Bowden's Departure Stuns Auburn


The day after Terry Bowden walked away from his job, questions still lingered about why one of Auburn's most successful football coaches would quit only hours before a game.

Bowden remained publicly silent Saturday about his abrupt resignation from a school where he had enjoyed exceptional success, with a record of 47-17-1 in his sixth season, and had described as "the place I want to end my career."

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On Saturday, three hours before the Tigers' game against Louisiana Tech, athletic director David Housel denied that Bowden was forced out amid Auburn's worst start (1-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) since 1952.

"There's not one person here who wanted coach Bowden to not finish out the season," Housel said.

But a sense of uncertainty swirled around the state, where the triumphs and travails of the 42-year-old Bowden were widely followed.

Housel said he had talked with Bowden Wednesday, but said it was a "man-to-man conversation" that he preferred not to discuss. However, Housel denied that Bowden asked for assurance on his status past the season and said he was under the impression the coach would finish out the year.

"As of Thursday, he was staying here through the end of the season," Housel said.

So what happened between then and Friday, when Bowden resigned, remains a mystery. Bowden, an exhuberant and fast talker who enjoyed the spotlight, steered clear of the news media and did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press Saturday.

Resigning midseason is unusual in college football, but Housel said only Bowden could say why he did it. Housel said Bowden declined an opportunity to be at the press conference, but in a statement issued Friday, the son of Florda State coach Bobby Bowden said the "very serious and divisive public debate about the certainty of my status at Auburn University" led him to resign.

"It is because of my love for these players and of Auburn University that I cannot allow this painful controversy to continue," he said. "Someone must be willing to step up to the plate and put closure to this endless debate if Auburn is going to move forward. I believe that someone must now be me."

Bobby Bowden said his son had told him as early as Wednesday that he was considering resigning. "I think it was a `leave now or get fired at the end of the year' situation," the elder Bowden said.

Some Auburn fans had been vocal about the team's performance, particularly an offense that managed only six touchdowns in six games and had a rash of turnovers. But one university official familiar with Bowden's situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said without elaborating that the problem was not entirely with the team's performance.

Asked Saturday if Bowden lost his job for "crossing trustee Bobby Lowder," Housel said it wasn't true.

Plans for hiring a new coach won't be discussed until next week. Interim coach Bill Oliver has expressed interest in keeping the job. Housel said Oliver, a longtime Alabama assistant who played on a national championship team with the Crimnson Tide in 1961, would be considered.

But the name on most Auburn fans' list was former Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan. The former Tigers quarterback most recently coached at TCU, where he resigned last year when the Horned Frogs went 0-7 at the start of his sixth season.

Sullivan refused to comment about the Auburn job.

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