Originally created 10/24/98

Auburn coach Bowden resigns



AUBURN, Ala. -- Terry Bowden, for five years the most successful coach in Auburn history, resigned Friday in his sixth season as the team struggled with its worst start in 52 years.

Bowden said his resignation was effective immediately. Defensive coordinator Bill Oliver was named interim coach for the rest of the season, beginning with Saturday's game here against Louisiana Tech.

The sudden departure at midseason is a sharp reversal of fortune for the 42-year-old Bowden, son of Florida State's highly successful Bobby Bowden and brother of Tulane coach Tommy Bowden.

"There continues to be a very serious and divisive public debate about the certainty of my status at Auburn University," Bowden said in a statement. "This is extremely harmful to the morale of the Auburn fans, our football staff, and most importantly the young men who play football at Auburn.

"It is because of my love for these players and of Auburn University that I cannot allow this painful controversy to continue. 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."

Bowden's Tigers are 1-5 this season, but his first five years were unmatched in Auburn football history. He was 20-0 in his first 20 games -- the only coach to start a Division I-A career with 20 straight victories.

He took Auburn to the Southeastern Conference championship game last year, and signed a seven-year contract in December, with a base salary of $155,000 and benefits boosting the total package at more than $800,000.

From the team hotel at Lanett, Ala., Oliver told The Associated Press that the players' reaction to the news was as expected.

"Any time anything is sudden and shocking, and you're dealing with kids 18, 19 and 20 years old, it tends to be emotional," he said.

Oliver said Housel asked him to take the interim job Friday afternoon, but "I think there had been some speculation that Terry was trying to work some things out about three days ago."

Oliver said he hadn't thought about the situation turning into a permanent coaching job, saying his immediate goals were to "make the best of the situation, show some togetherness and consistency and go out and have some fun."

It was not immediately known what his severance package would be. Auburn reportedly is obligated only to cover his base salary, but there were various reports on how many years would actually have to be paid.

"We encouraged him to stay, to play out the season and see where we were at the end of the season," athletic director David Housel said, "but he felt that it would be in his best interest and the best interests of all concerned that he take this action at this time."

Bowden, who is 111-52-2 in 15 years as a college coach at three schools, came to Auburn from Samford in 1993. He went 11-0 his first season, a probation year at Auburn in which the Tigers were prevented from going to a bowl.

He extended his winning streak to 20 straight games and never lost more than four games in a season -- before this year. He was 46-12-1 through his first five seasons.

But injuries, off-field problems and a poor recruiting class have hounded Bowden all season. The Tigers lost five centers, a fullback and a backup running back to injuries while playing one of the nation's toughest schedules.

Auburn also lost seven signees due to grades. And that news came after starting safety Martavius Houston was kicked off the team for rules violations and starting receiver Robert Baker was dismissed when he pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking.

Against Auburn's cross-state rival Alabama, Bowden was 3-2, winning all three at the Tiger's Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"Terry's record at Auburn speaks for itself," Alabama coach Mike DuBose said when told of the resignation. "We wish Terry and his family all the best in the future."

"Coach Bowden has served us well," Housel said. "He is and always will be an important part of our football history."

Headed into last week's game against Florida, Housel had refused to discuss Bowden's future.

"We are not going to get involved with rhetoric and negativity. Coach Bowden is our football coach," Housel said.

During his weekly news conference Tuesday, Bowden had tried to sound upbeat.

"You have to just keep believing in yourself and your players," Bowden said. "You've got to have a little more conviction and perseverance and convey it to your players ... a little stronger will, a little tougher skin."

He also said prior to the Florida game last week that he would stick it out.

"If you can win the most games ever to this point, and in one year lose so much that they won't give you another year -- I can't imagine it would be the case anywhere in America," Bowden told The Associated Press.

"I'm going to get through this. I'm going to hang my hat in Auburn," he said.