THERE SITS PAT DYE, LEANing back in his chair, with his scruffy
cowboy boots stretched across a corner of his desk on the Auburn
campus. He's also wearing the biggest smile extant. ''I don't know
how I could be doin' any better,'' he says, ''unless I was completely
out of debt.''
Dye, Auburn's football coach for 12 blazingly brilliant seasons,
from 1981 to '92 -- well, O.K., maybe nine of those seasons were
brilliant and the other three were a little less so -- is happier
these days than a pig in slop. And this old farm boy from Blythe,
Ga., knows a thing or two about pigs in slop.
''It just don't get no better than this,'' continues Dye, who has
never met a sentence he couldn't fracture grammatically. He lives 15
miles outside of town on a 1,400-acre farm, where he has about 100
head of cattle and a plan to expand to 200. Says Dye, now a
fund-raiser for the university, ''I'm doin' enough to feel like I'm
worthwhile. Foolin' with cows and horses is not like work to me.''
And then his eyes wander out the window, and there sits one contented
He should be. When the final history is written on Auburn
football, the bookends will be Shug Jordan (page 4) and Pat Dye.
Dye arrived in Auburn's winter of discontent in 1980 to rescue
Tiger football from the failing hands of Doug Barfield, who had gone
29-25-1 over five years, didn't go to a single bowl game and lost
five straight times to Alabama. But that wasn't even the worst of
Auburn's troubled record. The Tigers had not won an SEC title in 24
dreary autumns. In fact, in the previous 48 years they had won the
conference championship only once. During the same stretch Alabama
won it 16 times.
But under Dye the Tigers not only went a stunning 99-39-4 but also
won the SEC title four times. That is not a typo. When Dye led the
charge to three straight SEC crowns from 1987 to '89, he matched a
feat accomplished by only three other SEC coaches -- General Neyland
at Tennessee, Bear Bryant at Alabama and Vince Dooley at Georgia. In
carving out his own place next to those three on the SEC's version of
Mount Rushmore, Dye had a winning percentage of .711.
Along the way Dye proved to be, on the one hand, difficult,
ornery, unreasonable, illogical and definitely no walk on the beach.
On the other hand, he also showed that he's tough, engaging, football
smart, country wise and a guy you'd enjoy sitting next to at dinner.
There is plenty in this enigmatic man for everyone to love and to
But the full measure of Patrick Fain Dye and his love for Auburn
has been evidenced this season, the first fall in 13 that he hasn't
been coach of the Tigers. He has not been glimpsed in a single act of
backbiting new coach Terry Bowden. He hugs Bowden, and Bowden hugs
It's not as if the romance between Auburn and Dye was an instant
one, however. When he arrived on the Plains for the '81 season, there
were no standing ovations. For one thing, Dye hadn't gone to Auburn
but had graduated from Georgia. For another, he had been a Bear
Bryant assistant for nine years at despised Alabama.
When the Dye-induced winning commenced, however, all was forgiven.
But there were to be some painful moments getting there.
Recalls tackle Pat Arrington, who played for Dye from 1981 to '83,
''I'll never forget Coach Dye's first meeting. He walked in and said
flat-out, 'I'm goin' to the Sugar Bowl, and anybody who doesn't want
to go with me can leave.' By the time that first spring practice was
over, 30 guys had left.''
In Dye's third season the hard work started to pay off. Auburn won
the '83 SEC championship, its first title since 1957, and went to the
Sugar Bowl, where the Tigers beat Michigan 9-7 to very nearly become
the national champs. Auburn had been ranked No. 3, behind Nebraska
and Texas, going into the New Year's Day bowl games. When the
Cornhuskers and the Longhorns both lost, Auburn figured to move up to
No. 1. The voters, however, failed to believe Auburn was that good
and reached down to No. 4 Miami -- a 31-30 winner over Nebraska in
the Orange Bowl -- and anointed the Hurricanes champs. Said Dye
afterward, ''There comes a time in everybody's life when you're going
to get screwed over. And this was our time.'' He spit in the dirt and
then moved on.
There was no question he was a good coach, but he wasn't exactly
popular everywhere he went. In 1988, for example, a Florida newspaper
poll listed the 10 most unpopular college football coaches in the
nation, and there alongside Miami's Jimmy Johnson and Michigan's Bo
Schembechler was Dye. Dye shrugged it off, saying, ''When it comes
to winning, I'm in some pretty good company.''
Three times he was SEC Coach of the Year. He also coached 21
All-Americas, including Tracy Rocker, a 6 ft. 3 in. defensive tackle
who was 278 pounds of bad road for every opponent Auburn faced.
