Yet another wild ride for Auburn fans


Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates celebrates after the Tigers won the SEC Championship last Saturday. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 11:12 p.m.

For the next few weeks, people who have never been to Auburn, Ala., will try to explain to you how the football team that plays there has done this, how it has gone from winless in the SEC to playing for a national championship.

They will relay stories about Toomer’s Corner and the War Eagle Supper Club and dissect the Gus Malzahn offense for you. They will interview the Heisman Trophy winners of the past and celebrities who went to the school.

And when they are done, you won’t know anything more than you did before.

Because you live in the SEC.

And you know.

It’s an Auburn thing.

Explain it? Puh-lease. There’s no way you can explain the last two decades of Auburn football without the smell of burnt toast wafting in the breeze. You want to go for a ride that will take your breath away, forget Six Flags.

Be an Auburn fan.

It’s like riding in the Daytona 500 without any brakes. It’s jumping out of a plane with a parachute packed by Lindsay Lohan. One season it might be War Eagle, the next Roadkill. But it’s never Bore Eagle.

Root for Auburn and you’ll feel like every day is an episode of “Breaking Bad.” Highs, lows, very little in between.

It’s an Auburn thing.

It’s not that I’ve ever been an Auburn fan. I have spent time on the plains, two weeks in 1995 and 1997 when Florida-Auburn was a huge deal. I was there when Florida beat Auburn to ascend to No. 1 in the nation in 1985. I was there when the 2006 Florida team suffered its only loss before winning the national championship.

That was typical Auburn.

Auburn used to be the model of stability. There were 25 seasons with Shug Jordan as the head coach, a man so popular they named the stadium after him. There were 12 seasons of Pat Dye, a man so popular they named the field after him.

Since then, chaos.

So while every talking head in the college football world is trying to explain to you how a team could go winless in the SEC and then play for a national title the next year, I’m just waving them off.

It’s an Auburn thing.

The roller-coaster ride began with Terry Bowden. He beat Florida in his first two years when almost no one else in the SEC could beat Florida. He won 20 of his first 22 games. In 1997, his team played for the SEC Championship.

A year later, he was gone.

In came Tommy Tuberville who had told Ole Miss fans the only way he would leave Oxford was “in a pine box.” Instead, he left on a nice plane for Auburn and it wasn’t long before they were ready to move on from him. You’ve heard the famous “Plane-Gate” story when Auburn officials flew to Louisville to woo Bobby Petrino only to back away when their clandestine meeting was discovered.

A year later, Tuberville went 13-0 and was stumping for a chance to play in the national title game.

Four years later, the coach who was one year removed from a six-game winning streak against Alabama was gone.

Then came Gene Chizik, an unpopular choice with some. He won a national championship in 2010.

Two years later, he was gone.

And now there is Malzahn, who came to Auburn with one year on his resume as a head coach. He took players who won three games and has won 12, two of them in legendary fashion. The Prayer at Jordan-Hare was followed by The Return which was followed by one of the most impressive offensive performances ever in the SEC Championship Game.

Of course. It’s Auburn.

“That is Auburn,” said Tony Barnhart of CBSSports.com. “They get to the top and then to the bottom and then to the top.”

There’s no explaining it. There’s no explaining how a team picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC West could be playing in college football’s ultimate game a year later. There’s no explaining how a school could be hit over the head over and over again by its cross-state rival and still have bragging rights in 2013.

You could use my college football mantra that every season comes down to a handful of plays in a handful of games, but no team has as many seasons when it makes none of the plays and others where it makes all of them.

It defies logic. Some of the turnstile at head coach has to do with what is happening in Tuscaloosa. But it’s still been a bizarre 20 years.

Auburn has more SEC titles (three) in the last decade than anyone else in the SEC. More than Alabama or Florida. And the Tigers have done it with three different coaches.

Don’t try to figure it out because you’ll get a headache.

It’s an Auburn thing. You wouldn’t understand.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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