Ranking the best Tide and Tiger coaches

By Hunter Ford

Who is the best ever Alabama football coach? Who is the best ever Auburn coach?

Alabama’s answer is a no-brainer. Bear Bryant. Two legendary coaches, Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas preceded Bryant. Since Bryant retired, only one other coach, Gene Stallings, has come close to winning on the field and winning over the hearts of Crimson Tide fans the way Bryant did.

In Auburn’s case, the Tigers can claim John Heisman and Shug Jordan as legendary figures.

Heisman coached in the 19th century, from 1895-99. He posted records of 2-1, 3-1, 2-0-1 and 3-1-1 so his career is hard to compare with modern coaches.

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Jordan coached the only national championship team ever fielded by the Tigers. Over a 25-year period, Jordan’s record was pretty mediocre on the whole and the presence of Bryant at Alabama overshadowed the majority of Jordan’s career.

Jordan had three losing seasons and three .500 seasons. His best teams were in 1957 (10-0 and national champions) 1958 (9-0-1) 1970 (9-2) 1971 (9-2) 1972 (10-1) and 1974 (10-2).

Since Jordan retired in 1975 Auburn has had only 4 different football coaches (not counting Bill Oliver who was an interim in 1998). In contrast, Alabama has had eight football coaches since 1983 and Stallings is the only one to coach the Tide for more than four seasons.

Just for fun, here’s my personal list of the best coaches at Alabama since Bryant and the best at Auburn since Jordan.

Alabama:

1. Gene Stallings. Stallings won the national championship in 1992, and was 5-2 against Auburn. From 1991 through 1994 The Tide posted 11-1, 13-0, 9-3-1 and 12-1 records, marking the best four years of the post-Bryant era. Stallings averaged 10 wins over a seven year span.

2. Ray Perkins. Perkins was a polarizing figure, but he recruited well and won some big games. Perkins teams were 3-0 in bowl games, wining against SMU, USC and Washington. He coached two memorable wins over Auburn, he beat Ohio State and he is the only Alabama coach to beat Notre Dame.

3. Dennis Franchione. Another controversial figure because of the way he left Alabama. But Fran took a program in lousy condition and whipped it into shape quickly. His 2001 team is the last Alabama team to beat Auburn. He won 10 games in 2002 and his Tide would have represented the SEC West in the SEC title game if not for probation.

4. Bill Curry. Curry lost to Memphis and dropped a homecoming game to a mediocre Ole Miss team. Still Curry was undefeated against Penn State and Tennessee and had a 10-0 run in 1989, before losing the first game the Tide ever played in Auburn.

5. Mike Dubose. Dubose coached the 1999 SEC champions, but a case could be made that a better coach would have won a national championship with that team.

6. Nick Saban. I’m not giving Saban credit for what he did at LSU. A 7-6 season in his first year at Alabama puts him in the bottom of this list, but chances are he will be at the top by 2009.

7. Mike Shula. Shula lost 9 games in 2003. He couldn’t beat Auburn. His poor record as a coach overshadows the fond memories of his quarterbacking days.

8. Mike Price. Never coached a game. What else can you say? It’s rolling baby!

Auburn:

1. Tommy Tuberville. I talked with two actual Auburn fans about this. One said he would rank Pat Dye the best, and another said he would chose Jordan. Just goes to show how crazy Auburn fans are. Nobody has ever dominated Alabama like Tuberville has. This list is for post-Jordan coaches, but even Jordan can’t claim six consecutive wins over Alabama. For Tide fans, Tuberville is like a bad rash that won’t go away. You’ve got to give him credit.

2. Pat Dye. Auburn was the best team in the SEC during the 1980s. And Dye brought some pride back to the Tigers after nine years of Alabama beating them into submission. When asked how long it would take to beat Alabama, Dye replied “Sixty minutes!”

