far removed from the play, said Gossom had stepped on the boundary line and the score was called back. This same official had not even thrown a flag.

Gargis scored late in the fourth quarter on a two-yard run. Auburn missed on the two-point conversion attempt. They got the ball again with time running out and moved into Tide territory. In a bit of trickery, the Tigers ran a reverse to end Dan Nugent. He was met near the line of scrimmage by linebacker, and future head coach on the Capstone, Mike DuBose and was jarred loose from the ball. Bama recovered the fumble and went on to win, 17-13.

Auburn regrouped after the Iron Bowl and played the Texas Longhorns in the Gator Bowl. The Tigers were underdogs to Coach Darrell Royal’s team. They were having none of that. They dominated their Southwest Conference foes in a 27-3 walloping.

Auburn wound up the 1974 season 10-2. Their final rankings were number eight in the AP poll and number six in the UPI poll.

1974 was a great year for the Auburn Tigers as they far exceeded everyone’s expectations. It is now forty years later and expectations are sky high. Will they meet or exceed those expectations? The answer from here is a resounding YES!

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Auburn vs. Ole Miss: Glancing Back and Peering Forward

My first recollection of an Auburn vs. Ole Miss game is the Liberty Bowl of 1965. The two teams had not met since 1953. This was the first time the Liberty Bowl was played in Memphis. It was held in Philadelphia from it’s inception in 1959 through the 1963 season. In 1964 the game was played in Atlantic City.

Ole Miss escaped that 1965 game with a 13-7 win. Tailback Tom Bryan scored Auburn’s only touchdown on a 44-yard scamper. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and its Outstanding Offensive Back. The Tigers’ Robert Fulghum was selected as the Outstanding Defensive Back.

IMG_23831973 was the season that I attended my initial Auburn-Ole Miss brawl. And that it was, a defensive battle.

The game took place on October 6th of that year. That was the day old Cliff Hare Stadium was dedicated as Jordan- Hare Stadium.

Coach Jordan was, of course, humble in his receiving this honor and his Tigers responded with a 14-7 victory.

Halfback Rick Neel broke a 7-7 tie with a 33-yard touchdown burst with just over one minute remaining in the game.

One of the most exciting games of the series occurred on January 2, 1971 in the Gator Bowl. Auburn was led by junior quarterback, Pat Sullivan. Ole Miss also had a decent signal caller heading up their offense that day. His name was Archie Manning.

Auburn broke out of the gates with a vengeance by rolling to a 21-0 lead before the Rebels roared back to cut the lead to 21-14 at halftime.

The teams battled fiercely for the remainder of the game, several Gator Bowl stats were broken, with Auburn finally securing a 35-28 win.

And, probably, THE most exciting game of the series took place in Oxford in 2014. Click below:
Now, for those of you who love numbers and history, here are some more. The last six Auburn coaches’ records versus Ole Miss:

Shug Jordan, 4-3

Doug Barfield, 2-0

Pat Dye, 4-1

Terry Bowden, 6-0

Tommy Tuberville, 7-3

Gene Chizik, 3-1

Gus Malzahn, 2-0

The meetings between the two schools had been sporadic until divisions were created in 1992. Auburn leads the series with a 29-10-0 record against the Rebels.

The first time the schools met on the gridiron was in Birmingham in 1928 with the Tigers taking the win, 19-0.

The largest margin of victory came in 1985 when Bo Jackson ran for 240 yards on 38 carries to lead Auburn to a 41-0 victory.

The longest winning streak stands at nine, with Auburn taking games interspersed between 1971-1991.

Auburn vs. Ole Miss 2015

Last year’s contest was an elimination game, of sorts, and the same holds true for Ole Miss this year. The Rebs control their own destiny but if they lose they can more-than-likely kiss any chance to win the SEC West goodbye.

The 2015 Auburn Tiger football season is at a critical juncture. The same could have been, and probably was, said about last Saturday’s tough loss in Fayetteville. It rings ever more true with each succeeding game.

If Auburn fails to win, then any chance of a very good bowl game will disappear with the breeze which will waft away from Jordan-Hare Stadium around mid-afternoon this coming Saturday.

IMG_2329The Rebels had an impressive, 23-3, win against Texas A&M last Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Quarterback Chad Kelly had a big night throwing for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Laquon Treadwell was on the receiving end of five of those passes. They totaled 102 yards.

