Tommy Tuberville was announced as the University of Cincinnati’s football coach on Dec. 8, 2012, replacing Butch Jones after Jones left UC for the job at Tennessee.
Tuberville has been a head coach at Mississippi and Auburn in the SEC and came to UC after three seasons at Texas Tech from the Big 12. He left Texas Tech in much the same way that Jones, Brian Kelly and Mark Dantonio had previously left UC – on short notice.
He was an assistant coach under Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson at the University of Miami during the Hurricanes during the mid-80’s and early 90’s. Tommy Tuberville has been there and done that when it comes to college football. His teams have been successful on the field and his players have performed well in the classroom over the years.
The Bearcats are coming off a 10-3 season which included a 48-34 win against Duke in the Belk Bowl. It was the program’s fifth 10-win season in the last six years and it has won outright or shared four of the last five Big East championships.
UC wrapped up its first spring practice session under Tuberville this week. He recently took time to speak with FoxSportsOhio.com about himself, this team, the UC athletic program as a whole and the state of college football as it continues to evolve with conference re-alignment.
FSO: What did you learn from your days at Miami, first under Jimmy Johnson and then Dennis Erickson?
TT: The first thing I learned, and you look at all of these people and it’s nice to have all of the glitter and stuff and maybe the best facilities in the world, and I think it probably enhances your recruiting but I learned there that you can win without it because we had the worst facilities in the country. We were able to recruit athletes because of winning. Winning does more than athletic dorms or indoor workout areas or 20,000-square foot weight rooms. Winning is going to bring kids to that school, whether it’s students or whether it’s athletes. We won there for the nine years we were there and I was amazed at the types of athletes we could recruit when we had a lot less than everyone else in terms of facilities. Our own stadium, we played in the Orange Bowl. We were an inner city school.
Cincinnati reminds me a lot of Miami, just the environment you’re in. It’s obviously bigger in terms of students and it’s not a private school but the biggest thing I learned at Miami from Jimmy and Dennis Erickson was run an offense and defense and recruit for it. If somehow, some way you can start winning like Howard Schnellenberger did there back in the early 80’s, players will come. They’ll come because they want to be a part of a winning program. It’s not about all of the things you see when you go on some of these campuses. It’s nice, but it’s more about winning than anything else to help recruiting…
FSO: Coaching is a nomadic industry and college exceptionally so. In basketball, we’ve seen Steve Alford sign a 10-year deal with New Mexico only to leave for UCLA 10 days later. UC has gone through the losses of football coaches and you yourself left Texas Tech to come here. Is that a problem within coaching? Is it an issue that has to be addressed?
TT: That’s a good question. I’ve always thought about it. We’re a job, and it’s a job to all of us. Whether you’re coaching or working in a factory or you’re a lawyer or a doctor, everyone looks for a way to enhance the opportunities that they have. I’ve been fortunate. I haven’t moved nearly as much as some of my friends who have been in this business as long as I’ve been in but it does happen. You do it for different reasons. Sometimes the situation you might be in, you say to yourself, as was a lot of it when I was at Auburn, 10 years is a long time at one school. Now I think five years is a long time because of the scrutiny that you’re under, the media, the pressures to win. I think some of those things.
It’s hard to move. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve moved from Ole Miss to Auburn to Tech to here. A lot of people would think ‘why would that guy get up and leave? Why would he do that?’ Sometimes I ask myself the same thing because I know what I’m getting myself into. It looks easy to move but it’s probably the hardest thing in the world to do. You’re leaving a group of guys and then you’re joining another one and you’re having to establish a new family, a new lifestyle, a new beginning.
I’ve gone back and looked at all of the situations I’ve been in and tried to figure out after the fact why I did that. Why did you go to another place? The common denominator that comes to mind is you’re doing it a little bit for the school that you’re leaving, you’re doing it a little bit for yourself and you’re doing it a little bit for your family and you’re doing it a little bit for the school you’re going to. There is always that common denominator. There is not one of those that you say, I’m going to leave just to leave and go somewhere else. There are a lot of factors involved with it. It’s kind of the business that we’re in.
I hated to leave Texas Tech. We had some success. It was a hard job because I was taking over for kind of a legend, a guy who had taken a program that was down and out and built it back. I was kind of the outsider looking in for three years. That had a little something to do with it, but there were great people there. It was nice. We had built the program back to where I thought it was very competitive but there was always in the back of my mind ‘Am I ever going to win over this 25 to 30 percent that still like Mike?’ Right or wrong, is that going to happen? Sometimes you make decisions for that reason. I’ve done about as much as I can do.
