A Tale of Two Tommys: Tuberville and Bowden

As an addendum to my piece on Tommy Bowden from yesterday, I’m adding another comparison. Last time, I used Bob Stoops, who has been at Oklahoma the same amount of time Bowden has been at Clemson. The idea was to give a baseline of a top coach to contrast Bowden’s record against.

It occurred to me today though that there might be another coach who had been at his school the same amount of time, and sure enough, there was: Tommy Tuberville. Like Bowden, he signed up with his band of Tigers in 1999.

They have a fairly similar record, with Tuberville averaging just one more win a year than Bowden does at Clemson. They both have an undefeated, conference-winning season (Bowden’s was at Tulane) but after that, they combine to have just one season of fewer than three losses (2006 Auburn). Bowden has been on the hot seat for about half a decade, and Auburn nearly replaced Tuberville with Bobby Petrino late in 2003.

The difference is that Tuberville’s undefeated, conference-winning season was in the SEC in 2004. Ever since that year, he has garnered a reputation of being an excellent big game coach. Let’s take a look at his record to see how he has done.

Tommy Tuberville at Auburn
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 44 14 58
Away 24 15 39
Neutral 1 1 2
Bowls 5 3 8
Totals 74 33 107

As with last time, games against I-AA teams have been thrown out. The two neutral site games are SEC championship games. Tuberville’s home record is slightly better than Bowden’s is, and his road record is noticeably better.

Here is his record broken down by tier. As a refresher, a top tier team finished the season with a winning percentage of .750 or better, while a second tier team finished the year between .500 and .749, inclusive.

Tommy Tuberville at Auburn
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 12 18 .400 18 23
Second 26 15 .634 23 20
Third 28 0 1.000 34 12
Fourth 8 0 1.000 42 12

What immediately jumps out is that Tuberville is much better against the first tier teams than Bowden is, and he has yet to lose to a third or fourth tier team. Their records against the second tier are almost exactly the same.

The question though is whether something changed fundamentally in 2004 or not. That’s the popular theory anyway, that he transformed into one of the best big game coaches. With that in mind, here is his record from 1999 to 2003. The bottom two tiers have not been analyzed individually since Tuberville has not lost to a team that finished the year below .500.

Tuberville, 1999-2003
Tier Wins Losses Pct.
First 3 14 .176
Second 15 25 .375
vs .500+ 18 39 .316
Overall 35 24 .593

Tuberville just simply was not that good against decent or better teams. He was about the same against the first tier as Bowden has been, but he only won three of every eight games against the second tier teams. After six solid seasons of this kind of performance, it comes as no shock that the Auburn administration was looking to replace him.

Now, his record from 2004 to the present day.

Tuberville, 2004-07
Tier Wins Losses Pct.
First 9 4 .692
Second 11 5 .688
vs .500+ 20 9 .690
Overall 39 9 .813

It certainly appears that Tuberville’s new reputation is well-founded. His .692 winning percentage against the first tier is even better than Bob Stoops’ .630 mark.

His performance against the second tier isn’t quite as good as Stoops’ is, but it evens out thanks to the fact Tuberville hasn’t lost to any third tier teams while Stoops has lost to three of them. Tuberville’s overall winning percentage is basically the same as Stoops’ overall winning percentage (.814).

However, what separates Tuberville, who’s been to just one conference title game in the four seasons since 2004, from Stoops, who has been to six in his nine years, is performance against the top of their divisions.

OU and Texas have been the top two teams in the Big 12 South almost every one of the last nine years, and Stoops is 6-3 against the Longhorns. In the last three seasons, Tuberville lost to the eventual SEC West champ each of those years. Basically, while Tuberville has been better at winning big games, he just has had some trouble winning the right big games.

What this evidence appears to suggest is that it is possible for a coach to transform from being lousy against good teams to being great against good teams. For Tuberville, it took six years on the job as a head coach to make the change. It has now been eleven years as a head coach and nine in a major conference for Tommy Bowden.

If you like symmetry, it was the final year of having Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown that Tuberville made his change. We’re now coming up on the last year of James Davis-C.J. Spiller combo at Clemson. Will Bowden make the same transformation that Tuberville did? It’s just another subplot to watch for in the 2008 college football season.


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