Laremy Tunsil, star left tackle on the Ole Miss O line, returned to the lineup after completing a seven-game NCAA suspension for receiving illegal benefits. It appeared to have rejuvenated their ground attack as they rushed for 230 yards. They only ran for 40 yards the week before at Memphis.

I’m not going to rehash the details of Auburn’s excruciating loss, in four overtimes, at Arkansas last week. If the Tigers hadn’t dropped eight passes and two interceptions it would have been, truly, a different story. Hey! It would have been a different story if Tiger receivers had caught only HALF of those whiffs. SIGH.

But take heart Auburn fans! Redshirt freshman quarterback, Sean White, is getting better each week and it appears he could be a star for the Tigers sooner than later.

Here is a look at some of his numbers.

White completed 19 of 32 passes, in the Arkansas game, for 254 yards and zero interceptions. Add back only half of the eight drops and you have a completion percentage of .719, and many, many more yards. Probably well over 300 and, possibly near 400.

On the season he has thrown 97 passes and completed 62 for 805 yards. That’s over 200 yards per game. He has one interception. That came in the Miss State game.

And hopefully it’s going to get even better for the young QB.

Now, forget the numbers. The thing that impresses me most about Sean is his competitive spirit, his confidence, and his leadership. The kid LOVES to play and he gives it 110%.

He comin’!

Peyton Barber. Another baller. The guy really has a nose for the end zone. He found it four times against the Razorbacks. And he’s rushing for 110 yards per game.

And… AND… Carl Lawson practiced for the first time Tuesday! Will he play Saturday? We don’t know yet, but that is very encouraging!

Also, Auburn’s defense played better. After garnering 14 first quarter points, Arkansas scored only 10 points in the last three quarters of regulation play.

If defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, can get similar results as those this Saturday, the Tigers will have a solid chance at winning the football game.

So, Auburn is playing to get better. They’re playing for pride. They’re playing for the opportunity to continue toward a 9-3 regular season record and a very good bowl game.

Ole Miss is playing for an opportunity to continue toward an SEC West Championship and, potentially, a College Football Playoff berth.

This is a HUGE game for both teams. A loss, for either squad, effectively ends the realization of lofty post-season goals.

Auburn has not committed a turnover in its past three games. That is a very good thing. If the Tigers can again protect the football, improve on both offense and defense, and get its expected high level of play from special teams, they have a good chance to win.

This game should be a Battle Royale. I expect Auburn and Ole Miss to come out breathing fire and leave everything on the field.IMG_0546

It should come down to the fourth quarter and whoever wants it most should win.

Here’s how I see it.

Ole Miss, trailing 21-20 late, gets a long TD pass from Kelly to Treadwell. 27-21, Black Bears.

Auburn, in an effort to salvage its season, gets a kickoff return of 87 yards from Rudy Ford. This puts the ball at the Rebel 13.

White hits Kamryn Pettway, coming out of the backfield, for a 12-yard gain.

Peyton Barber hammers it in from the one. The PAT is good. Auburn up.

Blake Countess then intercepts a late pass from Kelly and Auburn holds on for a 28-27 win!

You heard it here first!

Before He Was “The Head Ball Coach”

It was Saturday, October 30, 1965. And it was a beautiful day for football! My father, mother and I were on our way from Lower Alabama to the Plains of Auburn for a homecoming game that matched our Tigers with the Florida Gators.IMG_2355

The visitors were a heavy favorite. They were bringing an impressive 4-1 record into the tilt, while the home team, with losses to Baylor, Georgia Tech, and Southern Mississippi, was really struggling that year at 2-3-1.

The contingent from Gainesville, Florida was lead by a brash young kid from Johnson City, Tennessee. His name was Steven Orr Spurrier.

This was the first game ever televised from, what was then, Cliff Hare Stadium. It would later be re-named Jordan-Hare Stadium for, then, legendary head coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan.

Coach Jordan was given to referring to the Gator quarterback as “Steve Superior”.

“Superior” had led his team to wins over non-conference foes Northwestern and North Carolina State. They sported SEC victories over LSU and Ole Miss. Their lone setback came at the hands of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

When the LeCroy clan finally made it to Auburn, it seemed like it took an eternity to get there, they headed over to the home of Nelle and Bill Mims, my aunt and uncle. Aunt Nelle was my mother’s sister. Uncle Bill was retired from the Georgia-Pacific railroad. They had moved to “the loveliest village” where he now had a job with Buildings and Grounds at Auburn University.

