Tag Archives: James Willis

Friday night with Tuberville: Part Two

By J.M. Comer

Part Two of a three-part series. This is a blog with entries from two Auburn fans. This particular series of stories should not to be considered a serious journalism endeavor. And this blog is our impressions on all-things Auburn. For example, we like to use flowery language and poke fun at Bama. Please see Exhibit A and Exhibit B. Oh yeah, for good measure: Exhibit C. This blog entry should be considered my impression, as a fan, of spending a few minutes with Coach Tommy Tuberville and Assistant Coach James Willis. I thought that I would share my thoughts on the scene of Friday night, where I saw glimpses of the past, present and hopefully the future of our Auburn football program. What I took away from the experience? I think our Auburn program is in good hands. I hope that Coaches Tuberville and Willis would not hold it against me that I did not mention that I am a co-author of this blog, on the off-chance that they would stumble across The War Eagle Reader some rainy February afternoon. Maybe I should have mentioned it. I also didn’t bring up Tony Franklin. I thought it would be best to let that one lie buried in a grave. For good or ill, here we go. Please see Part one of this series if you are just tuning in. War Damn Eagle!


Image CC by Flickr user Henley24.

Ike, Thomas and I lined up against the fence at Southern High School. Halftime was drawing close, and Ray Cotton’s team, the Meade High Mustangs, trailed 7-0. The Mustangs were driving on the Bulldogs of Southern High, looking to tie it up. The senior quarterback and Auburn verbal commitment stood tall under center. Calm. Cool. Collected.

The three of us were grinning from ear to ear, sneaking glances out of the corner of our eyes at the Auburn coaching staff down the field to our left. I kept dropping my head and shaking it, looking at the ground. I couldn’t believe it. Coach Tuberville was only a few yards away. I had yelled “War Eagle!” to the coach earlier and I was the happiest guy in Maryland at that moment. You folks in living in Alabama don’t understand. People in other far-flung states are hungry for the sights and sounds, anything to capture the orange-and-blue memories of Saturdays in the South. Here was the living embodiment of Auburn football. The steady hand guiding the rudder during the storm. Right there!

A sidenote: I’d only met Coach Tuberville once before. I waited tables at Cock of the Walk when his family came in one night in 2000. It is a catfish house in Opelika. If you haven’t visited, I’d suggest you give it a try. Good fried seafood. As part of the waiting staff, I wore a pirate-like red shirt with leather laces up the front and a flat-brimmed black hat with a long, red feather. The getup was supposed to reflect Mike Fink, a larger-than-life longboat captain on the Mississippi River in the 1800s. He fought Indians. He wrestled. He drank too much and waved a Bowie knife at unlucky opponents. Then there was me, the 165-pound skinny be-Finked graduate with an English degree passing out hushpuppies. You couldn’t even take me seriously. I flipped your cornbread in the air as part of the act. Will the cornbread land in the skillet? Will it hit the floor? The circumstances at the time weren’t exactly conducive to a serious person-to-person meeting of the minds. All I gathered from the exchange of catfish and cornbread for money was that Tubby’s kids were well behaved and didn’t fill up on too much soda before their meal.

Back to the game at hand: Ray Cotton’s coach decided to let his quarterback stretch his legs.

Cotton was running around the corners. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was pounding it up the middle with success. He didn’t have too much help from the rest of his team of Mustangs at this point in the game. Receivers were dropping the ball. Cotton wasn’t helping himself much either. Some throws were too long. He was throwing to imaginary 6’5″ receivers. Push it forward young man!

We kept glancing over at the studious coaches, trying not to be too obvious. And then Assistant Coach James Willis walked over to say hello.

Ike and Thomas knew who it was instantly. I have to admit, I didn’t have a clue that the man had 344 career tackles at Auburn. I grew up a Tennessee Volunteer fan until I attended Auburn University in 1997. I still am catching up on the Pat Dye years. My coach in the ’80s was Johnny Majors. Don’t hold it against me, dear reader. I hate Alabama twice as much as most folks.

“War Eagle, I’m James Willis,” he said, offering his hand in kinship. I shook it. It was tough as granite. I’d never shook a hand before that felt like steel.

