By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
This week we’re talking with Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn head football coach who has thrown his name in the hat for the U.S. Senate.
I find his entrance into the race interesting for a few reasons. For one, he seems to be taking it seriously and he is being taken seriously as a candidate. He’s done a slew of media over the last ten days and done a pretty good job. Second, he’s fitting into the “outsider” lane more naturally that I thought he could. For the crowd that just doesn’t want anyone who is part of the current political establishment, a former coach who communicates well could be an attractive choice.
I really enjoyed interviewing Coach Tuberville. We talked about why he decided to get in the race, what issues he really wants to press, how he plans on catching up to more experienced candidates on policy, and a little football.
He spent this past week making the rounds in Montgomery meeting many of the state’s most influential official. On Thursday, he was in the State House and met with Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, and several other lawmakers. It just so happened to be the day the Auburn Basketball team was being honored at the Governor’s Mansion, so that’s why you see so many orange and blue ties.
Tuberville strikes me as sincere and interested. Who knows where his candidacy will go, but for now he has brought some intrigue to the race. Here’s our interview.
Todd C. Stacy: Hey, coach.
Tommy Tuberville: Good morning.
TCS: It is early. Thanks for allowing me a couple minutes to interview you. I saw you on TV this morning, looks like you’v been doing some media appearances.
TT: Yes, been a bit of an early morning. Got up at three o’clock, put a coat and tie on. I’ve been on Fox and Friends before, but not this early in the morning, but it went good. Now we’re making rounds in Montgomery.
TCS: Is that kind of like recruiting season hours or something?
TT: Yeah. Really, it’s a little early for anything getting up at three in the morning. But it’s, you know, it’s a lot of fun. I’ve always kind of, you know, looked forward to working with the media, I was media friendly, you know, and all my coaching years, even when I was an assistant. I learned most of that from Jimmie Johnson, you know, the coach I work for at Miami for a few years, and then he went on to have success and NFL to Dallas Cowboys. So, you know, always learning, treat everybody the same, but always get the most out of what you do. And explain your situation, how you want to be portrayed. And with most people, just carrying on a conversation you can find out a lot about you.
TCS: Well, how has the reception been? It has been, what, 10 days?
TT: Yeah, it’s been about a week and a half. Now, there’s a timeline to this whole thing. I’ve always liked politics. I get up in the morning, you know, even when I was coaching and watching the news and was one of the few coaches who would watch C-SPAN over the years. You know, just involved. I’m a patriot, I love this country. I’ve always thought that politics was a lot like coaching. There’s always usually two teams, or maybe sometimes politics has more than two teams. And I like competing. I like to try to win. I like to build things.
And so when I looked at the governor’s race, and Kay Ivey moved in, I said, you know, I think she’ll do a good job. Then I put my eye on the senate race. Of course, I had thought about running for Senate in the [special] election that came in the emergency situation. And I didn’t have time to prepare my plan for that in the short period of time. And we lost that. Being a conservative Republican, we lost that race to a Democrat. And ever since he won, I’ve been looking at it, talking to people across the state, thinking about it, and I came to the conclusion a few weeks ago. This is what I want to do. I think I can help. And the reason I’m doing this is, I guess, I’ve taken so much over the last 40 years of having a good living, really enjoying myself. It’s probably a situation where I got more out of it maybe than other people did, and I really enjoyed the coaching part. Now I want to give back. I want to help and do public service. I was never in the military, but I grew up in a military family. My dad joined the Army at age 16. He lied about his age, and year and a half later, he was landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy driving a tank. He got five Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, and then when he got out, he stayed in the military. So I kind of grew up in a military family. When I was 21, he died on a training mission in the military at age 53. Had a heart attack. And so I’ve always loved the military, and being a military son, you kind of see the ins and outs from behind the scenes. I think that made me become more of a patriot for what he did. And because of that, I’ve had a chance to travel and see a lot of things through coaching and the military. I’ve traveled over there twice to Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa.
Again, I got a lot of things out of coaching. Now, I want to do something and give back and I think I’ve got a lot to give in terms of being a US Senator for Alabama. I love this state and I want to help Alabama, but also want to help the country. Being a senator gives you that opportunity to help a lot of people.
So basically I want to give back. It’s going to be a lot of hard work. I understand that. I retired at a young age, and I’ve got a lot left in the tank. So I’m looking forward to it.
TCS: You described looking at the Senate race last time. Looking at it this time, what puts you over the hump? Because you’re in pretty early, there’s only one other announced candidate.
