How Tommy Tuberville went from Auburn football coach to U.S. Senate seat in Alabama

Tommy Tuberville won Alabama’s U.S. Senate race on Tuesday, unseating incumbent Doug Jones in the process.

The former Auburn football coach scored a two-seat swing for Senate Republicans by overtaking Jones, who held the position as a Democrat after a 2017 special election. Now Tuberville will once again become one of the most powerful men in the state since his resignation from Auburn in 2008.

Tuberville’s candidacy, which featured a closely contested primary election against Jeff Sessions, has drawn the ire of many of his former Auburn players. While his stint with the Tigers might be the most relevant coaching stop in his bid to win the Alabama seat, it’s not the only one he made on his trip to the upper chamber of Congress.

Here’s the timeline of how Tuberville went from Ole Miss football coach to U.S. senator:

College football career

Ole Miss (1995-98)

Tuberville was announced as Ole Miss’ coach in 1994. It was his first head coaching job after previously serving as an assistant at Miami from 1986 to 1993. Prior to that, the Camden, Ark., native worked as an assistant at Arkansas State from 1980 to 1984. He coached at Hermitage (Ark.) High School in 1978-79.

Tuberville took over a Rebels program that was under heavy NCAA sanctions upon his arrival, yet won the SEC Coach of the Year after leading them to a 6-5 season. He led the team to records of 5-6, 8-4 and 6-5 in 1996, ’97 and ’98, respectively, to go 25-20 overall. During his tenure there, he also became involved in a movement banning the Confederate flag from Ole Miss home games:

“We can’t recruit against the Confederate flag,” Tuberville said.

(Ole Miss chancellor eventually placed a ban on sticks in Vaught Hemingway Stadium, essentially banning the Confederate flag from the stadium).

Tuberville’s Ole Miss tenure ended in controversy, however: When rumors swirled that Auburn was interested in hiring him, he famously uttered, “They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box” on his weekly radio show. Days later, he left in an Auburn private jet to become the Tigers’ next coach. One report from The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.) suggested Tuberville “never told his players so much as goodbye.”

Auburn (1999-2008)

Tuberville took over at Auburn in 1999, leading the Tigers to a 5-6 record. It didn’t take long, however, before Tuberville started enjoying success. He led the team to winning seasons every year from 2000 to 2007, including an undefeated season in 2004 that saw the Tigers finish No. 3 in the BCS rankings and No. 2 in the AP and Coaches polls. The team also finished 11-2 and ranked ninth nationally in 2006.

In all, Tuberville’s Tigers finished six seasons ranked on The Plains, going 85-40 in nine seasons. More importantly, Tuberville finished 7-3 against rival Alabama (putting together a six-game win streak that ranks as the longest for the Tigers in Iron Bowl history). He also finished 5-5 against rivals LSU and Georgia.

Tuberville resigned as Auburn’s coach following a 5-7 season in 2008, capped by a 36-0 loss to Alabama and coach Nick Saban. It was a move that surprised athletics director Jay Jacobs, but Tuberville said he wanted to take time off to be with his family before potentially returning. He worked as an analyst for Buster Sports and ESPN in 2009.

Texas Tech (2010-12)

In December 2009, Tuberville expressed interest in becoming Texas Tech’s coach after the school fired fan favorite Mike Leach. Tuberville was named to the job in January 2010, leading the team to an 8-5 record and bowl win (becoming only the second coach in school history to win a bowl in their first season).

Tuberville’s success was short-lived, however. He went 5-7 the following year and, in 2012, was seen slapping graduate assistant Kevin Oliver during the Kansas State game (the Red Raiders lost 55-24). He initially claimed he had tried to grab Oliver’s shirt and remove him from the field, but apologized for the incident a few days later.

Tuberville went 7-5 the following year, but again left amid controversy: While Devonte Danzey, a JUCO recruit, was in Lubbock, Texas, for an official visit, Tuberville interrupted their dinner by picking up a call from Cincinnati saying he’d received the Bearcats’ coaching job. He reportedly left Danzey at the restaurant without a word, and was announced as Cincinnati’s coach the next day.

