Tommy Tuberville is beginning his first season as the head coach at the University of Cincinnati. He has coached in the Southeastern Conference – twice – the Big 12 Conference and now the American Athletic Conference. With close to 33 years of experience under his belt, the 58-year-old Tuberville brings some interesting perspectives to the new league.
I caught up with Tuberville in Ponte Vedra, Fla., at The American spring meetings.
Q: What was the general mood overall for these meetings?
Tommy Tuberville: It’s been good. The thing about it is that everybody has to be on the same page. We know the battles that we are going to have to fight. The presidents, the athletic directors and all of the coaches in every sport have to understand what we have to do to be noticed … to be recognized. We have to put a good product on the field and we have to be entertaining. If we do that, I think everything will take care of itself.
This is going to be a long process. When I went to Texas Tech, the Big 12 just blew up. You had Colorado and Nebraska leaving, then you had A&M and Missouri leaving and the dynamics were, ‘What’s going to happen?’ You didn’t know if you were going to go independent or to the Pac-12 or a newly-formed Big 12. That’s sort of what’s happening now here so I am used to it.
The way we handled it there was everybody just closed ranks and understood that we’ve lost some people and we have 10 members now. We’ve got to make it the best we can and we did that. We’re going to have to do that with this group.
Now, we’ve got to have some stability and everybody’s got to be all in. We’ve got to have some success, there’s no doubt about it.
We can’t sell ourselves out to some of the teams and go on the road and play them. We’ve got to understand that we’ve got fans too and we need some home-and-homes from some of these conferences. Just listening to the SEC and the Big Ten, they’re wanting to kind of play each other more. Which is fine.
We just have to take care of our own business. The bottom line is we have to win.
Q: When you see conferences like the SEC and Big Ten circle the wagons as you mentioned, does that put a bit of a chip on your shoulder especially as a league. To want to prove that the conference is just as viable as the power conferences in terms of play?
TT: I don’t know about that. College football needs 120 teams. … You’ve got to have some diversity. You have to go from coast-to-coast and corner-to-corner. This whole country has bought into college football and if you water it down to 15-or-20 teams .. which is beginning to happen because all of the money is all going to a certain few teams. I think it’s not going to be a good product and the fans are going to be disappointed with it.
The great thing about our conference is we’re like a Metro conference. There isn’t one school that doesn’t have 300,000 to 400,000 or more at their school. If you look at the SEC, they’re all small towns. That’s kind of like a pro conference. Most of them don’t have pro football teams .. that’s their team in their state. What we’ve got to do… Our fans in all of our cities have to help out. We’ve got to win games. They’ve got to buy tickets, they’ve got to come and if that happens we can be a viable conference that plays for a national championship. But it’s all about winning.
It doesn’t take but a few good recruiting class and some positive things going on and a good administration to make that happen. To be honest with you, I’ve met with presidents. I’ve met athletic directors and we’ve all met as coaches and … I like the look in everybody’s eye. Everybody I think understands. …
Q: How important is it to win those big games against top quality opponents as a conference especially heading into a future playoff system based on strength of schedule?
TT: Starting next year, we’ll have 12 teams. We’ll probably have a conference championship game. We’re going to have to as a league have a team, every year for the next few years to show people that we’re viable, that’s going to have to be undefeated or have 1-loss. That team will have to be highly-ranked up there with the other conferences. We’ve got teams that are playing good non-conference schedules. Next year, I play two Big Ten teams … some schools play three Texas teams … so, you know it’s like starting a football team over when you start a conference. You have to build a foundation and you have to build it the right way. All the factors have to be factored in. You know you are going to take some steps forward and some steps backwards, but everybody’s got to be sold on the fact that the direction that we need to go is win games and have several teams win big games every year.
We’ve got to have teams in that upper echelon to show how we are playing. Not just fans, but also other coaches. I tell our fans all the time … that I’m a salesman. We all are now. Athletic directors, presidents, we’re all salesmen. We’re trying to sell ourselves as a viable conference than can compete with anybody. We’re not looking for a handout. We’re just looking for people to give us a chance. If we do that, I think we’ll be fine.
Q: A lot of coaches spoke this week about how excited they were about the new TV deal and the amount of exposure it will generate for their respective teams. Your thoughts?
TT: We’re going to be on TV a lot. I was looking at this year and we’ve got quite a few spots on ESPN and ABC, but next year is even more. You’ve got to be on TV. It’s obvious that television pays the way for a lot of us.
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