If the Dos Equis guy is the Most Interesting Man in the World, then UC head football coach Tommy Tuberville isn’t too far behind.
Every weekday during the football season, I tape a radio report with Coach Tuberville that airs on 700 WLW and ESPN 1530. Most of the time we discuss the Bearcats and their upcoming opponents, but on “Wildcard Wednesday” we get away from football and delve into just about anything including:
What did your father do for a living?
I’m a military brat. My dad was in the military all of his life. He actually died on active duty at age 53. He fought in World War II, earned a Purple Heart and five Bronze Stars. I’m passionate about this country and our military because a strong military keeps us free and gives us the opportunity to do things like play the great game of football and have a chance to have a great life. I’ve been overseas twice with other coaches to visit our troops at different military bases in the Middle East. We have the freedoms that we have today because of what our vets have done in the past, so I try to spend as much time with our military as I possibly can.
You’ve started the Tommy Tuberville Foundation with the goal of building homes for wounded veterans.
I’m very partial to our military men and women who fight for our country. A lot of them are the same age as the young men who play for me on this football team. Many come back missing arms, legs, or are burned. It’s really a sad situation. But we’ve started this foundation. We’re raising money, we had a golf tournament this year, and we’re going to spend $150,000 to $200,000 a year building a home for a veteran that can’t function in the home they have now. We’re trying to give them an opportunity to live a normal and functional life.
You are an avid hunter correct?
I grew up a country boy in Camden, Arkansas. Our nearest neighbor was about a mile away and I didn’t have a car to drive around in, so the only thing I had to do in my off-time was hunt and fish. When I was probably 10, 11, or 12 years old, my dad started taking me hunting and I’ve been hunting all of my life. I’m not an avid deer hunter anymore because that’s during football season, but I do like to quail hunt, pheasant hunt, and turkey hunt. Turkey hunting is one of my passions. It’s a hard sport, it’s time consuming, but it’s all in the spring. I like being outdoors and I guess you can call me an outdoorsman because when I’m not coaching, I play golf and I go outside and hunt and fish.
Let’s talk about your playing career for the Southern Arkansas Muleriders. What position did you play and were you any good?
“Kick ’em Mules kick ’em.” That was our battle cry. Everybody has a chant in the south, and that was the Muleriders’ cry. I grew up about 40 miles from Southern Arkansas University and I knew a couple of coaches on the staff so I went down there. I was a high school quarterback and they moved me to safety because I didn’t throw the ball well enough to play quarterback in college football. I didn’t play much until my junior year, and I played special teams, safety, and in the nickel. I was one of those coaches on the field that tried to get people lined up against the wishbone. I wasn’t a rolling ball of butcher’s knives, but I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot and that caused me to get into coaching. I didn’t know what I was going to do until I got to college. I thought I was going to get into business or sell fried chicken or something, but the coaches that I had at Southern Arkansas and a passion for learning made me want to get into coaching.
Tell us about your brief stint in the restaurant business.
I had a good friend of mine who started this catfish restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The name of the river there was the Toad Suck Ferry and the restaurant was the Toadsuck Catfish Inn. So I decided one year that I was going to get into the restaurant business and opened Tubby’s Catfish in Tullahoma, Tennessee. The specialty on our platter was two catfish filets, two frogs legs, two chicken wings, and we had this drink called ‘pond water’ – it was actually a fruit drink. We called it ‘Tubby’s Pond Platter’ and that was the specialty of the restaurant. The restaurant actually did pretty well. It’s a very interesting business and I made a lot of friends and still get a lot of calls from people that went to my restaurant.
In between coaching at Auburn and Texas Tech, you worked for ESPN for a year. Did you enjoy it?
