I have been watching Auburn football for a long time, beginning before I went off to college, and I remember a lot of quarterbacks who were great leaders for a variety of Auburn teams. With Gene Chizik’s team in the middle of spring drills right now, finding the right player to lead the offense this year has to be the highest priority for the head coach and his staff.
However, finding a quarterback who makes everyone around him better, and who consistently helps a team win football games, is easier said than done. I know at times I struggled to get it right.
My memory of Auburn quarterbacks only goes back to the 1950s. The first great one playing for the Tigers I remember was Bobby Freeman. With him at quarterback, and a lot of good players surrounding him, Coach Shug Jordan’s teams in that period had a lot of success.
I know the key to Coach Jordan’s 1957 team winning the national championship was his decision to move Lloyd Nix to quarterback that year. Coach Jordan knew they had a great football team, and he knew they had to have a leader at the quarterback position to make the team complete so he picked the most dependable guy and made him the quarterback.
Lloyd Nix had some quarterback experience in high school and worked out well in his new role on a team that won every game it played. He has gone on to become a great man, just like Coach Jordan knew he would become. In my opinion, Dr. Nix is one of the great Auburn people of all time.
The next quarterback at Auburn I remember was one of the better athletes to ever play the position at Auburn, Bobby Hunt. He was also a terrific leader and went on to a very successful career in pro football as a defensive back. He was a starter for the Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl.
The most well-known Auburn quarterback of the early 1960s was All-American Jimmy Sidle. He was a great competitor and a great runner. He was also the first quarterback in college history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. He was fortunate to have the best football player in America, Tucker Frederickson, lined up next to him at running back. Frederickson was a great blocker on the corner and Auburn took advantage of that when running quarterback sweeps.
Auburn had another really good quarterback on the team at the same time with Sidle named Mailon Kent, who led Auburn to a victory over Alabama and played a good bit. He was a strong passer and he and Sidle complemented each other.
Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy in 1971.
The next Auburn quarterback who stands out to me was Pat Sullivan, who came in as a sophomore starter in 1969 in an era when freshmen couldn’t play on the varsity. He had three great years on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Those teams won a lot of big games with Pat playing quarterback. His career, with his importance in Auburn football history, is well documented.
The next quarterback after Pat who stands out to me is Phil Gargis, a guy who was a great competitor and a real team player. He was a tough, hard-nosed quarterback who did everything he could to win games.
When I came to Auburn as head coach in 1981 there wasn’t an established quarterback on the team. We had a lot of players competing for the position though. I will be the first to admit that when I got to Auburn I didn’t do as good a job as I should have handling the quarterback situation. I was trying to play too many guys at the position. I wouldn’t blame Charlie Thomas, Joe Sullivan, Clayton Beauford, John Murphy, Ken Hobby or any of the other guys for not being pleased with how we did it.
Interestingly, the guy who was the best player to run our offense was Randy Campbell, who was a fifth-team wide receiver at the time. We were told he didn’t have enough ability to play quarterback in the Southeastern Conference.
We went through my first season at Auburn playing musical chairs at quarterback. I can’t be critical of any one of them because we should have found the right person in spring practice or fall practice. That certainly wasn’t the only time in my coaching career that I made major mistakes concerning the quarterbacks on my teams and I know it happens with other coaches, too.
It is hard sometimes to pick the right guy when the competition is close in practice. Sometimes you choose the right guy, sometimes you choose the wrong one.
In the spring of 1982 I made up my mind we were going to find out who the quarterback was and stick with him. We rolled the ball out there and scrimmaged, scrimmaged and scrimmaged. We made it as competitive and as tough on the quarterbacks as we could make it. We gave Randy Campbell the opportunity to compete and he won the job. It proved to be one of the best coaching decisions I ever made. He really and truly led us to two great years as our starting quarterback, including leading us to the conference championship.
Randy’s name needs to be remembered for the part he played in the turn-around of Auburn football in the 1980s.
In 1984 our quarterback was Pat Washington, a player who had the normal problems that many first-year starters have playing against SEC defenses. I wouldn’t blame Pat for the problems we had that year. Instead, I blame myself for not doing a better overall job with that team because we weren’t very good on defense.
We never came together as a team that season and never played with that close-knit oneness like most of our Auburn teams had. We had a lot of talent on that team and we won some big games, but not as many as we wanted to win. We had some heartbreakers, too, like losing to an Alabama team I thought we were much better than. In my 12 years at Auburn that was the only time I felt like we did that in the Iron Bowl game.
In 1985 we didn’t do a good job of handling the quarterbacks. Pat had a shore shoulder and we had a talented young quarterback, Bobby Walden, and a gritty competitor in Jeff Burger also competing for playing time. Each one had a different set of tools, each had a different set of issues to overcome. Pat had his shoulder problem, Bobby Walden had a bad knee and Jeff Burger was young and inexperienced.
We ended up playing all three of them during the season and we weren’t really fair to any of them. As a result of trying to play three guys, we didn’t have one who was our leader at quarterback. After we lost so badly at Tennessee that year I didn’t sleep a wink for two days. When I walked into the staff meeting on Monday morning I told the coaches we were going to sink or swim with Pat Washington. That was probably the best decision I made all year long and we ended up having a chance to win the conference championship at the end of the season, but came up just short.