TT: Yeah. Well, I got in early, but I knew what I wanted to do. I really thought and prayed about it. You know, is this the direction I want to go? I’ve had people call about getting back into coaching. But I think I can help more people by doing this. And again, people say, well, you’ll be one of 100 people. How can you make a difference being a rookie senator? And, when I walk on the floor for the first time, people will know who I am, you know, just by what I’ve done. I’ve had a job for 40 years. I haven’t been sitting behind a desk, I’ve been out in public life. And, and you have to put your character on the line. Being a coach, you have to show your hand, so to speak, on how you handle people. Again, if I didn’t feel like I was I was really qualified to do this, I wouldn’t do it. This is not an ego thing for me. I’m not a career politician, I don’t want to be a career politician. I want to help to people in this country, and especially in the state of Alabama.
There’s going to be a lot of growth, there’s going to be a lot of things that will to happen in the South, especially in Alabama, because of things that we have in this state. We’ve got all kinds of minerals, we have, obviously, our number one thing is farming with trees, we have mountains, we have beaches, we have ports, we have things to sell. And they’re going to be an influx of people moving out of the high tech states moving down to the South, and we’re going to get our share. But we’ve got to grow, we’ve got to grow with our infrastructure, we’ve got to bring into new jobs. There’s a lot of people that want jobs in this state.
I think one of my big deals about running for U.S, Senate is education. I know a lot about it. There’s nobody knows more about education in this country than coaches, especially college coaches, because you go in and you recruit you see the schools, you see how they’re run. We’re lacking in education. We’re 37th in the world and education, and we spend a lot more than anybody else. So we can get a lot more out of education, and that’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to have to turn things around with our young kids coming up.
I don’t think our kids are coming up totally prepared for jobs that are going to be available. You know, you can go to college and get some of these degrees and then get out, look around, amd you’ve spent $200,000 and you’re not prepared to do a job. And so I want to get really involved in education process. In Alabama and in this country, I think I’ve got a lot to give on that. So I’m I’m enthusiastic about it. Can I make a lot of changes? I think I can. I think I can be a difference maker in some of these things. And again, I want to help the people in this state because they’ve given so much to me.
TCS: One of the first things that came to my mind was Tom Osborne. You know, he was legendary coach at Nebraska and went on to be – he must serve five or six terms in the House. But a very well respected member of Congress. Do you know,Coach Osborne?
TT: Yes, I’ve coached against him. Matter of fact, I’ve seen him several times. Now, he’s not in politics anymore. But when he first got in, I’ve talked to him about it. And you know, he said the same thing I just told you. He said, coach, I just want to make a difference because I know how to deal with people. And so some of the things that Dr. Osborne, as we call him now, Dr. Tom Osborne he’s a guy that, as I said earlier, he’s a guy that he wanted to give back. And he made a difference. I mean, he loved the state and, you know, he was a coach there for a long, long time. And then he’s a Washington, and he says that sometimes you get frustrated, because you’re used to getting things done a lot quicker. But you can make a difference.
TCS: It kind of sounds like businessmen, they say the same thing. You know, the CEO is a lot like a coach in that when they want it done, it gets done. When you’ve got to negotiate when you have to go to committee, or whatever the process may be, that can be frustrating. Does that worry you at all?
TT: Yeah, but you know, it’s having a plan. When you take over as a head football coach, you got to have a five or six year plan. You’re not going to change things overnight. Not one of the schools where I’ve coached, when I took over, was running on all four cylinders. I mean, we had to go in, we had to start a plan, then you have to recruit and hire people for that plan. I had over 100 employees working for me at each one of these schools. It’s not like you’ve got seven or eight people. I mean, you’ve got people in all kinds of areas that you have to hire, train, get them on the right track. You’re going to make some mistakes. Then, you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. You can’t be afraid to let somebody go. You’re, you’re responsible for a lot of things. And so the things that I learned from the coaches I work with, when I was first growing up in the business, I took a little bit from each one: Jimmie Johnson, Dennis Ericson, and RC Slocum. These were guys that were veteran coaches, and you’re not going to put your philosophy like them, but you’re gonna take some good things that you felt like worked. I built my own philosophy as a head football coach, I’ll do the same thing as a politician.
Again, everything moves at a snail’s pace. But it does too when you’re coaching. Like I said, you want to get to that fourth or fifth year knowing that you’re making progress. Same thing in politics. You’re not gonna win every battle. In coaching you’re not going to win every game. But you gotta have perseverance. That’s one thing I like about President Trump. President Trump is one of those business guys, who you can tell he doesn’t have a lot of patience in a lot of things. But he’s got great work ethic and he’s doing it for the right reasons. He loves the country. And that’s why I voted for him. I backed him from day one. He loves the country, he’s a patriot. He doesn’t need anybody’s money. He’s got his own. He goes in and says, “This is my plan, I’m going to stick with it.”