He asked us what we thought of the young quarterback on the field. And then he listened. We chatted for a few minutes as we watched Cotton lead his team to score 6 by pounding it in from the 1-yard line. The Mustangs then missed the extra point. Coach Willis commented that they should have went for 2 points and Thomas and Ike agreed. I’d been away from the high school game for so long that I’d forgotten what a risky endeavour the kicking game was at this level. But I felt like a great football mind as Coach Willis walked away. Not some psuedo-stalker in an Auburn hoodie and jeans.

A state trooper on the sideline came up to us and said that we could come on the track since we were with Auburn University. “Um, no, sir. We’re just here to watch the game,” we mumbled. (This was a reoccurring thing. Everyone thought we were scouts for Auburn. I guarantee, in no way did we look the part. But people on both sides of the field noticed the small Auburn contingent. That’s for sure.)

Enter the Tiger: Tuberville

Tommy Tuberville walked over to us just before halftime. He had a few short minutes before he had to leave. That he took the time to say “hello,” well, it was beyond great. Afterward, we all sat in the stands and wondered if Nick “I don’t have time for this shit” Saban would have done the same.

My first impression of Tommy Tuberville? Focused. Friendly. Knowledgeable. His eyes reminded me of some of a farmer’s eyes, tobacco farmers that lived near my grandfather in the Cumberland Gap. They all had a slight squint from spending hours and hours in the sun. Or maybe Tuberville was more like the men I’d see at Hardee’s when I was a kid in Tennessee on my way to visit my grandparents or to church on a Sunday morning. They’d be dressed up and talking about what happened on the football field Saturday as they drank their coffee and flipped through the paper. Good-natured men, lean from working hard all week, enjoying their time together. (They were Volunteer men with their Bill Dance Orange T hats with the back netting. And God, they hated Alabama.) I’d always watch and listen to them all as my family ate our gravy and biscuits.

I’m saying this because I felt like those men when we were shooting the bull with Coach Tuberville. The talk was light and easy.

(I’m gushing. Gentle reader, please forgive me. This doesn’t happen often, that you meet your team’s head coach. If you want an unbiased analysis of Tuberville, you will not find it here.)

But a lot of the short conversation is still a blur. I was making sure that I didn’t say anything stupid. And I made sure not to talk about the 800-pound gorilla beating its chest, swinging from the scoreboard: Tony Franklin.

Sometimes all my efforts to not stumble over my words didn’t work. For example, I brought up the A-11 formation that The New York Times wrote about last week. I tried to describe it to Coach Tuberville, failing miserably.

“It has a center and two guards. And all the other guys on the offensive … are … um … eligible receivers … there’s a loophole that the California high school coaches are exploiting … yeah … two quarterbacks. I forgot about the two quarterbacks on the field.”

He graciously helped me save face by suggesting it must be like Texas’ “Q package,” which he then described to us, mimicking the moves of the quarterbacks and describing their options.

Also, Coach Tuberville quickly, but gently, corrected Ike for thinking that Southern High was running the Veer formation on offense. He said that Southern was actually running the Delaware Wing-T.

Also, Thomas criticized the throwing motion of Alabama ‘s recruit, A.J. McCarron. He commented that McCarron held his non-throwing arm in an awkward position, looking like a chicken wing or a baby T-Rex arm. “Does he hold that arm like that to block defenders?” Thomas wondered. Coach Tuberville had nothing to add to Big Sexy’s musings. Later, Thomas exclaimed, “Man, that was going nowhere.”

Ike made fun of me for wasting time talking about the weather with Tuberville. (“This is the first cold night here in Maryland this fall. It was hot last week, which is weird for October.”) The weather is my go-to subject whenever there is a brief lull in a conversation. What a waste of breath.

The Iron Bowl was discussed briefly. Tuberville squinted, then smiled. He flashed six fingers for the camera. He knows what makes our hearts soar.

We thanked Coach profusely for spending time with us and then it was time for the coaching staff to depart. I kept thinking about how, if I were in Coach Tuberville’s shoes and was enduring a similar football season, I would have been uptight, looking over my shoulder for real and imagined enemies like Dick Nixon. That he was loose, calm, friendly with us was amazing to me. The man has a plan. If you were a recruit with doubts, wouldn’t you be reassured by the man’s presence, standing tall and steady, watching your team?