I really did because I was kind of burned out after 14 years in the SEC. ESPN called and I worked for ESPN and ESPNU. I didn’t want to broadcast games because I wanted to get back into coaching and didn’t want to make anybody mad. I traveled to Charlotte a couple of days a week and I traveled to Bristol, Connecticut to work in the studio and do “First Take” every Friday. Every Friday morning they wanted me to talk about the top games across the country so, for example, I had to look at what the Pac 10 was doing. In 14 years in the SEC I didn’t have a clue what they were doing out there. So I had to get up to speed on all of the teams across the country and look at tape. That was a good thing about ESPN. You could walk into the studio and put on tape of any game you wanted to pull up. I learned a lot, met a lot of good people, and enjoyed it, but I really enjoy the coaching profession more than I enjoy the studio work.
TUB’S FAMOUS FRIENDS:
Former President George W. Bush visited the Bearcats locker room before the win at SMU and it’s not the first time you’ve met him.
I actually had dinner with him a couple of times in Lubbock with former Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance. Kent actually ran against George W. Bush years and years ago for Congress and he’s the only one who’s ever beaten George for public office. They became friends so I had a chance to meet him there. Then when I went to the Middle East to visit our troops, we stopped in Washington and I saw him in the Oval Office. I had the chance to meet Ronald Reagan at the White House when we won a National Championship at Miami, along with George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. So I’ve met a few presidents over the years and that’s a thrill. But I was really excited for our players this year. They had their cameras out five minutes before kickoff while he was speaking to them and our guys will have a moment that they’ll always remember.
Tell about your friendship with former University of Miami and Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.
I got to know Jimmy in the late 70’s when he was the head coach at Oklahoma State. My boss at Arkansas State was Larry Lacewell and they were best friends. We’d go trade thoughts on offense and defense, and when he became the head coach at the University of Miami, he asked me to come down and help them with their defense. So I’ve been friends with him ever since and I’m very fortunate that he gave me that break because we obviously had very good football teams back them. He’s kind of an unusual guy. He loves football and obviously knows a lot about it, but he’s an outdoorsman and he loves fishing. He’s got a boat that he calls “Three Rings” for his National Championship ring and two Super Bowl rings. He lives right outside of Islamorada, Florida which is down in the Keys. He works for Fox Sports so he has to fly a lot on the weekends, but every morning if he’s home he’s going to be fishing, cleaning fish, or cooking fish. That’s what he loves to do. He’s goes without a shirt most of the time, wears a swimsuit, and just loves the water.
Tell me about your friendship with The Rock?
He’s an amazing story. We recruited Dwayne Johnson out of Pennsylvania and he was one of those clean-cut good looking kids. He looked the part, but he wasn’t real aggressive. He worked his way up and played quite a bit, but all the guys knew – his grandfather and his dad were wrestlers and he kind of grew up in that mold and always lifted weights and looked good. I wasn’t surprised that he got in to wrestling, but I was really surprised at how big he got. He became as big a name in wrestling for years there as anybody. Of course, now he’s turned into an actor and a very good actor. I’m proud to have known him and watched him grow up, but it’s very unusual for a guy to go from college football and not play pro football and then have the stature that he has as an actor.
When the team was in Memphis, you had dinner the night before the game with an old buddy who, according to Forbes Magazine last year, was the 243rd richest person in the world.
Fred Smith, owner of FedEx and the guy that started it from scratch. What a guy he is. He’s a great story and a guy that has a lot of intelligence – obviously. He loves college football and both of his sons played. Arthur played at North Carolina and his son Cannon graduated from the University of Memphis, played safety, and actually went through an NFL camp but didn’t quite make the team because of an injury. Fred Smith loves football – he’s part owner of the Washington Redskins. He’s obviously done well in life and I tell you, that business he runs has more than three hundred thousand employees. That’s a huge, huge responsibility and something that pushes our economy – not only in this country but all over the world. So I’m really proud to call him my friend. We talk all of the time and he really does love athletics and football.
Is it true that when you were the head coach at Ole Miss that you used to have dinner with best-selling author John Grisham?
