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1981: Rebirth of AU football

Few knew it at the time, but 30 years ago, in the summer of 1981, Auburn football was about to change in a big way.

Senior Editor Phillip Marshall

I was 31 years old and in my second year as sports editor of The Montgomery Advertiser. Pat Dye was headed for his first season as Auburn’s head coach.

In January of that year, I visited with Dye the morning before the press conference announcing his hiring. Auburn was coming off five unhappy years. I asked him if Auburn could win championships. His eyes blazed. “You’re damned right we can,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that.”

At his press conference, Dye remembered playing Auburn in his days as an All-America guard at Georgia. “Those blue jerseys put the fear of God in people,” Dye said. He vowed it would be that way again. Asked how long it would take to beat Alabama, to whom Auburn had lost eight straight, he famously answered “60 minutes.”

Dye’s first Auburn team went 5-6, but there was no question better times were coming. A team short on talent, fought like crazy every Saturday. The season could have been much better had it not been for bizarre losses to Wake Forest, Tennessee and Mississippi State. Dye told me years later that winning those three games might not have been such a good thing.

“We might have gotten the idea further along than we were,” Dye said. Dye went on to win four SEC championships. Auburn football has never been the same.

The three coaches who have led the Auburn program since Dye left after the 1992 season all have had at least one perfect season. Two have won SEC championships. Last season, Gene Chizik led the Tigers to the BCS national championship in his second season.

Joe Whitt was an assistant coach at Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery when the call from Dye, who he had never met. Whitt joined Dye’s first staff as the outside linebackers coach. He is still at Auburn today as an assistant athletic director and fundraiser.

“I knew it was going to be special,” Whitt says. “From the very first time I met him and he talked to me about coming to Auburn, I knew he had a plan and he had a vision. He knew what it took to get there and knew where he wanted to go. There was no doubt in my mind. Not only did he have it, he instilled it in all of us.

“That first team was not real talented. Some talent probably could have stayed and helped us win a couple of more games, but they just didn’t fit. Coach Dye wanted to build a foundation. The thing I remember that first year is Coach Dye said he wasn’t going to sacrifice the future for the present. He was going to make sure he put everything in place.”

Here are the coaches on Dye’s first staff:

Alex Gibbs, quarterbacks coach: An offensive line coach by trade, Gibbs moved to Georgia after one season. He spent 17 seasons in the NFL before retiring after last season. One of two coaches Dye kept from Doug Barfield’s staff.

Neil Callaway, offensive line coach: Coached at LSU, Alabama and Georgia and is now the head coach at UAB.

James Daniel, offensive line: Left Auburn after the 1992 season to join the staff of the New York Giants. Currently an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Larry Blakeney, wide receivers: One of two coaches Dye kept from the previous staff. Left after the 1990 season to become head coach at Troy and remains the Trojans’ head coach today.

Bud Casey, running backs: Left Auburn after the 1992 season and joined the staff at TCU. Was later an administrator at Troy.

Wayne Bolt, tight ends: Left after the 1985 season and joined the Clemson staff. Returned to join Dye’s staff again in 1990. Went on to be defensive coordinator at Troy, UAB and Iowa State and is now an administrative assistant at Auburn.

Wayne Hall, defensive line: Was retained by Terry Bowden in 1993, but left after the 1995 season. Has been a builder in the Auburn area since.

Frank Orgel, inside linebackers, defensive coordinator: Left after the 1985 season. Later coached at Georgia.

Bobby Wallace, secondary: Left for Mississippi State, his alma mater, after the 1985 season. Won three consecutive Division II national championships at North Alabama before being named head coach at Temple. Retired as head coach at West Alabama after last season.

Joe Whitt, outside linebackers: Spent 25 seasons on the Auburn coaching staff, working for Dye, Bowden and Tommy Tuberville. Moved into an administrative position after the 2005 season.

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