Tommy Tuberville followed the most difficult season of his coaching career with the best. A year after he was nearly replaced by Auburn, Tuberville is The Associated Press Coach...

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NEW YORK — Tommy Tuberville followed the most difficult season of his coaching career with the best.


A year after he was nearly replaced by Auburn, Tuberville is The Associated Press Coach of the Year.


“I learned a lot last year from what we went through at the end of the season,” he said. “I’ve been more relaxed this season.”


In his sixth season at Auburn, Tuberville has led the third-ranked Tigers to a 12-0 regular season and their first Southeastern Conference championship in 15 years.


“It’s probably been my easiest season as a head coach because of the great senior leadership this team has,” Tuberville said. “Coaches tend to think the world is on their shoulders. I’ve delegated more authority this season than before.”


However, the Tigers failed to reach the Orange Bowl to play for the BCS national title. Auburn never could get past Oklahoma and USC in the BCS standings and will play Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3.


Tuberville did far better in the coach-of-the-year voting than his team did in the polls. He was a runaway winner, getting 35 of the 63 votes from the panel of media members.


Utah coach Urban Meyer was second with 14 votes. Meyer led the Utes to an unbeaten season and a berth in the BCS before taking the Florida job.


USC’s Pete Carroll and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz received four votes, California’s Jeff Tedford got three votes and Texas-El Paso’s Mike Price got two. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and Louisville’s Bobby Petrino each received one vote.


Tuberville is the second straight SEC coach to win the AP award. LSU’s Nick Saban was last year’s winner.


As disappointing as being left out of the title game has been for Tuberville and his undefeated Tigers, this season has been far more enjoyable than last.


The Tigers began the 2003 campaign ranked in the top 10 and favored to win the SEC. But they lost their first two games of the season and stumbled to a disappointing 8-5 finish. There was speculation late in the season Tuberville might be on the way out.


It almost happened. It became public that Auburn officials, including the university president, had covertly courted Petrino to replace Tuberville.


The failed coup was an embarrassment for the Auburn hierarchy and helped rally support for Tuberville from Tigers fans who felt he was treated unfairly.


“I came back for two reasons,” he said. “The players stayed behind us 100 percent and 99 percent of the people in the Auburn family stayed behind us.”


Tuberville said he wouldn’t hold a grudge. His actions strengthened his relationship with the players.


“I always respected him. I respect him even more now for staying with us, even though they plotted to get him out of here,” receiver Courtney Taylor said. “It takes a bigger man to stay here and face everything that went on down here during that time. I love the man.”




Note


* Tulane coach Chris Scelfo received a contract extension through 2009. Scelfo’s record is 31-40 in six years, including 5-6 this season, but he is the only coach to win two bowl games with the Green Wave.