3. Terry Bowden. Bowden’s demise came swiftly and strangely after an amazing start. Bowden won his first 20 games at Auburn and was 20-0-1 going into his second Iron Bowl. He lost that game, and had two 8-4 seasons and a 10-3 season before the wheels came off in 1998. He was 1-5 when he resigned and hasn’t coached since. In a strange twist of fate Bill Oliver coached the Tigers for the final five games of 1998.

4. Doug Barfield. Nice guy, I hear, but couldn’t handle The Bear. Barfield was 0-5 against Alabama. His 1979 team was a respectable 8-3 but was on probation. In 1980, his Tigers went 0-6 in the SEC prompting the hire of Dye.

Send comments to Hunter Ford at hunterford27@gmail.com.

15 Comments

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  1. 2
    julio

    It’s funny how much Bama fans still hate Bill Curry simply because he coudn’t beat Auburn. He won an SEC championship, won a lot of games, beat Tennessee and Penn State every year he was there, and he recruited a couple of competent players while he was there as I recall. A few guys named Curry, Copeland, Teague, and Langam come to mind. All that, and he’ still ranked behind Ray Jerkins and the most hated man in Bama football history, Dennis Franchione. And Bama fans say that Auburn only focuses on Alabama?

    I agree that Tubs is the best coach since Jordan, and for a lot more than just the streak. His record against top 10 teams over the last 7 years is unbelievable. Do you Bama fans remember what you taunted the AU fans with when Tubs was hired? That’s right, you all loved to point out that Tubs had never beaten Alabama. Who’s laughing now?

  2. 3
    Hunter Ford

    Curry was never accepted by Alabama fans. If he had beaten Auburn in 1989 he might have changed some hearts. The fact that his team was 10-0 and suffered its fourth consecutive loss to Auburn (unheard of at the time) really hurt. I believe Curry was a pretty decent coach overall (he had limited success at Ga Tech and Kentucky) but a very good coach at Alabama, take away the Auburn games. Curry beating Tennessee and Penn State was nice. He lost two of three bowl games and the bowl game he did win was a one-point win over Army.

    Curry was a surprise choice for coach in 1987. He was chosen over bobby Bowden and Howard Shnellenberger (SP?_

    Perkins, I have always believed, could have led Alabama to a national championship if he had stayed longer. The SEC was very competitive in the four years Perkins was there. LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida were all good during those years.

    Perkins was good in most of the big games he coached, beating Auburn twice, Georgia 1-1, Texas A&M, Ohio State, NotreDame, SMU *when they were very good) USC, and Florida at Gainesville. LSU and Tennessee were thorns in Perkins side, but those teams from those years were very good.

    Ironically, I see a lot of Perkins type personality in Nick Saban. At least as far as not being very media friendly.

    Franchione was a big let down of the way he left. He had a really great way of organizing the team and preparing for games. I don’t believe we would have lost to Auburn in 2002 if Fran hadn’t already made up his mind he was leaving.

    Dubose and Shula had almost identical four year terms with each coaches third year being a seemingly break-out ten win season only to be followed by a huge let down in the fourth year. I guess Dubose’s 3-8 season was far worse that Shula’s last 6-6.

    A better coach probably could have won a national championship with the 1999 team. Alabama was loaded

  3. 4
    julio

    All I can say as an Auburn fan is God Bless Joab Thomas for not hiring Bobby Bowden in 1987. I cannot imagine what a powerhouse Bama would have been for the last 20 years.

  4. 5
    Kenny

    That decision was one of the many incompetent decisions made by Alabama. I would still have to rank Pat Dye as the greatest coach in Auburn history. He changed the culture of Auburn, and won 4 SEC titles. He took over the state for quite awhile. I surprised that he seems to be underrated so much.

  5. 6
    AUTiger

    Nice blog. Although I don’t agree with everything, at least it isn’t totally biased like the other garbage on this site.

  6. 7
    Dark Illusions

    “Nobody has ever dominated Alabama the way Tuberville has.”

    In response to that quote, you must also not that no other coach faced Alabama when they wasn’t competing at full strength. It’s been said Alabama got what they deserved, and it is indeed true; however, any coach, including Terry Bowden and Doug Barfield, could’ve taken out Alabama the way Tuberville, and many other coaches in recent years has.