A lot of people in the back, you kind of hear he pundits on news say he’s fired this guy, he’s fired that guy. That’s what you have to do. When you first get in, you’re not gonna make 100% perfect picks in the people that you hire for your agenda. We couldn’t do it in coaching, and you’re not going to do it being President of the United States. I won’t do it when I’m elected senator. You’ve got to have 10 or 15 people around you that you believe in. You’ve got to be willing to make the tough decisions, and he’s done that and he stuck with it.
Somebody asked me, “are you gonna be able to handle the ridicule you’re going to get from the media?” I said I dealt with Paul Finebaum for 15 years. If you can do that, you can handle anything.”
Nobody has has thick enough skin where you don’t hear that. But, you have to put it out of the way. And you gotta stick with what you believe in. If you do that you can have success. But I can’t imagine what President Trump’s going through. He’s had people come from all sides, and still has had success, huge success in what he’s doing. You can just imagine if he had more people on his side, what he could do.
TCS: You just went through some of the many advantages that you have as far as being an outsider. You don’t have a record as a politician. Every congressman has bad votes, or something they said. At the same time, most Congressmen or other potential candidates have spent a lot more time in the policy realm than you have. How do you catch up? How do you play catch up on some of those? You went through education. What about some of these other policy areas where some of them may have more experienced than you.
TT: Well, it’s like anything else. You’ve got to learn. You’ve got to start somewhere. The big thing about this business is being able to sell yourself first. Coaching is the same way. I mean, when you go to Congress, you’ve got to sell yourself to other people. They’ve got to trust and believe in what you’re doing. It’s not really all about just the policy. They want to know if they can trust you. It’s like recruiting. Can a parent trust you that you’re going to do what’s best for their kid when you take them in under your arm for four years? You go to Congress, you’ve got to build a relationship with the other people around you that you’ll work at it, you might not know everything that you need to know, but you’re going to do it very quickly, you’re going to study it. That’s the same in anything. It’s all about sales. And so there’ll be some things I’ll know a lot more about and other people talking about education. I grew up in a farming area, and some of my best friends were farmers. You know, we’re here today talking to a lot of farmers here in the state. So, I feel very confident that I can do the job. But, you got to understand your limitations and you’ve got to listen. You know, the biggest thing to me about politicians is you’ve gotta listen before you talk. Listen to people’s needs, and that’s what I plan on doing.
TCS: Doug Jones. You mentioned that when he won the election, you immediately started thinking about running for Senate. What are your biggest problems with him and what he’s done?
TT: I don’t know him personally. He might be a great guy, probably is. He’s from the state of Alabama. You know, when you’re elected in politics, you’re there to represent the people that put you there. And I just wanted to see what his first couple of votes were, you know, when he got there. You’ve got to have an open mind. You might go there and, all of a sudden, hey, he’s voting how the people of Alabama want him to vote. His first vote to vote for Chuck Schumer as [Majority Leader] of the Senate. Chuck Schumer is not a fan and not gonna do anything for people in Alabama. His agenda doesn’t even come close to what people in this state believe in. And then the next vote was the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh I haven’t done a poll, but I’ve heard a lot of people talk about it as I’ve gone around the state. Most people that I’ve talked to wanted Brett Kavanaugh confirmed. Well, he voted against him. That showed me right there that Doug Jones was going vote party line. He wasn’t going to vote for the people of Alabama, he was going to vote party line. And that’s not what we need in this country. We need people to speak for their constituents speak for the people they represent. And he didn’t do that in the first two votes.
TCS: I wanted to ask a little bit about your coaching experience. Every every politician has to go through trials and tribulations. You mentioned media criticism and things like that. I was trying to think of a time in your career when it was challenging. It happened to be when I was in school when, you know, folks get on a plane and went to Louisville. What was interesting to me about that entire episode was how you turned a very challenging situation, to your advantage. Suddenly, those who maybe thought they had an advantage over you were on the outs. You kind of flipped the script. Walk through that. How did you go about that? And was that an instance of you being a politician? Was that was that playing politics a little bit?
TT: Yeah. Well, some people say, coach, you’ve never been in politics. Oh, yeah, I’ve been in politics.
TCS: That was like a political game there.
