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ROSS DELLENGER

Ole Miss won't forget old 'pine box' comments

AUBURN — As the coach of Ole Miss almost a decade ago, Tommy Tuberville uttered these now-infamous words: “They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box” — implying his commitment to Ole Miss would last until his death.

Just days later, Tuberville likely was carried out of Oxford, Miss., in one of Auburn’s luxurious private jets, swept from the cow fields of northern Mississippi to the plains of central Alabama, where he was introduced as the Tigers’ coach in a news conference with a salary of $900,000, doubleing his pay at Ole Miss.

According to a story written by Rick Cleveland, a longtime columnist from the Jackson, Miss.-based Clarion-Ledger, Tuberville “never told his players so much as good-bye.”

In his second season with Auburn, Tuberville’s Tigers downed Ole Miss 35-27 in 2000, the coach’s first trip to the Oxford campus since his departure.

Following the victory, Auburn players hoisted Tuberville onto their shoulders, where he was heavily booed by a partisan crowd in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

As No. 23 Auburn prepares to host two-win Ole Miss on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, all of that, Tuberville said, is in the past.

The coach said the current Ole Miss players “were probably in elementary school” when the incident took place some nine years ago.

“You look for anything possible to get motivated and ready for this game,” said Tuberville, who coached Ole Miss to a bowl game and three winning seasons in his four years. “Their coaches will get them motivated.

Tuberville is 6-2 against his old school, winning the last three meetings against the Rebels. The once-heated rivalry has cooled off over the last few years. Tuberville’s successor in Oxford, David Cutcliffe, was fired following a four-win 2004 season, despite 10 wins the year before during quarterback Eli Manning’s senior season.

Now the offensive coordinator for Tennessee, Cutcliffe was replaced with Ed Orgeron, who has won nine games in 21/2 seasons.

But still, the stain Tuberville left in Oxford will never be forgotten. Rebel fans surely will not forget some of these comments Tuberville made while still with the program: “I’m a Rebel at heart. I want to be where people want you, where you have a chance to win, where your players are giving all they can and where it’s a great place to live. That’s exactly what we have in Oxford.”

Orgeron is sure to inform the current Ole Miss players what Tuberville did to their predecessors.

“It will be used and talked about,” Tuberville said this week. “Their players will be fired up about it.”

Arkansas wanted Tuberville also: Auburn’s hiring of Tuberville overshadowed another school’s lust for the then-Ole Miss coach. Arkansas nearly had Tuberville a year earlier.

According to a story from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published in December 1997, Arkansas offered Tuberville a five-year contract, paying him $850,000 a year. Ole Miss countered with $600,000, the article said.

According to another story published in the Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas players called Ole Miss players during the Hogs’ coaching search to find out more about Tuberville.

“(Tuberville) sounded to them, too much a guy from the old school,” the article said.

Apparently, the players asked the search committee not to hire Tuberville.

The story reads: “That may have swung the weight, just as it did when three of the (Arkansas) search committee members said they couldn’t vote for Tuberville. Someone then called Tuberville and told him it wasn’t (a) unanimous (vote), and he wasn’t happy with that.”

Days later, the other frontrunner in the Arkansas coaching search was hired to lead the Hogs: Houston Nutt.

A photo snapped at Auburn’s win at Arkansas this season shows Nutt and Tuberville embracing after the game, both openly laughing as they shook hands.

Even the security guard seen in the background has a smile on his face.

It’s a well-known fact that Nutt’s job in Fayetteville, Ark., is not safe.

Is it possible Tuberville said to him, “You chose Arkansas — I didn’t.

dellenger_ross_sm.jpg - 3168 Bytes Ross Dellenger
Auburn Beat

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