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Does Tuberville want out?

By Staff
Paul Finebaum
Sports Columnist
Imagine what it must feel like being Tommy Tuberville. You make millions of dollars a year, live in the fanciest house in Lee County, have people waiting on you hand and foot and have just dusted your main rival for a mind-altering six times in a row.
Well, if life's so good, why does it look like you are so desperate to get out? You have been rumored to go to places like College Station, Texas, Fayetteville, Ark., and Baton Rouge, La. If you are so happy, why has your name popped with more schools lately than Britney Spears has boyfriends? Why are you dragging your feet in negotiations with Auburn, burning goodwill with recruits in the process, while your mercenary agent starts forest fires in any state with good timber?
Or is all of this a big misunderstanding?
Should we believe you every time you pass a microphone and proclaim that you're "happy at Auburn and hope to be there for as long as they'll have me?"?
Does that really mean "I plan on staying at Auburn as long as they'll keep paying me and there are no other options to pursue?"
Tommy Tuberville has a real problem. It's called a $6 million buyout. It possibly cost him Texas A&M and it may be costing him the job right now at Arkansas. And various media reports say this is currently the deal breaker in his negotiations with Auburn officials. He wants them to pay $6 million (it goes down over time) if they blow him off, but he does not want to have to pay them if he should leave for any other school.
Good deal if you can get it. In other words, he wants to be like Nick.
Somehow, Nick Saban was able to toss that into his current deal with Alabama, but then again the Tide was absolutely desperate to hire him.
School officials likely would have taken Paul Bryant's name off the stadium and replaced it with his own had he thought to ask.
Auburn folks are not in such a charitable mood these days.
The reason for the stiff two-way buyout in the first place was because of Jetgate. Tuberville wanted protection if the same people decided to throw him overboard nine months after signing the contract like they did in 2003.
Perhaps he could have balked, but since the school had just jacked his salary up into the stratosphere after one SEC championship, Tuberville took the money and ran, smiling all the way to the nearest neighborhood bank.
Now, after seeing (and seething) with what Alabama gave Saban – and after having beaten him for fourth time in six tries – Tubs wants to be treated just like Nick. That's what this is really all about.
Unfortunately for him, some of the same feelings that existed in 2003 still permeate the air today on the Plains. Tuberville has been very successful since then, though this year was a setback in spite of the win over Alabama.
But there is a feeling that Tuberville plays too many games with the media and never really seems happy – no matter what he is given – and this year can be offered as Exhibit A.
Is he really underpaid at $2.6 million? It goes up $200,000 every year. His staff is the second-highest paid in the SEC? Perhaps if Tubs had not blown games against South Florida, Mississippi State and taken a 25-point beating to Georgia things might be different. I don't know.
Once it appeared Dennis Franchione was in trouble at Texas A&M, the
Tuberville rumors started early and often, fueled in part by the usual ringmaster of such things – Jimmy Sexton, Tuberville's agent. The Arkansas rumors were next. Sexton, of course, had a head's up on this since he also represents ex-Hogs coach Houston Nutt. Does anyone smell collusion or a conflict of interest?
And after tonight, here comes LSU, a place some people think Tuberville privately covets.
So has all of this speculation and innuendo pushed Auburn into crying "uncle" and into giving Tuberville whatever he wants? Or has Auburn sent Tubs a message that we'll pay you what we think you're worth but we are not going to be held hostage simply because Alabama gave Saban the keys to the university?
It's an interesting situation for Auburn and Tuberville and, quite frankly, a very dangerous game. Auburn people are more about loyalty than anything else. They appreciate Tuberville for the way he handled Jetgate, for taking the unnecessary punches and mostly for delivering the perfect season the following year and the domination over Alabama. However, they tire easily of mindless games and some people think this last week has been a big charade.
At this hour, it's somewhat difficult to predict exactly how this sordid saga will end. But with every hour and day that it drags out, feelings are being bruised and tempers are beginning to flare.
Has it only been one week since the Auburn family, unified and delirious, rolled Toomer's Corner, celebrating six in a row over Alabama?
Paul Finebaum is a guest columnist for The Franklin County Times. He can be reached via e-mail at