Uncle Bill quipped to my father that he might have to drive the jeep that would carry the ABC television camera up and down the home sideline as this was an altogether new venture for the school.

I thought that would be the greatest thing in the world! Would I be allowed to ride in the jeep? As it turns out, this did not come to pass, but that was okay. There were some big fish to fry later that day.

And what a day it turned out to be!

The visiting Gators led the home underdog Tigers 10-0 at the half. Junior quarterback, Spurrier, had thrown a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jack Harper and their kicker, Wayne Barfield, booted a 26-yard field goal. The sellout crowd, of 45,000, was dismayed but not daunted.

The Tigers regrouped at the break. And it turned out to be a tough second half for the young quarterback from the mountains of East Tennessee. Auburn middle linebacker, Bill Cody, intercepted a Spurrier pass and returned it for 29 yards and a touchdown. Spurrier also fumbled at the Florida 10, in the fourth quarter, and it rolled into the end zone. Cody was also the recipient of this snafu that gave Auburn an insurmountable lead.IMG_2358

The Tigers scored 28 unanswered points in that second half. Spurrier threw a late TD pass to Charlie Casey, which mattered little, and Auburn upset the Gators, 28-17.

It was a big win for the home team and a hard learning experience for the tough, talented and talkative young Gator QB.

October 29, 1966 was a horse of a different color.

Florida was celebrating homecoming this time around.

60,000 fans had jammed Florida Field, which was later dubbed “The Swamp” by an alumnus who had returned to coach the Gators in 1990 ;).

Florida was undefeated and Steve “Superior” was their senior quarterback. They also had designs on an SEC Championship, a National Championship, and a Heisman Trophy for their team leader.

The game turned out to be a see-saw battle which went down to the wire.

Auburn took the opening kickoff and Larry Ellis returned it 89 yards for a touchdown.

It’s on!!!

Florida retaliated with a 10-yard TD pass from Spurrier to Richard Trapp. They also scored on a 2-yard TD run.

Auburn stunned the old Gator grads with a 90-yard fumble return and added a 30-yard field goal by Jimmy “Rattlesnake” Jones before halftime. They took a 17-13 lead into the dressing room. The Tigers opened the second half scoring with a 27-yard field goal.

Florida immediately tied it when Larry Smith scored a TD from two-yards out. It was 20-20.

Spurrier put the home team on top with 2-yard sneak, early in the fourth quarter, but Auburn quarterback, Larry Blakeney ran one in from the three after Yearout recovered yet another fumble at the Gator 16.

The game was tied, 27-27.

Spurrier then began to engineer a march toward the Tiger goal line, but the drive was stopped when the Gator field general was called for an intentional grounding penalty.

It was now fourth down with just over two minutes remaining in the game and Florida at the Auburn 26 yard-line.

A field goal attempt would be 40 yards and that was outside the comfort zone of the Gator’s regular placekicker.

Spurrier had kicked 40-yard field goals in practice and begged Florida head coach, Ray Graves, to give him a shot at it.IMG_2359

He did.

You can imagine what happened. It was like something out a sports novel for young kids, or maybe the popular AMC TV show, Friday Night Lights.

Yes, Steve Spurrier nailed the field goal, with 2:12 remaining, Florida captured very hard-fought 30-27 win and, as most of you know, Spurrier went on to take home the Heisman Trophy.

Those are my first memories of Steve Spurrier, or “Superior”, and his heroics on the gridiron.

You know the rest of the story. I don’t need to recount it for you here, yet again.

Many, many tales of championships he won at Duke and Florida have “swamped” television, newspapers, and social media over the past week. And you know of his unprecedented success at the University of South Carolina, from which he recently resigned. You also know of his failure to generate a winner on the NFL level with the Washington Redskins.

I’ll never forget the great upset wins Auburn had over number one ranked Gator squads in 1993, ’94, and 2001. But those were the ONLY three wins my Tigers were able to generate vs. the “evil genius” during his tenure at Florida. Auburn’s final record stood at 3-10 against Spurrier and the Gators.

OUCH!

IMG_2357

There are many fan bases that “Darth Visor” has rubbed the wrong way over the years. Cough cough… Georgia and Tennessee.