John is about the same age as I am and his wife and my wife had a lot in common. John is from Oxford, Mississippi and actually taught a law class on campus. We would have dinner every once in a while and he was an interesting guy to talk to. He wrote at night and is one of the most popular authors of all time. He has sold more books than just about anybody, but you would never know it. He would walk around with a beard and was just happy-go-lucky. The first book that he wrote he couldn’t give away. It was A Time To Kill which is actually one of his better ones and he went around to different places in the state of Mississippi and tried to sell it in bookstores and sold a few. Then he came out with The Firm and he said when he sold that one he went back and re-published A Time To Kill and it just went berserk and sold millions of copies. He’s an interesting guy. He’s since moved to Virginia so that he could write. He said that he has too many friends in Oxford and he couldn’t write because too many people came over. He’s an interesting guy and I really enjoyed his friendship.
I want to know about your friendship with one of my all-time favorite broadcasters – “Uncle Verne” Vern Lundquist.
I go way back with Verne. I got to know him when he was an announcer for the Dallas Cowboys years ago. More recently, he’s been the voice of the SEC Game of the Week on CBS and did a lot of our games when I was in that conference. I had an opportunity to go to Steamboat Springs a few times over the last 15 years to snow ski and he lives there. He loves to ski and he’s just a great guy. I’ve actually sat with him near the 16th green in his little cubicle at Augusta National during The Masters. We’ve been good friends for a long time. I really enjoy his company. He has a lot of history and I just sit back and listen to him talk about all of the athletes and coaches he’s been around.
When the San Francisco Giants won Game 7 of the World Series this year, the starting pitcher was a former neighbor of yours.
Tim Hudson. He played for the Auburn Tigers and he’s a good guy. When he graduated, I think he ended up going to Oakland at the beginning of his career. He won the Cy Young Award and then got traded to the Atlanta Braves which was a life-long dream. While he was in Atlanta, his family moved to Auburn – which is an hour from Atlanta – and he built a home just down the street from me. A very big home. His kids all went to school where my kids went to school. Tim’s a good guy. He doesn’t look like an overwhelming pitcher, but he can throw some heat and make the ball spin. He’s a good friend and I’m eager to see what he can do over the next few years. I think he’s got a little left.
TUB’S BUCKET LIST
I know that you’ve played Augusta National on a few occasions. What’s your best score?
I’ve never broken 80. I’ve been pretty close to it – probably 81 or 82. The course is wide open – it’s not like some of these courses where you have to hit an iron off the tee to keep it in the fairway. The biggest challenges are the undulation in the fairways where you never have a flat lie and then the slick greens. If you just hit the ball on the green, there will probably be several times where your caddy will say, ‘You’ve hit the green but there’s no way you can get it in the hole from there in four putts.’ I’ve actually five-putted. The first time I played there, I hit a good drive on the first hole and my caddy said, ‘Whatever you do Coach, keep it below the pin. Don’t hit this shot above the pin.’ Well I hit what I thought was a good shot, but it was a little bit thin and rolled about 15 feet past the hole. My caddy kind of grunted and shook his head. I got up to the green and I had a 15 foot downhill putt and he said, ‘You’re going to end up in the sand trap.’ I just barely touched the ball and it rolled right into the trap.
You had a hole in one last summer. Tell me the details?
That was my second one. I love golf because you get to do it outside, get to meet people, and you learn a lot about them. You get to talk about a lot of different subjects, although most of the time people I play with want to talk about football. I made this hole in one on the second hole at Coldstream. I was playing with some boosters that had actually bought a round of golf with me at an auction so they were Bearcats fans. We played the first hole and none of us played it very well and then after the second hole we all certainly had something to talk about. Hopefully I can play enough golf over the years to make two or three more hole-in-ones.
On this segment over the last two years, we’ve discussed many of the interesting people you’ve met and things you’ve had the opportunity to do. What’s still on the Tommy Tuberville bucket list?
I want to take my kids over to Normandy. My dad was in the first wave that landed on Omaha Beach to liberate France. My dad signed up for the Army when he was 16. He lied about his age, quit high school, and when he was 17-and-a-half, he was fighting in the middle of a World War. He landed in a tank, and fortunately was one of the few early ones that made it to shore and made a difference. I want to see that one day and hopefully I can do that with my family in the future.
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