Row of Cotton

The second half was about to start. At that point in the game, you could see Cotton’s potential. He could throw. He wasn’t afraid to pound it through the scuffle of linemen. But the Mighty Meade Mustang’s offense was stalling in the red zone. At one point, there was a miscommunication between Cotton and his center. With the ball near the Southern Bulldog 5-yard line, the ball was hiked past the young QB all the way back near the 20-yard line. Yikes! The Mustangs failed to score and make it a 14-13 contest before the half. But Ray Cotton’s Meade High Mustang team would gather their thoughts at halftime. (It appeared that there was no visitors’ locker room at Southern’s home field. The visiting team conferred in the endzone at halftime and discussed their game plan. Keep selling those foodstuffs to fund your facilities, Southern High!)

But Ray Cotton and his Mustang teammates would launch a comeback from the 14-6 deficit in the second half. It would prove to be an inspiring spectacle.

Part three tomorrow. 100% Cotton!

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Filed under Diversions / Investigations, General

Friday night with Tuberville: Part One

By J.M. Comer

Part one of a series of stories this week. I present this story to you as what I experienced on Friday night. Coach Tuberville and his assistants did not know that I am part of a blog and their comments were made from coach to fan. I’d like to share some of what I saw, as an Auburn fan. War Damn Eagle.

He sure looks like Jason Campbell, doesn’t he? said Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville.

He does, Coach. He’s even wearing his number, I reply.

He is, isn’t he? Tuberville says, as Meade High School quarterback Ray Cotton (#17) wings a pinpoint throw toward our side of the field, falling incomplete 15 yards down the field possibly because of the young, chilled hands of a cold receiver.

Ray Cotton towers over his teammates. A full head taller than a vast majority of his team and the other on the field. Are we watching the future of Auburn football?

I’m leaning on the fence surrounding the field with my two close friends and Auburn men, Ike Blake and Thomas “Big Sexy” Jones. Our gamble had paid off. Auburn Head Football Coach Tommy Tuberville is talking football and shooting the bull with us on the other side of the waist-high fence as we watch the Mustangs of Meade High School play the Bulldogs of Southern High School on Friday night.

It’s the first cold, clear night of the fall in southern Maryland. That wonderful crisp feeling is in the air. Everyone is wearing their jackets. And Mustang QB Cotton, an Auburn verbal commitment now wavering because of Auburn’s misfortunes, is trying to lead his team to their first win in four tries.

‘Want to go?’

The subject line of the e-mail from Ike on Monday morning asks if Thomas and I are interested in going to see a high school game Friday night. The Washington Post‘s “Recruiting Insider” blog is saying that Ray Cotton and his father, Raymond Cotton Sr., are questioning the events of the past two weeks. Tony Franklin has been fired as Auburn’s offensive coordinator, and Chaos rules the Plains of Auburn. Our team has lost to Vanderbilt and Arkansas in consecutive SEC games. Fingers are pointed. Questions hang in the air unanswered. “What is going on?” “Who is leading the charge?” “Is Tuberville’s job secure?”

Not exactly what you want to see if you are looking out for your son’s future on the grid iron. You can understand Papa Cotton’s misgivings.

The WaPo blog entry says that Coach Tuberville and other Auburn assistants will travel to see Ray Cotton play against Southern High on Friday night just south of Annapolis, Md. Ike is proposing to Thomas and me in his e-mail that we travel down for the 6:30 p.m. EDT kickoff time after work and watch the game and possibly, just possibly, meet Tuberville.

It’s been a tough year if you are an Auburn fan. You can only look to the future at this point or you will drive yourself crazy with the hand wringing. Championship dreams are dead. So why not think about just West Virginia? Just like countless of athletes have parroted over and over, contest after contest, year after year: “We’re taking it one game at a time.”

Let’s beat the Mountaineers and see where it takes us. But why not also think about (for sanity’s sake) good years ahead? Will Ray Cotton stick with a beaten and bruised Auburn Tiger program? He gave his word. But Auburn is a different product right now. Is Auburn selling him a faulty program?