But I have always really liked him and have truly enjoyed following the journey of Steven Orr Spurrier. My son and I have had numerous conversations in “Spurrier Speak”. They would begin something like, “Well, we found out nobody had ever scored fifty points on Georgia in Athens before, so we thought we’d try that!”

Priceless!

I laugh when I think about it and about him.

I know you’ve probably also read many of Spurrier’s famous quotes from over the years. I’ll leave you with, possibly,one my favorites. It’s from the lips of the only Heisman winner he coached, Danny Wuerffel. This was after Wuerffel had thrown a costly interception. He then apologized for the turnover.

Spurrier replied, “Danny, it’s not your fault, it’s my fault for putting you in the game.”

So here’s to the “Head Ball Coach”!

May he not, “Go gentle into that good night.”

Damn It Anyway

Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers will open the 2015-16 men’s basketball season on November 13th versus the UAB Blazers at Auburn Arena.

Here is a projected look at the starting five which includes four who did not start last season for the Tigers:

1. Kareem Canty 2. T.J. Dunans 3. Danjel Purifoy 4. Cinmeon Bowers 5. Tyler Harris

OH WAIT!!! It’s not basketball season just yet, DANGIT!!!

Ok folks, just a feeble attempt at humor during a time when it is much needed, especially with the position the football team has now found itself in.

Now, let me pose a few questions to you. What if you knew, before the season began, that neither Carl Lawson nor Jeremy Johnson would be in the starting lineup? What would you have thought? What would your projection be as far as wins and losses after five games?

And how about these stats?

*After five games last season the Tigers were averaging 268.0 rushing yards per game and 229.2 passing yards while posting a 5-0 record. This season the numbers are 190.0 rushing yards per game with 153.8 passing.
Defensively, after five games last season the Tigers were allowing 100.2 rushing yards per game and 206.4 passing yards. This season the averages are 209.6 rushing yards allowed per game and 202.4 passing.
Last season through five games the offense made 21 trips into the red zone and scored every time with 17 of those touchdowns. This season the Tigers have scored on 13 of 17 red zone trips with 10 touchdowns.

*Taken from Inside The Auburn Tigers at Auburn.scout.com

Chew on this for a bit:

SportSourceAnalytics ‏@SportSourceA
With Duke Williams’ dismissal, @FootballAU now only has 16.6% of their offensive production back from 2014. Lowest in #FBS. #Auburn

“Sobering is probably not the right word, because alcohol may be the only solution for remainder of season.” (Author’s comment from the above which was taken from Twitter.)

And my reply which is taken from Willie Nelson:

“Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it, ‘Cause I know just what I’m gonna do, I’ll start to spend my money callin’ everybody honey and wind up singin’ the blues, I’ll spend my whole paycheck on some old wreck, And brother I can name you a few, Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it, ‘Cause I know just what I’m gonna do…”

Well there you have it. Thank you for reading the the column! Tip your waitresses! See you next week! Drive safely! We love you!

Noooooooo… but LAWD, ain’t it tempting?

Auburn now stands at 3-2 and 0-2 in the SEC.

That’s where we are. Where do we go from here? Will the Tigers win even ONE conference game? Will they make a bowl? Can they right the ship?

Here is the ONLY thing that I know for sure. And this is guaranteed. AUBURN WILL NOT LOSE SATURDAY. It will not happen. Bet the farm on it.

And most of you are already quick onto this ruse. Auburn cannot lose Saturday because they have an open date.

Ok! Let’s dig for that silver lining I mentioned in a previous column.

In spite of what you’ve heard, Auburn won last Saturday. Yes, the opponent was San Jose State but I will sure as heck take it. SJS had more first downs, more yards rushing, and more yards passing; but Auburn had more points. It’s a place to start. It’s something to build on. The Tigers also ran the ball well, with Peyton Barber doing the most damage. It’s something to build on.

Sean White didn’t exactly air the ball out, he was 6 for 10, but he had ZERO interceptions. He made some good decisions and he seemed to provide some spark and leadership. It’s something to build on.

Also, Auburn gathered four turnovers and had ZERO themselves. Yes, they put the ball on the ground but they did not LOSE a fumble. It’s something to build on.

Auburn may not have looked like the Packers of the 60’s but they WERE opportunistic. It’s something to build on.

Now, back to the present and the immediate future. Auburn, mercifully, finds itself with that open date. Talk about something that was needed. Hallelujah!