TT: Yeah. For I guess, 21 or 22 years I was head coach, you’ve got a lot of hats to wear. About 90 percent of it isn’t coaching and calling plays, it’s more the outside ventures that you have to have to deal with. I knew that getting in. You’ve got to make tough decisions, but you’ve also got to lean on a lot of people. Now, the situation at Auburn, I mean, it’s very political school, always has been always will be. Alabama is the same way. Any place that you’ve had success and it’s high profile, then you’re going to have opportunities where sometimes you’ve got to fight through it. Did it surprise me? A little bit just how it was handled. But it didn’t surprise me that, you know, from behind the scenes you might have to fight those battles. And so that was a tough battle. Who you really worry about more are your coaches, their families, and your family, because they have no way to control it or handle it. They’re either in or out, but they hear all the criticisms and all that. And it was a tough week. We thought we were all gone. And it just wasn’t handled the right way, unfortunately. But, if you look back on it, if it had been handled the right way, I would have not made it through that year at all. So there’s always good and bad when you look at it. And, you know, a lot of those people that were involved in that situation are friends of mine. I never hold grudges in that business, because what goes around comes around.
In a short period of time, I made sure that we talked and worked out our grievances, which you have to do in politics. You have to understand each other, you want to find out where they’re coming from. You give your opinion, shake hands, and you go back to try and win games. You can’t go into a hole. If you do that, you won’t last long in any business, whether it’s business, whether it’s coaching, whether it’s politics. You’ve got to have thick skin, but you’ve also got to be able to listen, and communicate. Communication is one of the biggest things in any business, and especially politics and football coaching. Because if you don’t communicate, then you’ll start losing your support even more and more. Just let them know how you feel, give your opinion, be positive, and go on. And that’s what I did when that situation happened in Auburn. Again, like I said, a lot of those guys are good friends of mine.
TCS: Anything else you want convey about your pitch to the Republican electorate?
TT: Well, you know, everybody looks at me in a different light. I’ve got about, as you said, about 11 months to go all over the state of Alabama and do the things I’m doing, like talking to you, being on television, doing ads, speaking. There’s not a county that I probably won’t hit several times over the next 11 months. I think that people look at me and say, “You know, we like coach. But can he help us?” I want to go out and assure them that, when they elect me senator, I’m going to go to Washington to vote how they want me to vote, not how other people want me to vote. I want to care about what they want. Like I said, Alabama is going to make a huge difference in this country in the next 10-15 years because of how everything’s changing. The whole is. Again, we’re having an influx of people moving this way, and we got to be prepared for it. We don’t need to be overwhelmed. We also need somebody in Washington that will help prepare that infrastructure, for instance, and all the things that need to go with it. We need new businesses in the state. That needs to be integral, but also education. We’ve got to get better in education. We’re not at 50 in education in the state of Alabama, but we’re awful close, and we’ve got to make some changes. Again, we’ve got a lot of people that’s looking into. We’ve got some good teachers in secondary education. We’ve got some good in higher education. I think we need to change some things, in my view of what I’ve seen over the years in terms of how we run our schools. I don’t have all the answers. But we can find somebody that does have some answers. But we’ve got to make education a big priority in this state because the kids deserve it. And there’s gonna be a lot of jobs and we’ve got to be preparing for the jobs that are coming. You can just see things kind of turn and change and in terms of everything in the South in Florida, in Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana. We’re gonna have a lot of new people moving in the state, and we got to prepare for it.
TCS: There are only two announced candidates right now, but that everybody thinks it’s going to be a lot more. Could be a crowded field. How can you tell Republican voters that you’re the best one to actually defeat Doug Jones? Because I think a lot of people would be naturally worried going into this election, no matter who gets the nomination. What happened last time was Roy Moore gets nominated, all this crazy stuff happens, Doug Jones gets elected. So you could imagine GOP voters wanting to not choose the risky candidate. And we don’t know if Moore is going to run. What’s your pitch for saying, “No, I’m the one that can actually defeat Doug Jones in the general election.”
TT: Well, we need a salesman from the state. We need somebody that people trust again. Somebody that people know. Like I said, when I go to Washington, people are going to know me from the first day. If they don’t know me, they’ll know of me. There’s a lot of them that probably hadn’t met me, but at least they’ll know who I am. And because of that, I’ll be able to make a difference early – and I want to make a difference early. But again, it goes back to selling yourself. I’m not a I’m not a career politician, but I’ve had a job for 40 years. I’ve been out there getting my hands dirty, and had to deal with people. I really like dealing with people and working out problems.
I’m not a lawyer. And I truly believe that our founding fathers wanted our Congress to be a mixture of farmers, lawyers, business people, military, law and educators. That’s what it’s supposed to be about, and if we can get a better mix of that in Washington, D.C., it will make it much better. Congress has got a like a 20 percent approval rating. We need to really improve that. But we’ve got to help President Trump, and that’s my whole idea.
If there was a conservative Republican in this seat, I wouldn’t be running. Because we need to keep that continuity, but we don’t have that. I believe in moral and Christian values, and I believe in President Trump, and I want all that together to help the state of Alabama.
TCS: Thanks, Coach.
TT: Thank you.
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