Every job is different. Every job that you leave is different, every job that you go to is different. I had a lot of family ties here with my wife. That was a major factor. Major. I had drug all over. I drug her from Miami to Texas A&M to Ole Miss to Auburn to Texas Tech. Our kids are getting to the point where one is in college, one is getting ready to start college in a couple of years and it just seemed like the right thing to do, to get her to a place where she could enjoy life a little bit.
FSO: After a lot of sacrifices she’s made for you?
TT: Right. There was a lot of that involved in it.
FSO: Does the NCAA or college athletics need to address the issue and make it a little more stable?
TT: The only way you could do that, and I’ve thought about it and there’s no easy way to ever leave a place or take over another place. The timing is awful. That’s the worst thing about it.
FSO: There was no good timing with Butch Jones leaving, or with Brian Kelly leaving…
TT: Or with me leaving Tech. I’ve thought about it and the only way is to say nobody is fired or hired until after bowl games. You make your contracts and nobody leaves and nobody takes another one. The whole deal is that people leave at the end of regular seasons. When somebody leaves, there’s an opening and colleges are not going to sit around and wait a month or five weeks to hire somebody. They’ve got to get going, so the only way you’re ever going to change that scenario is for the presidents to get together and say we’re going to pay somebody and not make a decision on hiring or firing until after every bowl game is played and then you do it.
To me, that’s the only way you can do it. I’ve looked at every scenario. Now, whether you can do that or not, I don’t know.
You’re starting in the middle of your busiest season – recruiting. The only way I could see you doing it is add a month to recruiting, don’t have any recruiting in the month of December.
FSO: The chances of getting the presidents to all agree to this are little.
TT: If you could say we’re not going to hire or fire anyone until after the bowl games, nobody can recruit until after the bowl games and make it fair to everyone but getting everyone on the same page is… Over the last seven or eight years I’ve been on the American coaches association board of trustees, I’ll be the head in a couple of years, I’ve been on the rules committee for five years. We’ve been trying to get a little early signing date, just for kids that they grew up knowing they wanted to go to Michigan all of their lives and they’re going to go there but there’s no way for us to stop having to recruit this kid every week to save money so we’re going to sign him Dec. 1. We can’t get people to agree to that.
I can understand why some people don’t want it but it’s just hard. My wife and I, it’s hard for us two to make a decision on buying a house. You put 120 presidents and athletic directors and college coaches together and think you’re going to make a decision. It’s hard to do. It’s kind of like Congress.
FSO: How would you describe you as a coach?
TT: I’ve grown over the years. I’ve become more of a guy who can put up with a little bit more. You have to have changed because the kids change every year. It’s a different generation from what we had 10 years ago. You’ve got the iPhones and the iPads and the Internet and Facebook and tweeters and all of those things. Everybody talks about the media; it’s affected our kids as much as anything.
I’ve done pretty well because I started a family later in life. I didn’t get married until I was 39 so we didn’t have kids until I was 41. I’ve had kids growing up in this era and I’ve had to deal with them. That’s helped me deal with kids on a younger level. I’m 58 years old and I’m a lot older than a lot of these kids but having to deal with my kids in terms of video games, cell phones, texting and all of that so being able to learn through them has helped me adjust to the younger generation because this is a young man’s sport. You’ve got to be able to relate.
I’ve grown over the years. I delegate more authority every year to coaches. I think that’s a better way to do it. Micro-managing in football, No. 1 you not going to be in it very long because it will drive you out of it. If you don’t have good people working for you that you trust, you can’t do it all anymore. Just talking about the media. The interest in college football is so much more than it was 15 years ago because people want to read about it every day. They want to read blogs, they want to read the Web pages, they want to read Scout and Rivals. They want to know about recruiting. There is so much more to it now than there was 17, 18 years ago when I first became a head coach. If I hadn’t been able to change I would have had to get out of it because it would have drove me absolutely nuts.
I think the biggest thing I’ve been able to do is I’ve been able to adjust to the kids better and I’ve been able to delegate authority more to coaches and let them handle things. I tried to handle every little thing that I could when I first became a head coach and I was about burned out after about three or four years so I reverted back in time and took more things from Jimmy Johnson than any coach that I worked for. Jimmy was lot like that; he delegated authority and expected you to do your job and that enabled him to handle more issues in terms of academics, media and recruiting. I think that helped me working for a guy like that for four or five years.