    In my opinion, Pat Dye is unarguably the greatest coach to ever coach a down in Auburn, Alabama. He turned the Iron Bowl tide in AU’s favor, for a short while, but it was enough to raise the bar in the Iron Bowl. He did in fact post an overall 6-6 record vs. Alabama, but without a doubt he owned the 1980s and unlike Tuberville, he done so at a time when both Alabama and AU was competing on a level playing field.

    Shug had his success, but overall he was nothing more than mediocre. Only winning two major bowls and posting an overall 9-16 record against Alabama proved that. But he was the only coach in AU history to win an AP title, so I can see why his status will forever be legendary.

    But I must note both Shug and Dye were busted on many accounts for cheating.

  7. 8
    tmc1

    The Bama program cut its own throat. And I will make no excuses for the poor state of affairs that led Bama down into the cellar. It was utter laziness and stupidity that occured after Stallings left.
    The best coach Auburn ever had was Terry Bowden. He won big and he was at least honest about the state of “affairs” at Auburn.
    Terry Bowden did Auburn a big favor by coming forward with the accusations he made about Auburn’s program. Because I believe that it forced Auburn to clean up its house. And as an end result (insofar as the football program) the program grew and prospered the right way.
    While most might think Dye is Auburn’s Moses, there were far too many accusations of cheating and steroids. And as a result Auburn ended up on probation, because evidently some of the accusations were true. Dye almost singlehandedly got the “Death Penalty” for Auburn. And yet to this day the Auburn faithful have made every attempt to cannonize him. I find that ironic. If Dye would have played by the rules there is a chance Auburn would have reached a title shot.
    But as far as I can tell, all of that is past. Tommy Tuberville has not equaled Bowden or Dye in championships, but by all appearances he is running a clean program. And I have to give him credit for that.

  8. 9
    Hamrick

    Julio, do you also remember when sanctions were handed down and suddenly Tuberville found himself on top of the mountain, instead of at the bottom searching for another job?

    Seriously, dude, get with the program. Without a doubt, Tuberville knows how to win and indeed he does deserve that acknowledgment; however, rubbing that fact in our face is pitiful. Look at the literal mess he’s faced since since his streak began. I understand the Iron Bowl is typically always a close game, but don’t think you think, other than 2005, the final score of each of those other meetings should be a lot deeper than they are, especially considering the state our program has been for quite some time? In no way am I aiming to pick an argument with you, I’m just stating my opinion in response to what you said out of neutral respect.

    Anyway, the list does make for good conversation and I fully agree with all of the rankings, Hunter. Nice job!

  9. 10
    Shane is a BLOGGER

    Auburn was on probation in 78, 79, & 80. So I would agree with the bama logic that bear beat AUBURN during one of their lowest points in the history of the nine win streak. WOW agreeing with bama fans.

  10. 11
    BamaFanInNYC

    Interestingly enough, it’s typical to hear that from a Barnie, because they know the truth, despite the fact they publicly deny it. Putting it to you frankly, I’d trade all of your all-time penalties for the one penalty we were recently dismissed of.

    Did you have 25 scholarships taken away over a five year period? Were you limited to only a grand total of 80 scholarships throughout that period? Was your depth chart shallow? what was the walk on/transfer rate to scholarship ratio during that time?

    Some of your greatest teams in the history of your program performed under sanctions, and that’s because your major penalty was being banned from a bowl — talk about harsh! Even in 2004, Alabama PolyTECHnic Institute straddled the fence and should be penalized for that.

    Our probationary period in the mid 90s was a cakewalk compared to what we recently endured. Not a team in history can hold a fork to our recent violations, which was committed by a booster, not the coaches or university itself, unlike you guys.