In practice the team has gone back to the basics. They are working on fundamentals. They are doing some one on one work. It appears that the coaches and players have turned up the intensity and focus. That is what they’d better be doing because, if they don’t go all in and improve from week to week, then we’re all looking at a record of 4-8, most likely.

People, Gus Malzahn, Will Muschamp and the rest of the coaching staff did not suddenly turn stump dumb. They did not forget how to coach. There have been circumstances, both within, and without, and beyond their control, that have brought them to this point. They are doing everything possible to get this thing turned around. You can bet on that.

Earl Brown was the head football coach from 1948-1950, just prior to Shug Jordan’s hiring. He won a total of three games in those three years. His final season saw the Tigers go OH and TEN. OH yeah. he was quoted as saying Auburn was, “a graveyard for coaches.”

And then along came Ralph “Shug” Jordan.

Shug, himself, was quoted as saying something to the effect of, “Auburn’s worst enemy is Auburn.”

I couldn’t agree more.

AND the ONE thing that the Auburn Family does not need to do is become fractured, frustrated and forlorn. There does not need to be in-fighting. Or people screaming for the coaches heads (and I have heard some of this already).

Auburn, and her Family, don’t need to be thinking about their final record and what bowl they, may or may not, go to. They need to be focusing on the here and now and getting better. The Auburn Family needs to unite and get behind these coaches and this football team.

This football team will, hopefully, harken back to the aforementioned Shug Jordan’s Seven D’s of Success:

1. Discipline 2. Desire to Excel 3. Determination 4. Dedication 5. Dependability 6. Desperation 7. Damn it Anyway

And I will quote coach Jordan’s elaboration on point number seven.

“When you have done everything you can do and things still seem to be going against you, you have to reach down, get something extra from your innerself, forget the adverse circumstances and do something anyway. Someone once put it, ‘Do something–right or wrong–just do something.’ One thing for certain. You are not going to win by accepting the overwhelming odds.”

Amen.

The Times They Are a Changin’

“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or
you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a changin’”

These words from Robert Zimmerman (Bobby Dylan to you and me) certainly ring true today, as they did, exactly fifty years ago, when this record was released. And that, most definitely, applies to the college football landscape.

From the AP and UPI poll systems, to the BCS, to the College Football Playoff, things have evolved dramatically in NCAA football. And THAT is an understatement.

From “three yards and a cloud of dust” to the HUNH (Hurry Up No Huddle), our father’s football is now almost unrecognizable. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that is a bad thing. Remember, at one time there was no forward pass. Can you imagine the furor when that change came into play?

Four years prior to Dylan’s release of “The Time’s They Are A Changin’”, I began my immersion into sports. EVERY sport. I could not get enough of sports back in 1961 and for many, many years there after.

I have now lost a great deal of my passion for professional athletics, although the Mantle and Maris home run chase of 1961 remains somewhat fresh in my mind. But I have not lost one iota of enthusiasm for college football. If anything, the love of that sector of sports, has grown in leaps and bounds. And it is quite humbling for me to find myself both writing and podcasting about that great game today. That was always a dream for me.

All of this sparked my thinking about what has become the FBS and how its current state might appear to those coaches of yesteryear. It also piqued my interest in how those coaches’ tenures compare to those of today.

I took the numbers of six legendary figures and matched them against all of the coaches who followed them at their respective institutions. I ranked them in order of the original coaches winning percentage.

1. Paul “Bear” Bryant – University of Alabama – 1958-1982
232-46-9 .824
9 coaches since – 273-122-1 .690

2. Johnny Vaught – University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) – 1947-1970 and 1973
190-61-12 .745
10 coaches since – 256-243-4 .512

3. Vince Dooley – University of Georgia – 1964-1988 – 201-77-10 .715
3 coaches since – 222-101-0 .687

4. Frank Broyles – University of Arkansas – 1958-1976 – 144-58-5 .708
10 coaches since – 276-178-3 .607

5. Charles “Cholly Mac”- McClendon – Louisiana State University – 1962-1979
137-59-7 .692
9 coaches since 276-144-6 .654

6. Ralph “Shug” Jordan – Auburn University – 1951-1975 – 176-83-6 .6754
7 coaches since 315-150-6 .6751

Four of the “legendary” head men coached at their one school for 25 years. One piloted his school for 19 years and one roamed the sidelines for 18 years at his institution of higher learning.