Cotton’s decision will give a glimpse into his character, I’d say.

But first, we should take a look at what he’s made of on the field. Can he play football?

Although Coach Tuberville won’t be able to talk to Cotton right now (damned NCAA rules!) he can be a boots-on-the-ground supporter. And on Friday night, his presence loomed large.

Friday night lights in Maryland

It’s the first high school game for all of us in years.

Southern High School’s Wingate Field offers a sharp contrast to what you are used to seeing in the South.

It’s the first thing Thomas noticed as soon we walked in. “Look how small the home stand is!” Thomas played football for Central High School in northwestern Alabama in the late ’80s. His observations on all-things football hold a lot of weight with me because he’s played and observed the game for a while. (Later, Coach Tuberville made, pretty much, the same comment when looking across the field to the home stands. “It’s a much different atmosphere than football in the South, isn’t it?” We couldn’t agree more.)

The visiting stands are half full with the fans from Meade High, sitting on a hybrid of wood and aluminum. The bathrooms are three blue porta-potties, thankfully far away from the seats.

The home stands are built into the side of a hill (which is kind of cool/weird) and are filled. Southern High has turned out the fans tonight.

Awesomely, the concession stand offers Chick-fil-A, but things are a little pricey. Someone says so to one of the women behind the counter. She snaps, “Do you like using the bathroom in those plastic johns?!?! We’re trying to raise money for a bathroom here!”

We’ve missed a good chunk of the first quarter because of work and traffic. I wonder if any other Auburn fans in the area will be here, as we walk to the visitors’ side. And as we round the bend in the track, I see our coach in a dark blue heavy jacket and silver hair. And yeah, the ears. He’s looking sharp. He is standing and observing the game some assistants a good 30 yards away from off the high school team.

I can’t contain myself: “War Eagle, Coach!”

There is a lull in the game as Coach Tuberville slowly turns with a smile.

“We got us some Auburn fans here. War Eagle!” he says. Others of the coaching council turn around.

There’s Assistant Coach James Willis too. Ike and Thomas are beside themselves.

Mission — success!

Part Two tomorrow: Talking with Coach Willis. Talking with Tubs. Cotton rules the field. War Damn Eagle!

Update on Ray Cotton

The Gold Mine reports:

Quarterback Raymond Cotton, one of Auburn’s biggest commitments for the 2009 signing class, was favorably impressed that Tuberville and assistant coach James Willis flew to Maryland over the weekend to watch him play.

Cotton told AuburnSports.com that he’s still firmly committed to Auburn and plans to visit campus to watch the Georgia game over Nov. 14-16.

Cotton committed to Auburn when he played at Faith Academy in Mobile, before moving to Fort Meade, Md., after the Coast Guard transferred his father to Maryland.

“I like Auburn, but not just because of Auburn’s campus or how big they are, but I know two guys that are going to be there, Coach Tuberville and Coach Willis, and that’s what I want to go do. I want to go play for them,” Cotton told AuburnSports.com. The Web site said Cotton is not taking calls from other schools.

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Filed under Diversions / Investigations, General

E-Mailed ULM Review from Chris Shelling, Jr.

I like reviews of last Saturday’s game just before the upcoming game. A reminder of what was and the changes the week has brought. (For example, the minor clamor for Kodi Burns to be named our starting QB in the immediate wake of the ULM game, is now at least (supposed to be) temporarily moot due to a pesky 7″ gash. Chris Todd will be starting against Southern Miss and, as Jerry noted, he might play the whole game!)

[And Leonard Postoties Smart Pill Prediction Time: I say Todd lights it up like Desert Storm. FWIW quote from Lubbockite coworker who fondly remembers Todd from his Texas Tech days: “Man, once Todd starts, that other kid won’t have a chance…”]

This brings me to Chris Shelling, Jr. I’ve mentioned him before. Chris Shelling, Jr. lives, for the time, in Japan. No one knows more about the game of football or the game of life. And he’s only 16, a child prodigy, or wunderkind, if you will. He’s teaching Japanese children English, also convincing them, through the magic of YouTube, that he played / plays (?) for the Auburn Tigers. If I were Japanese, I’d believe him, too.