“The waitress brought our food out, and we thought (Tuberville) went to the bathroom, but he never came back to dinner,” Danzey said. “Then next thing I know, the next day, he made an announcement that he’s going to Cincinnati.”

Tuberville finished his Red Raiders stint at 20-17.

Cincinnati (2013-16)

Tuberville went 9-4 in each of his first two seasons in Cincinnati in 2013 and ’14, respectively; the second of those campaigns netted the Bearcats the American Athletic Conference co-championship due to their 7-1 league record. Both of those seasons ended in bowl losses, however.

Tuberville went 7-6 in 2015 and 4-8 in 2016. In the latter season — following a 20-3 loss to BYU that dropped his team to 4-5 — Tuberville, clearly frustrated, told a fan to “go to hell” and “get a job” as he exited the stadium.

Cincinnati issued a statement the next day, saying he was put in a “no-win situation.”

In December 2016, Tuberville resigned, leaving Cincinnati with a 29-22 overall record.

Running for U.S. Senate

Announcing his candidacy (April 2019)

Tuberville, after announcing in 2017 he would not run for Alabama governor, signaled on Twitter his intent to run for U.S. Senate in April 2019.

Heading to runoff (March 3, 2020)

Tuberville ran against Jeff Sessions — who held the seat from 1997 until his resignation in 2017, when he became Attorney General — and Bradley Byrne in the state’s March primaries. Tuberville won 33 percent of the voting, whereas Sessions won 32 percent. Byrne won 25 percent of the vote, failing to advance to a runoff.

The runoff between Tuberville and Sessions largely centered on which of the two was more valuable to President Donald Trump. Said Tuberville following the primary election:

“We’re going to overtime, and I know someone who knows how to win in overtime,” Tuberville said. “We’re going to finish what President Trump started when he looked at Jeff Sessions from across the table and said, ‘You’re fired.'”

Sessions responded similarly: “Anyone can say they are for the Trump agenda. But talk is cheap. But I have fought on the great issues of our day and won. I have stood alone on facts and principles and won.”

Trump, who fired Sessions as Attorney General in November 2018, endorsed Tuberville ahead of the runoff.

Getting the GOP nod (July 14, 2020)

Tuberville won Alabama’s GOP nomination for U.S Senate on July 14 in a landslide victory in the runoff: He had a 62-38 percent lead over Sessions with just over a third of the state reporting its results.

Trump, for his part, was happy to see Tuberville win:

That set Tuberville up for a race against the Democratic nominee, Jones, in the general election.

Tuberville’s controversial campaign

Tuberville’s campaign has been controversial on several fronts, not least of which was side-stepping questions about his platform and refusing to debate Jones.

The former coach, perhaps attempting to show his support for Trump, adopted much of the president’s xenophobic language. For example, Tuberville in June spoke ill of those of Middle Eastern descent:

“They told me we got more Middle Easterners coming across the border than we do Mexicans,” Tuberville said in June (via The Washington Post). “This was before the caravans started coming. I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said they’re coming all over the Middle East. They’re coming across the border, and they ain’t leaving. They’re coming for a reason. Folks, they’re taking over, and if we don’t open our eyes, it is going to be over with.”

Another such example:

“I’ve been in the cities, folks, you can’t drive through a neighborhood. Why? Because terrorism has taken over. Sharia Law has taken over,” Tuberville said (via Yellowhammer News). “Folks, there (are) places you can go in this country that you’re not wanted. In our country. I mean this is not the Middle East.”

That rhetoric has caused distress among many of his former players, who say they don’t recognize their former coach.

“That doesn’t reflect the person that I knew,” said Devin Aromashodu, who played receiver for Tuberville at Auburn from 2002 to 2005.

“As much as I love the guy, now he’s a politician,” said former quarterback Ben Leard.

Winning Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat (Nov. 3, 2020)

Several outlets declared Tuberville the winner of Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat, including the Associated Press and Bloomberg.

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