The one big thing that jumped out at me is that NONE of these great universities has had a winning percentage, as high as the “legendary” coach, with all of the coaches that followed him… COMBINED! ZERO. NADA.

Now boys and girls, that includes some very good coaches at each and every one of these schools. Nick Saban coached at both LSU and Alabama. Pat Dye coached at Auburn. Lou Holtz coached at Arkansas. David Cutcliffe coached at Ole Miss and Mark Richt is currently the head man at Georgia.

How about this? You have 6 of the greatest coaches of all-time who coached a total of 137 years between them. On the other hand, you have 48 coaches who coached a total of 202 years. NOW hold on! That gives the 6 coaches an average tenure of 22.8 years apiece while the remaining 48 guys averaged 4.2 years each!!!

As the former voice of Ole Miss football in the 60’s, Stan Torgenson, was known to exclaim… Hoo Hoooooo MERCY!!!

Obviously, some of these latter coaches held their positions for extremely short periods of time. Bill “Brother” Oliver was the interim coach at Auburn, in 1998, for 5 games. John L. Smith had the same position at Arkansas for 12 games and Mike Price of Alabama… well you know the story there.

So, sports fans, where does this leave us? One one hand, you can talk about “the good ole days”, simpler times, loyalty, and the like.

Conversely, one can speak of the demand to “turn it around quickly”, the huge number of demands on a coach’s time, social media, and all that goes with being a CEO of the mega-corporaate structure that is FBS football in the 21st century.

But, regardless of all this, there is one undeniable thread that weaves its way throughout the history of college football… WINNING. “Just win, baby” as, now deceased, Oakland Raiders owner, Al Davis, was oft-quoted.

Winning does “soothe the savage beast” that is today’s college football fan, but just for a bit. That fan wants to win today, tomorrow and forever. That fan also wants to win big and with style. And that winning includes having the best facilities possible.

So, what would I say to today’s young and eager, prospective college football coaches, if I had them as an audience? To those coaches whose tenure at a school might, possibly, fall into the 4.2 years average that was mentioned above?

My answer might go something like this…

“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or
you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a changin’”

Snakebit: Remembering Kenny Stabler

It was Thanksgiving weekend of 1965. I was sitting low in the north end zone of Legion Field in Birmingham. The University of Alabama was drilling my beloved Auburn Tigers to the tune of 30-3.

The rout was getting on into the 4th quarter when Bear Bryant decided to pull starting quarterback, Steve Sloan, and allow his backup to play.

Sloan’s understudy was a skinny kid from LA (Lower Alabama). His name was Kenny Stabler, but his nickname was Snake.

Kenneth Michael Stabler was born on Christmas day, 1945, in Foley, AL. During his three years as QB at Foley High, he led his teams to a 29-1 record.

We are familiar with Snake’s formidable football skills, but he was a great all around athlete. He averaged 29 points a game in basketball and was an excellent southpaw pitcher in baseball, receiving offers from the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees.

Stabler, of course, signed a football scholarship to play for legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama. He did not play on the varsity his initial year on the Capstone, 1964, as freshmen were not eligible to play at that time.

In 1965 he played sparingly, completing 3 passes in 11 attempts, with 1 Touchdown and no interceptions.

Snake became the starting signal caller for the Crimson Tide in 1966 and held that position for the next two seasons.

Alabama went 11-0, behind Stabler, in his first season as the number one QB. The 1966 season, despite it’s unblemished record and number three ranking, remains, in some ways, a painful one for Bama fans as they finished behind Notre Dame and Michigan State in the AP and UPI polls. The Irish and Spartans played to a 10-10 tie on November 19th.

The poll results, during those years, were issued immediately after the regular season. This worked to Alabama’s favor after the 1964 season when they went 10-0 but lost to Texas in the Orange Bowl. They dominated Nebraska, 34-7, in the Sugar Bowl, following the ’66 campaign, which solidified their place atop the college football world in the minds of many. But it was not to be.

December 2, 1972 is a day that will live in the minds the Auburn faithful as one of, if not THE MOST, important wins in Tiger football history. That game has come to be known, simply, as “Punt Bama Punt.”

I don’t have to refresh anyone’s mind on what happened that day in Iron Bowl history.

December 2, 1967 belongs at the opposite end of the spectrum for those who proudly wear the burnt orange and navy blue. This game is now referred to as the “Run in the Mud” by crimson and white faithful.