After Pat finished Bobby’s knee got so bad he couldn’t play at all and Jeff Burger won the job. We won the conference championship with Jeff in 1987. He was a fighter and competitor, a guy who everybody on the team respected. He was what a quarterback was supposed to be because he made plays in clutch situations. He didn’t make many mistakes with the football.
When you win the SEC that probably means you had a strong leader running the offense at the quarterback position, which was certainly the case with Jeff Burger and also the case with Reggie Slack, who was waiting to take over in 1988.
Reggie was very mature from day one when he arrived on campus and a great talent. With him as the starting quarterback we won two more conference championships and he had a knack for making big plays for us. In the 1989 season I will never forget his touchdown pass to Shayne Wasden to allow us to beat Florida. He also had a great performance vs. Alabama in the final regular season game of the year.
The final quarterback we coached at Auburn was Stan White, who became a four-year starter. He was a great talent who had everything you would want in a quarterback. As a freshman he played well, leading us to eight wins and showing signs he could be an outstanding player in the SEC.
The next two years, in 1991 and 1992, Stan did a lot of good things, but we weren’t as talented. We had lost that competitive edge and our physical nature that had made our teams successful. We kind of bottomed out in 1991, which was a diasterous year in my coaching career. In 1992 we had a group of kids I enjoyed coaching, and we were more competitive, but we lost some close games.
As a senior, after I had finished coaching, Stan and his teammates went undefeated in 1993 and he was a big reason for that happening with his leadership skills and experience. In my opinion he is one of the best quarterbacks to play at Auburn. His backup that season, Patrick Nix, came in and helped win the Alabama game after Stan was injured. Patrick came back in 1994 and had a really good season in his first year as the starter.
The next quarterback at Auburn who really stood out was Dameyune Craig, who led the team to the 2007 SEC Championship Game. Sometimes I think he doesn’t receive as much credit as he deserves because he was an outstanding all-around football player. His combination of talent and desire to win made him a lot of fun to watch.
Ben Leard followed and had some great games at quarterback, including one of the all-time best performances in the history of the Auburn-Georgia game.
Jason Campbell is shown during Auburn's victory over Tennessee in the 2004 SEC Championship Game.
Jason Campbell then came in to play for Tommy Tuberville as a talented young recruit. He had some of the same growing pains that Stan White went through. It is difficult for a young quarterback to be successful in the SEC, but he continued to develop and like Stan did he had a great year as a senior and led Auburn to an unbeaten season.
I will always remember Jason for making one of the all-time great plays on fourth down against LSU as a senior in 2004 that allowed the Tigers to have that undefeated season. On a key fourth-down play he had three guys who were about to clobber him when he threw a strike to Courtney Taylor to keep the drive alive that allowed Auburn to score and win the game. Jason is still playing in the NFL and I hope he has a lot of success this year with his new team, the Chicago Bears.
Brandon Cox is the next quarterback who played a lot of football for the Tigers. He was a very accurate passer. He didn’t always have the best protection and took too many big licks, but he won some big games for the team. If he had a little better surrounding cast on offense and defense I believe he was the type of guy who would have led the Tigers to a conference championship.
When Chris Todd first played the team was having coaching issues on offense, but in Gene Chizik’s first year at Auburn it was impressive to see Chris bounce back from a major shoulder problem, win the starting job and play very well for someone whose health was such a major question mark going into the season.
The next year in comes Superman. Cam Newton had not only one of the great seasons in Auburn history, it was one of the best seasons for a quarterback in the history of college football. Like Jason Campbell, Cam had the intangibles combined with the ability to put the team on his back and carry them to an unbeaten season.
To me you put Cam at the pinnacle of quarterbacks in Auburn history because he could beat teams with his passing and with his running. He could bring his team from behind to win and did everything you could want a quarterback to do. Off the field he did a great job of fitting in on campus and in the community. It was no surprise that he is so well respected for the job he did leading the Tigers to the national championship.
Last year Auburn played three quarterbacks. Barrett Trotter started the season number one and he deserved to, but he got hurt early and it impacted his play. It was obvious he was hurting physically by the middle of the season so it made sense to make the change and put Clint Moseley in at quarterback during the Florida game.
Kiehl Frazier played some, too, but as a true freshman he wasn’t ready to be the starter. Florida tried to do it last season with a freshman who I think is going to be good college quarterback, but we saw what happened when you try to play a young guy in that position who isn’t ready yet. Playing a freshman in the SEC as the starting quarterback is a formula for failure.
Clint Moseley is shown in action during the 2011 season.
This year Frazier is more ready to compete for a starting job and Moseley has a half season’s worth of starting experience. Both are learning a new offense with a new coordinator and position coach so it is a big spring for those guys. How well they adapt to the changes will have a big say in how good this team can be.
I think the Tigers will be better on defense than they were last year and there are a lot of starters back on offense, too. For the offense to be as good as it can be, and for the team to be better than it was last season, before the Tigers open the season they need to pick the right quarterback.
He needs to be more productive than the Tigers were at that position last year. Whether it is Kiehl Frazier or Clint Moseley, one of them has to step up and be the man.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat’s Picks.
Premium Subscription Signup
Pat Dye’s Crooked Oaks Hunting Preserve and Lodge
Pat Dye’s Quail Hollow Gardens