Tommy Tuberville turned to a legend, but the legend didn’t have much to offer.
Tuberville recalled earlier this week preparing for the 1999 Iron Bowl, his victory first with the Tigers. During the lead-up to the home showdown with the Crimson Tide, former Auburn head coach Pat Dye – who went 6-6 against Alabama – stopped by to watch practice as he typically did a few times each fall.
With Tuberville’s biggest game at Auburn now just days away, he spotted Dye and asked if he had any words of wisdom for the first-year head coach.
“I’ll never forget,” Tuberville said. “I wanted him to come out and talk to the players. I asked him, ‘What advice do you got?’ He said, ‘I can’t give you any. You’re going to have to learn it.’”
Dye’s message rang loud and clear after Tuberville and the Tigers suffered a 28-17 loss to the Crimson Tide: the only way to comprehend what it’s like to coach in the Iron Bowl is to experience it firsthand.
For current Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin, that lesson will arrive Saturday.
Harsin will get his first taste of the Iron Bowl when the Tigers face off with the Crimson Tide at 2:30 p.m. CT. Harsin will be looking to break recent tradition among new coaches in the rivalry: Other than Gus Malzahn in 2013, no other coach has won his Iron Bowl debut since Terry Bowden in 1993.
As much success as Nick Saban has had at Alabama, he wasn’t exempt from issues early on. The Crimson Tide lost 17-10 to Tuberville’s Tigers in 2007 before reeling off back-to-back wins the following years.
“I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for this game, even before I ever coached here. The first game we played here, you actually feel it,” Saban said. “You always respect it, but when you play in it, you actually feel it. You know what it means to a lot of people.”
Let’s review the debuts of the last 12 instances of a new head coach for either teams in the rivalry, how their debuts turned out and how they fared in Iron Bowls over the course of their careers.
Gus Malzahn, 2013
First Result: Auburn won 34-28
Iron Bowl Record: 3-5
Summary: Malzahn’s first Iron Bowl as Auburn head coach was an instant classic and set the stage for the Tigers’ run to the national championship game. While the Tigers did hit some bumps in the road against the Crimson Tide under Malzahn’s watch, he left Auburn as the only coach in the country with three wins over Alabama from 2013-2020.
Gene Chizik, 2009
First Result: Auburn lost 26-21
Iron Bowl Record: 1-3
Summary: Auburn gave Alabama all it could handle in 2009, but Greg McElroy’s late touchdown pass to Roy Upchurch pushed the Tigers over the top. Chizik’s only win in the series was the memorable “Camback” in Auburn’s 2010 national championship season.
Nick Saban, 2007
First Result: Alabama lost 17-10
Iron Bowl Record: 9-5
Summary: While the Crimson Tide dropped Saban’s Iron Bowl debut, the team responded by winning four of the next five meetings before “The Kick Six”. On Saturday, Saban will face his fourth different Auburn head coach since he arrived in Tuscaloosa.
Mike Shula, 2003
First Result: Alabama lost 28-23
Iron Bowl Record: 0-4
Summary: The former Alabama quarterback was put in a tough situation when he took over at his alma mater, and his struggles against the Tigers didn’t help matters. Auburn’s 22-15 victory over a 6-6 Alabama squad in 2003 marked the beginning of the end for Shula with the Crimson Tide.
Dennis Franchione, 2001
First Result: Alabama won 31-7
Iron Bowl Record: 1-1
Summary: The Crimson Tide took care of business in Franchione’s debut, making him just the third Alabama coach to beat Auburn in his first try since the rivalry’s renewal in 1948. Franchione and the Crimson Tide fell 17-7 the following season before Franchione left for Texas A&M.
Tommy Tuberville, 1999
First Result: Auburn lost 28-17
Iron Bowl Record: 7-3
Summary: While Tuberville’s Tigers couldn’t shut down Alabama running back Shaun Alexander back in 1999, Tuberville had a mostly successful run in the Iron Bowl. Tuberville helped orchestrate a six-game winning streak in the series, which still stands as Auburn’s longest in rivalry history.
Mike DuBose, 1997
First Result: Alabama lost 18-17
Iron Bowl Record: 2-2
Summary: The Alabama alum and former Gene Stallings assistant suffered a heartbreaking loss in his first Iron Bowl when a late fumble set the Tigers up for the game-winning field goal with 15 seconds to go. DuBose led Alabama to back-to-back wins the next two years before dropping his final Iron Bowl 9-0 in 2000.
Terry Bowden, 1993
First Result: Auburn won 22-14
Iron Bowl Record: 3-2
Summary: While the Tigers could not compete for a national title due to probation, they ended Bowden’s debut season in style with a win over Alabama to clinch an undefeated season. Auburn alternated losses in the Iron Bowl from there on out under Bowden, who resigned five games before the 1998 Iron Bowl. Auburn lost that one 31-17 under interim head coach Bill Oliver.
Gene Stallings, 1990
First Result: Alabama won 16-7
Iron Bowl Record: 5-2
Summary: A former player and assistant under Paul “Bear” Bryant, Stallings’ debut victory – a low-scoring defensive slugfest – in the Iron Bowl set the stage for what was to come. The Iron Bowls during the Stallings era were particularly tight: Six of the seven games were decided by nine points or less.
Bill Curry, 1987
First Result: Alabama lost 10-0
Iron Bowl Record: 0-3
Summary: Curry’s tenure in Tuscaloosa was a short one, and his inability to beat Auburn certainly contributed to that. About two months after his third straight Iron Bowl loss, Curry resigned from Alabama to take the same position at Kentucky.
Ray Perkins, 1983
First Result: Alabama lost 23-20
Iron Bowl Record: 2-2
Summary: A former Alabama receiver, Perkins got off to a rough start in the Iron Bowl by dropping his first game to leave the Crimson Tide with their first losing streak to the Tigers since 1970. Alabama won back-to-back meetings after then dropped a 21-17 thriller in 1986 before Perkins left to take over the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Pat Dye, 1981
First Result: Auburn lost 28-17
Iron Bowl Record: 6-6
Summary: Dye made his mark early in the rivalry by responding to a question about how long it would take to beat Alabama with two words: “Sixty minutes.” Although Dye’s debut was a tough loss – and to his former boss Bryant, no less – he recovered to help end what had been an absolutely dominant decade for the Crimson Tide.