FSO: That’s probably pretty hard to change as a coach, isn’t it?
TT: It’s hard for a coach to do. I was a defensive coach and it was hard for me to not to call defensive plays. But why not hire a guy who can watch film three times more than you can during a week, who has a better idea of what to do, make a game plan and put it together and then call the defenses or the same thing on offense?
Steve Spurrier is still one of my buddies and he still calls the offensive plays. I don’t know how he does it. There just is not enough time in the day where I could sit down and do due diligence. Not to say he can’t do it, but something is going to suffer because there are so many more responsibilities that we have now – Steve and I both have – than when we were first in it. FSO: The way you described that makes me think of when Marvin Lewis began here with the Bengals. He came to them as the reputation of a great defensive mind but one of the things he did was delegate responsibilities to his coaches.
TT: I’m like Marvin and I believe you can be a better head coach to everybody on the team if you can spend time with everyone. I go spend time with the offense. I go spend time with the defense and I spend a lot of time with the special teams. I know a lot more about being able to coach a game other than just coach an area of the game. I want to know what’s going on. I want to be able to get on the phone and say that we’ve got to throw the ball a little more, we’ve got to be able to throw the ball deeper or shorter. If I was just doing defense I wouldn’t be able to do that.
There are a lot of guys who do it the other way, and not that you can’t be successful doing it, but I think you can last longer and you can do better and more justice to the entire team, to every player, know every player’s name. I know some coaches who tried to do just the offense or defense and they didn’t even know the players’ names on the other side of the ball because they spent so much time. It’s not that they didn’t want to, it’s just that there’s not enough time in the day to do it.
I want every player to know me here and I get to know them. I want every player to know that I know their position and what they can do and what they can’t do. I want them to be able to walk in here and ask me what they can do to get better, and I don’t want them to walk in and I don’t know who the heck they are or what they’re majoring in. I think it’s important that head coaches know all of that. If you put all 100 of my guys out there right now I wouldn’t be able to go and tell you everything I need to know about them because I haven’t been here long enough. An assistant coach has 10 or 12 guys they have to learn so I’ve got to lean on them right now. My biggest job is to get to know each of them, the good, the bad and the ugly about each one of them. Where they come from? What their weaknesses are? What their academic weaknesses are? All of those things.
To me, to be a total head coach you’ve got to be able to do what Marvin does, or what I do, or what Nick Saban does. Nick Saban is not calling offensive or defensive plays.
A lot of guys I’ve grown up with do it like that. You’ve got younger guys who probably try to do it like we did years ago, and try to do it all, and you can’t.
My philosophy is you’ve got to hire good people and you’ve got to give them the ability to make decisions on their own, knowing that they’re responsible and that’s their job. I’ve had to fire some of my best friends before just because some things didn’t work out because some decisions were made. Not that they didn’t think they were right decisions but that they made the wrong decisions and I’ve had to make changes.
FSO: You lettered in football at Southern Arkansas University and you played golf?
TT: I did. Here’s the deal with that: it was a Division-three school. I liked to play golf. I hadn’t played a whole lot before I got to college but I’d played some and one of the football coaches was the golf coach and he needed some extra guys on the team. I was looking for any possible way to: No. 1, play more golf in the spring and, No. 2, get out of spring practice. I missed a couple of practices for some golf outings with one of the assistant coaches. That wasn’t high on my agenda. That was just a little more fun in college.
I enjoyed college. I wasn’t very good but I did play some. I had some very good college coaches who were very technique-oriented. That’s kind of where I fell in love with how to play football. In high school it’s just fun. It’s hard, but it’s not near what college is. I got there and saw the work ethic you had to put into it, the time, the effort and the technique. I can’t imagine coaching college football and not having played college football because you really don’t understand. If you played in high school and you think you’re going to coach in college, I think you need to understand the college football perspective from a player’s point of view. It’s hard. It’s a job.
I tell all of these kids it’s the only time in your life you’ll have two full-time jobs. Football is full-time and academics are full-time. You’re not a regular student. You don’t get to go to class and then go and lay out in Nippert Beach out here during the day and read a book. You don’t have that time. We take all of their time. Everything that they get towards a scholarship to get an education, it doesn’t even come close to the time that they put into it while they’re here.