Rocker became the first player in the SEC to win both the Outland
Trophy and the Lombardi Award, the nation's top two prizes for
linemen. However, nonstars also benefitted. Until last year, every
player who stuck it out for four seasons with Dye got to play in the
But none of Dye's talents would have mattered if he hadn't been
able to beat Alabama. In the eight years before Dye's arrival, Auburn
hadn't stopped the Tide once. Out on the field before his first game
against 'Bama in 1981, Dye told the Bear, his former boss and mentor,
''Coach Bryant, before you start huggin' me, you ought to know that
my boys are fixin' to get after y'all's ass.'' The Tigers lost that
one 28-17, but it was not to be a pattern. In the next eight meetings
between the two teams, Auburn would win six. Indeed, in Dye's second
season Auburn rolled the Tide 23-22 in the last regular-season game
Bryant ever coached.
The 1989 game against Alabama was especially delicious too. In the
53 games between the two teams to that point, this was the first
played at Auburn rather than on Birmingham's supposedly neutral
Legion Field -- which is suspiciously unneutral, given that the Tide
plays several of its home games there every year. The day was made
even more glorious when Dye, in a total reversal of character,
eschewed his normal emphasis on running. Instead Dye had quarterback
Reggie Slack come out throwing, and the Tigers bolted to a 17-10 lead
with the aid of three long completions. Slack finished the day with
14 completions on 26 attempts for 274 yards.
Two days before the game Dye had tried to explain why Auburn folks
feel the way they do about the Tide. ''Alabama fans don't want you to
walk on the same side of the street as them,'' he said. ''They want
you in slavery. They want you in bondage.'' No wonder victory tasted
''I don't believe in miracles,'' said Dye when asked about his
many miraculous victories over Alabama. ''I just believe in the
old-fashioned, basic fundamentals of life, of getting your hands
dirty. If you're going to get there first, you have to get up earlier
and stay up later.''
Oddly, the two black marks on Dye's record have not diminished the
affection . and esteem in which he is held at Auburn.
First is the ugly matter of Those Awful Ties. In the 1988 Sugar
Bowl, Auburn tied Syracuse 16-16, the first tie in Sugar Bowl
history. It was, in the eyes of many, the classic example of no guts,
no glory. Auburn, trailing 16-13, had the ball on the Syracuse 13
with four seconds left. Dye summoned kicker Win Lyle, who booted a
30-yard field goal. ''My decision was not to get beat,'' said Dye
after the game. ''If Syracuse wanted to win, they should have blocked
the field goal. I'm goin' huntin'.'' He became known instantly as Pat
Tye or, alternatively, Tie Dye.
Then, in 1990, danged if Coach Tie didn't do it again. This time
it was on Sept. 29 against Tennessee. Auburn struggled, and
quarterback Stan White struggled more than most as the Tigers fell
into a 26-9 hole. But White persevered, and the comeback commenced.
Groused Tennessee defensive coordinator Larry Lacewell later, ''We
threw everything but the kitchen sink at White, and he never
With 1:56 left in the game, White zinged an 11-yard TD throw to
wideout Greg Taylor to get Auburn to within a point, 26-25. Now it
was time for Dye not to flinch and to go for the two-point
conversion. Instead he again sent in the kicking team. ''We played
too hard to come away with a loss,'' he said after the game. ''These
kids have won three straight SEC championships, and a loss might have
knocked them out this year.'' As it turned out, subsequent losses to
Florida and Alabama did that anyway.
The second black mark is the ugly matter of the Probation. It was
all started by defensive back Eric Ramsey, who played for the Tigers
from '87 to '89. His name is uttered around Auburn only in disgust
these days. Ramsey tape-recorded his conversations with Tiger
assistant coaches in which illegal offers of financial assistance
were discussed. The scandal that followed was a hot topic on
everything from the front pages of local newspapers to television's
Through it all Dye continued to insist, ''I never knowingly did
anything wrong.'' As the evidence of wrongdoing mounted, however, the
'92 season deteriorated. With two games left, Auburn was 5-3-1 and
needed wins over Georgia and Alabama to go to a bowl; the Tigers lost
both, and Ramsey was blamed. Dye remained steadfast, saying, ''If the
tapes are true and the allegations are true, then what I'm guilty of
is doing a damn poor job of management.''
On Nov. 24, 1992, Dye resigned.
! ''This is not exactly the way I would have preferred to go
out,'' he admitted at the time. ''I think we've all cried enough
tears to float a battleship. I probably ain't through yet.'' A
generous settlement by the university (about $1 million, to be paid
over seven years) made quitting easier to swallow, but a broken heart
isn't so easily repaired.
But there is another, lesser-known part of Dye's legacy. He may
appear to be football to the core and act as if he wouldn't know
Shakespeare from a safety blitz, but Dye also saw to it that about
$100,000 was donated by the athletic department to buy books for the
Auburn library. He also pledged $1 million in athletic dollars to
help renovate the library. And among the achievements of his 11 years
as athletic director were the construction of a $11.5 million swim
center and a $7.2 million athletic complex for football and
The other day Dye peered down at his boots and said, ''I know that
Auburn University is a lot better off -- academically, athletically
and with facilities -- because of my bein' here.''
Ain't nothin' incorrect in that quote.