For a new conference looking to build credibility, Cincinnati’s hiring of two-time SEC coach of the year Tommy Tuberville was well-received news in the league office.
“I was thrilled when I heard about it – absolutely thrilled for a couple of reasons,” said American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco. “Number one, he’s a great coach and you can’t argue with his record. But he’s also a great guy. I’ve known Tommy for a long time – he’s understated, he’s highly effective, and he’s a classy person.
“It signals that Cincinnati is going to continue to move forward. They’ve always hired good coaches whether it’s Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly, or Butch Jones – now you get Tommy Tuberville and you may have even taken it to a new level because I don’t know that anybody had the record that he has.”
Tuberville’s record is 130-77 including 7-3 in bowl games. He led Auburn to at least one victory against an AP Top-10 school in seven consecutive seasons and was named the National Coach of the Year in 2004 when he led the Tigers to a 13-0 season.
With a glittering resume in meat grinder conferences like the SEC and Big 12, Tuberville has heard a recurring question since accepting the head coaching job at UC roughly eight months ago.
“A lot of people have asked me, ‘Why Cincinnati?'” said Tuberville. “My answer is, ‘Why not?’ Heck, this is as winning of a program as anybody in the country. We have a good established base, but we have a lot of room for improvement.”
Tuberville’s track record made him one of the most sought-after interviews at The American media days this week in Newport, RI. In the league’s golf outing on Monday, he was put him in a group with Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel, and with several other national writers in attendance, Tuberville had an opportunity to sell his vision for UC football and its new conference.
“We don’t have to sell Cincinnati,” said Tuberville. “I’ll tell you, over the last six or seven years, Cincinnati has been the up-and-coming team in college football. When you win 10 games as many times as Cincinnati has done the last few years and gone to bowl games and two BCS games – you don’t have to sell that. What we have to sell is the conference. We have to get this conference going. We have new teams coming in, we have to talk well of each other, we’ve got to play good football, and we’ve got to put a good product on the field.
“Cincinnati is going to survive, but we want this conference to be one of the better conferences in the country and everybody is going to have to pitch in.”
The American currently includes a Louisville program that won the national championship in men’s basketball, was runner-up in women’s basketball, and won the Sugar Bowl in football. In the preseason college football coaches’ poll released on Thursday, Louisville was ranked ninth.
But the Cardinals will leave the American for the ACC at the end of the year. Is the league counting on Cincinnati to be its dominant program moving forward?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that one of our flagship programs will be Cincinnati,” Aresco told me. “I think the Bearcats have a really bright future. They’ve also had a great record of success in our conference so you have to already put them in the top echelon, and Tommy Tuberville is another in a long line of great coaches at Cincinnati. He just has an outstanding resume and I know he is going to have great success there. I think Cincinnati is going to be a very important school for us – I don’t think there is any doubt about it.
“Whit (Babcock) is really one of our most able athletic directors, and Santa Ono is a visionary president who wants to be good in athletics. He understands athletics but he also understands the mission of the university.”
Tuberville’s mission is to build on the momentum generated by the coaches that preceded him.
“We’ve had several coaches at Cincinnati that have really gotten the program on the track – but sort of on a jog,” Tommy told me. “I need to get it going on a run.”