It’s a great experience but it’s hard but it’s something I wouldn’t trade for. Now that I’m through it, I don’t know that I’d go back and do it.
FSO: Still get to play some golf?
TT: Yeah, but you know, I don’t play from about August until about now. I just don’t have time. I’ll play in some golf outings. I’ll play a couple of times a week in some charity events. I love golf. As a matter of fact, I’ve got the Golf Channel on here. I do that and I never turn the sound up but I do it just to every once in a while to get my mind off of football. I get consumed with football and when you do that sometimes you get a little burned out.
I’ve got the ability to have this TV on and every once in a while when I’m trying to clear my mind I’ll look at it and usually they’ve got a replay of a golf game. I know what a hard job that is. It’s a hard game. Everybody says ‘wouldn’t it be great to be a pro golfer?’ Well, yeah, but there are 60 million golfers and only 100 of them make any money doing it.
FSO: You went to Paul Brown Stadium to hold a scrimmage. Ohio State is holding its Spring Game there on April 13. Is that much of a concern for you as we talked about recruiting?
TT: No, I’m excited. I’m going to go watch them. I’m going to go down there and watch them because we play them in two years.
We went down there just because you play in different places and in the springtime you want to have as many experiences as you can to make your team better. It was a different atmosphere, a different 40-second clock, different turf, different dressing room. You want to get away from your norm. It’s an advantage for us to have the Bengals be here, for our coaches and for our players. When I got here I went and watched them practice three or four times in our indoor place as they got ready to play in the playoffs. I had nowhere to go, and a lot of our players went down there and watched them practice. I think that’s good.
We don’t worry about any other school. I’ve been at other places. The one thing I told our players and our fans and our alumni all of the time when I was at Auburn that we can’t worry about Alabama. Let’s worry about Auburn. Let’s make ourselves as good as we can. If it’s good enough, it’s good enough. If it’s not, it’s not. We’re going to do the same thing here.
Urban is going to do a great job there. I’ve coached against Urban and we’ll coach against each other in two years when we go up there and play them but if you waste any amount of time on anybody else and worrying about that it takes away from what you do. I told our players and coaches that, we can’t worry about if we’re going to be in the Big East or the Metro 10 or the Big 10 or anything else. We can’t worry about that. Just worry about getting ready to be the best student-athletes you can be and the best team we can be and go from there…
FSO: You tell your players not to worry about the conference they’ll be playing in, but how much do you think about the future affiliation of UC?
TT: I worry more about college football than I worry about us. Which direction are we going? What do we want? Are we going to have five leagues that have 15 or 18 (teams) in each league, then everybody plays for a playoff? I think that’s great.
I was all for the plus-one. I’m not for a long playoff. I’m totally against that. I’ve coached in playoffs before, in I-AA, and we’d play four or five extra games. It’s a survival contest. It’s not fair to players. The season is too long. All of this playoff talk is media talk and for fans. I understand that but football is a lot different than basketball.
You can’t go out there and beat heads in practice all week and then play a game. It’s a true survival contest.
We do need a true national champion, and ever since 2004 (at Auburn) I’ve been on the bandwagon of the plus-one when we got left out. There wasn’t anything we could do about it then but ever since I’ve been of the mind that surely we can pick the top four teams. Everybody can have their bowl games. The bowl scenario is the best thing we’ve got in college football because you’ve got more than one winner. I think there are 32 bowls, so there are 32 teams that are going to win bowl games. Then you have 32 other teams that have bowl experience and there is money made for charities all over the country.
We’ve got to have the bowl system. The best way to do it, which is what we’ve done, is go to the plus-one. We still have the bowls and we’re going to play one more game afterwards. After playing the best four teams, play the best two teams and it’s going to make a lot of money for a lot of teams, not just those teams. I think it’s going to be split up 120 ways, which is should be. It gives everybody at the end of the year a sense that this is the best team.
If you played an eight or a 16-team playoff, it would be rough. Right now you’ve got a different scenario for some teams having to play conference championship games. That’s one more game than everyone else to get to that point. I think everyone is going to end up having conference championships.
I don’t really worry about our conference. We’re going to end up fine. It makes you a little uneasy right now not knowing. It’s not knowing what you’re going to do that worries me more. It’s going to be taken care of. It’s just knowing what’s going to happen. I just can’t waste my time. But it is good talk.