  11. 12
    julio

    Auburn will no more discount its six game streak due to “Bama being down” than Bama will discount their 9 game streak incurred due to Auburn’s down fall caused by Shug being sick and at the end of his career and the hiring of Barfield the incompetent. Furthermore, I seem to recall that Bama was ranked in the Top 10 during two of the losses, so what about those? For god sakes, Bama was a double digit favorite in the 02 game, and got spanked by double digits instead. (Now then, all Bama fans repeat after me: WE LOST IN 02 BECAUSE FRAN HAD ALREADY DECIDED TO LEAVE.) Good thing it’s only AU fans who make excuses.

    Also, you cannot discount what an accomplishment it is to beat any SEC school for 6 years in a row, much less one that is supposed to be an upper tier SEC team like Bama. Tenn, Fla, LSU, USC, and Ark have all lost to Bama during Auburn’s streak. Furthermore, there’s not another team in the SEC that AU has a 6 game or better streak against currently other than Vandy, and that includes Ole Miss and MSU.

    Lastly, this excuse about the sanctions is getting nauseating. Bama got hit with sanctions over 6 yrs ago. (BTW, Bama self imposed 15 scholarships, so spare me the garbage about doing nothing wrong.) The lost scholarships lasted for only 3 years on a declining basis. Somehow, Bama managed to find itself ranked in the top 10 during 2 of these last 6 years, but they were suddenly crippled by sanctions during the Iron Bowl? How long you guys gonna ride the sanctions excuse? Just man up, admit that you’ve gotten whipped, go get better and do something about it besides making excuses.

  12. 13
    Tyler The Golden Knight

    Julio, that is API’s very own fault for hiring the wrong coach. We don’t use Shula as a coverup because, the reality was Tuberville, despite being a failure before hand, was a giant among men compared to Shula. If Shula had taken over the program, without the downside of NCAA sanctions hindering him from doing anymore than he could, he would’ve left UA with a 1-3 record against Tuberville and API, and that win would’ve occurred in 2004, a year we started off strong, then due to the lack of depth, finished on a miserable note, without the benefit of a first or second string QB, and several other key offensive players.

    You can’t use Shug’s sickness as a coverup either, because after Bear Bryant took over, he ran over Shug, without even looking back. There was no stopping Bryant. Dye finished 1-1 against him with a hairline win over Bryant in his last Iron Bowl appearance.

    If you want to talk about worthless coaches, then we should discount your streak in the 1950s, because other than our recent decline, that was the worst period in the history of Alabama football… Maybe that was because Ears Whitworth was the coach?

    And you want to talk about two ten win seasons? It was obvious, after losing Tyrone Prothro and JB Closner, this team was no better than any of the rest. It’s not everyday you flip flop the state after winning four games out of a twelve year period, when the flagship institute is manhandled by the NCAA, undergoes five different coaching changes, and in three consecutive years, loses what little key starters they have. You have owned us on the recruiting front since Dennis Franchione bolted to A&M. You have also owned us on the playing field and overall, we were limited to what we could and couldn’t do. Our depth is now progressing and the amount of quality athletes on our team is steadily increasing. If you can’t accept those fact, then you don’t deserve the glory of my argument and needless to say it’s funny knowing only the API fans deny Alabama’s probation playing any role in their fall out. Fact.

  13. 14
    WillisMann

    Just tell me how DO you rank the Alabama Tech coaches from least to worst? Two of their most legendary figures were cheaters, and their current coach played everyone for a fool by suddenly emerging from the shadows after filling Alabama’s NCAA void. Not to mention his best season to date, was filled with questionable violations as well (2004).

  14. 15
    mike

    I would have to disagree with Tubby being ranked above Dye, at least at this point. Sure, Tubby has an amazing record against Top 10 teams and has beaten Bammer 6 in a row and 7 out of 8 and so on, but Dye put Auburn back on the map. IMO Dye and Tubby are comparable in the fact that they both took over programs that were ruined by the previous coaches.

    Pretty much agree with the Bammer list. Amazing thing is that there are several coaches on that list that lost their jobs because they couldn’t beat that little cow college across the state!!!

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