I spent the bulk of the evening of December 1, 1967 at my brother Jerry’s in-law’s house in Canton Bend, AL, which is about five miles from where I grew up in Camden, which is the county seat of Wilcox County.

My brother was married to Nellie Autrey, and Nellie was one of my closest friends, at that time.

Nellie and I were listening to WLS “Music” Radio that night from the kitchen of the Autrey’s home. The only song I distinctly remember, that came emanating from the AM airwaves, was Kenny Rogers and the First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”. GREAT SONG!!!

I like this incarnation of Rogers more than his later solo work, but that is another story for another time.

The next morning my father and I climbed into our Dodge Cornet and headed for Birmingham and storied Legion Field. My record at the hallowed venue was a dismal 1-3 at this juncture of my life. The win was over Georgia Tech in 1962 and the losses were consecutive year defeats to Bama, 1964-66.

But I was feeling pretty good about Auburn’s chances on that rainy, blustery morning of December 2. The Tigers were having a very good season, at 6-2, before being beaten by the Georgia Bulldogs, 17-0, in their previous game.

Alabama came into the contest standing at 6-2-1. So, the records were strikingly similar and the stage was set for a classic Iron Bowl. It did not disappoint.

When daddy and I arrived at the “Old Grey Lady on Graymont”, the winds had picked up considerably as had the rain. We parked behind a Gulf Station and began our trek to Legion Field. Our umbrella, that we shared, was turned inside/out by the nasty elements. Tornado warnings had been issued. That did not deter us or tens of thousands of other football fanatics from witnessing this regular season finale.

This was, and remains, THE game of each and every season in the great state of Alabama.

We made or way to the west stands, where our seats were located, to a row which was not far from the top of our section. Our direct line of vision was somewhere around the goal line. Auburn was clad in blue jerseys and white pants with white helmets. Alabama wore all white with crimson helmets.

By game time the rain was coming down in sheets and the wind was whipping furiously.

Auburn took the opening kickoff. Freddie Hyatt burst through the first line of defense and was within a hair of taking it all the way before he was stopped. Auburn drove deep into Alabama territory and tuned the ball over on downs inside the ten yard line. The Tigers lived in the Tide’s red zone those first two quarters but they came away with no points. They had disdained field goals for an opportunity to go up by, at least, seven points. It was not to be.

Auburn 0, Alabama 0, at the half.

The concourses at Legion Field were packed during halftime. It was no small wonder as the weather was utterly miserable. Daddy and I ran into Mr. Nettles Ivey and, my dear friend, Tommy Ratcliffe at the break. Their seats, with Mr. Ivey’s father, were on the fifty yard-line. They invited us to sit with them. The stands were not full as a great number of people decided, probably wisely, to remain in the shelter of the stands. There was plenty of room.

But the view, here, was terrible. We could barely see as our seats, behind the Auburn sideline, were now on a very low row.

Auburn mounted a 60 yard drive, to the Alabama 21, in the third quarter. Coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan” finally opted for a field goal. Somehow John “Rat” Riley connected on the 38-yard attempt. The driving rain, coupled with the players cleats grinding up the turf, had made conditions almost unplayable.

The bulk of the field was not unlike a pig pen. The game was now being played entirely in the mud.

Auburn took their tenuous, 3-0, lead into the fourth quarter. The outlook was promising. How on earth could anyone score again in this slop? My hopes of witnessing, in-person, Auburn defeat Alabama, were rising by the minute.

As the game moved deep into the final stanza, the Tigers set up to punt near the fifty yard-line. The snap was fumbled and the Crimson Tide recovered at their own 48. They lost a yard on first down.

Quarterback Kenny Stabler took the second down snap and broke toward right end. It appeared to be an option. He kept the ball and neared the corner. The crowd rose to its feet. I could not see. What was going on?

Then there came a thunderous burst from the opposite “visitors” stands. That roar became deafening as the stomping in their upper deck, helped to create a deafening roar. I jumped up and down in a futile attempt to see what was taking place. I looked up at my father and queried, “What happened, daddy? What happened?” “He scored,” was the reply.

My heart sank to my toes. I was numb. The “Snake” had slithered to a 53-yard touchdown and, shortly, this play would be entered into football folklore as one of the most dramatic plays in Iron Bowl history.

As most people know by now, Kenneth Michael Stabler departed this world on July 8.

“Snake”, along with a legion of others, this Auburn fan salutes you. May you rest in peace.