He’s yet to write an official post for TWER, but he recently gave me permission to steal his lines and quote him without credit (didn’t you?).

Here is a portion of a recent e-mail he sent me following the ULM game. I hesitate to post it for some of the language — afterall, TWER is a family blog. Rather, it’s a blog that family men read, family men that might not hesitatate to click on a British girl in her Auburn-shirt and panties (not because “hey, it’s OK, we’re guys,” but because “hey, it’s OK, it’s Auburn.”) but who might feel bad about patronizing one of these… blogs, they call them… featuring gratuitous eff-bombs. But wait! you say. What the eff, you hypocrite! Ah, but the Thom Gossom story was, obviously, literature. That makes it OK. And I was mostly quoting (as I am here.)

And besides, CSJ is an artist and I respect the hell out of him. I respect his opinion.

Here it is (with only one word omitted, out of pure personal preference, and whatever, none of it’s really bad at all):

i got the espn gameplan online. its hot. hot hot. so after watching the game and the replay (twice) there is no doubt in my mind that a) we will be fine and b) burns needs to be the qb (with cox#2 uh i mean todd getting a few snaps). kodi has the ability to out of nowhere go rembrandt on that ass. did you see the non-touchdown to rod smith. he was running backwards. it was like michael jordan hitting a fadeaway. there were times i couldn’t tell if he was flustered and running because he didn’t know what to do or if he was like, ‘fuck it the recievers can’t catch so ima bust out mah fuck lion.’ either way it was awesome. but we do need to get better. i think we ran about 10 plays all game and showed almost nothing. its the auburn way. quoth the robert dunn:

“I know what plays we can run and what plays the coach could have been running. On the defense the middle of the field was wide open. Anyone could see that. Just throw a post and we score a touchdown every time.

“We really didn’t want to open up the playbook much,” he adds. “We were up. There’s no need to pile it on. You’ve got to have respect for the game. If you’re up 28-0 or 34-0 there’s no need to try to hail mary the ball. Things like that get players hurt. We just kept it basic and simple. I don’t feel like we have any struggles.”

oh and eric smith, neiko thorpe, and pybus looked good. if we can find some super fast midget running back to compliment smith for the next few years we will be tough to defend. hmmm

Family Man warning, turn this down, especialy half way through. And when he says “weak ass” you don’t have to respond.

defense – jamaican fast and… strong. bynes may be better than blackmon. blackmon should be at olb with stevens. johnson and harden can backup everyone. do it willis.

What do y’all think?

***

A quick update: my new and very real, real job is currently keeping it quite difficult for me to post much of anything at the moment. But that’s like, so the bloggers badge of honor, n’est-ce pas? Still, ah, mmmm, so much to write about.

Good news, however, is that I think I can, I think I can, I think I can get the game this weekend. The Buffet Bowl. Watch. Sit. Scream.

War Eagle.

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Filed under General, Pre-game Notes

USA Today / Rivals praise Willis, Linebackers

Whatyou talkin’ ’bout.

Tigers roaring: Auburn debuted at No. 23 in the first edition of the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings, but the Tigers should climb higher in the next update. Since the release, Auburn has scored a commitment from three-star linebacker Brandon Jacobs of Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.).

They also have a commitment from potential four-star cornerback Reggie Taylor of Peach County (Fort Valley, Ga.), but he has yet to be officially ranked by Rivals.com.

Early on, Auburn linebacker coach James Willis has been a workhorse. He has had a hand in helping secure commitments from seven players, including four in-state prospects. Throw in commitments from highly regarded junior college players Nick Fairley and Eltoro Freeman, and the job Willis has done is even more impressive.

The Tigers’ current class of 18 players definitely is defense-oriented. Auburn always does a great job of finding — and developing — defensive talent, and this group should be no exception. Defensive tackle Jamontay Pilson of Greenville (Ala.) is a four-star recruit with a load of potential, and Harris Gaston of Bessemer (Ala.) Academy, Jonathan Evans of Blount (Prichard, Ala.) and Jacobs give the Tigers one of the nation’s best linebacker groups thus far.

I’m talkin’ about 19 recruits as of July 10th.

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