Sundays in the off season are made for personal interest and feature stories…so, when I ran across this link from the Wiz I couldn’t ignore it.
Long time college football fans recognize the name of Bobby Lowder as perhaps the ‘most powerful booster in college football’. I first remember learning about Bobby Lowder by reading a big article in Sports Illustrated over ten years ago. The problem is that I can’t remember if it was a piece focused on how Lowder executed the hiring of Terry Bowden or if it was a piece detailing the messy split between Bowden and Auburn amongst allegations that Lowder controlled an elobrate ‘pay for play’ program in the background.
Regardless, not many boosters have their own Wikipedia entry or carries such weight that a website exists ‘dedicated’ to his presence and tracking the number of days remaining in his term as a member of the Auburn Board of Trustees. (The website even has a “Frequently Asked Questions” section where you can learn more about Lowder and his relationship to Auburn.) If you want a more formality supporting the depth of Lowder’s power then this list of The Top 10 Boosters in America from ESPN (in 2006) should suffice.
At the time that ESPN created that list they also wrote quite a profile on Lowder: A Tiger of a Trustee.
Other big-time college boosters might give even larger sums to buy influence within their schools’ athletic department. They get their names plastered on stadiums and weight rooms. They watch games from luxury suites. But no fat cat alive plays the political game to influence a campus quite like the 63-year-old Lowder (Auburn, Class of ’64).
Few sit on their university’s board of trustees and, if so, not as long as Lowder, who was first appointed by Gov. George Wallace in 1983. Nor has anyone filibustered, doled out campaign contributions or fought as tenaciously to hold his post.
Lowder’s fingerprints have lingered for three decades in the hiring and firing of coaches and athletic directors alike — even university presidents. Thus, his brash micromanagement of his alma mater is as renowned as it is reviled.
When Tommy Tuberville was lured away from Mississippi before the 1999 season, Auburn was still paying off four ex-football coaches — head coaches Pat Dye and Terry Bowden, along with defensive coordinators Wayne Hall and “Brother” Bill Oliver. The price tag approached $2.5 million.
Oliver reached a $210,000 settlement after filing suit accusing Lowder and then-athletic director David Housel of reneging on a promise to name Oliver as Bowden’s replacement. Oliver said Lowder first broached the prospect two seasons before Bowden was forced out, adding, “I felt like an old whore.”
Kenneth Ingram, who represented Oliver, called Lowder a man “who has anointed himself a monarch over this, what he considers to be his kingdom.” The attorney attended Auburn and held tickets to a football skybox.
Bowden, now ABC’s college football studio analyst, credits Lowder for his hiring and eventual firing, as well as alleging that Lowder was involved in a deep rooted, pay-for-play scheme in place when Bowden was hired almost a decade ago. (ABC and ESPN are part of The Walt Disney Co.)
Wanting to have a public record in case anything happened to him, Bowden agreed to a lengthy tape-recorded interview with Paul Davis of the Opelika-Auburn News in 2001. In transcripts reviewed by ESPN.com, Bowden said he was so stressed about Lowder during his last year at Auburn that he told Davis, “I’m having my house checked for bugs.”
Bowden also said it was Lowder who convinced Dye to resign at the end of the 1992 season, fearing ex-player Eric Ramsey’s allegations of pay-for-play at Auburn might expose the larger scheme and result in stricter NCAA sanctions. As his Auburn tenure drew to a close, Bowden said Housel acknowledged that Lowder was the source of a newspaper story indicating the trustees had lost confidence in him.
“Housel said, ‘Lowder wanted you to know he doesn’t care if you win five of your next six [games], you’re out,’ ” Bowden told Davis. “David said the only way I would keep my job was if Fob James wins [the governor's race against Siegelman].”
Lowder’s name has moved back into public awareness this weekend as his (former) bank, Colonial Bancshares, became the country’s largest bank failure of 2009. Winston-Salem’s BB&T has effectively taken over Colonial in a deal brokered by the FDIC and other regulators.
The Wiz’s entry also include the following quotes:
“Lowder gave Pat Dye the latitude to lead Auburn out of the depths of despair and the support needed, which Dye turned into four SEC titles and four straight wins over Alabama. Lowder also made the decision to replace Dye and was the one to personally deliver the news late one night, in his Montgomery bank office.
“Lowder hired Terry Bowden, someone he had gotten to know when his daughter worked for him at Samford. In spite of torrents of negativity, Lowder realized early in Bowden’s tenure despite 20 straight wins that the young coach was not mature enough for the job, evidenced by the precipitous collapse in 1998.
“By the time of Bowden’s ugly departure, Lowder already had his man picked out in Tommy Tuberville. The two had met secretly a year earlier at Lowder’s house for breakfast.
“A familiar pattern developed a few years into Tuberville’s tenure. Tuberville had remained loyal to his original coordinators and Lowder wanted a change following the disappointing 2001 season. Ironically, the two men brought in were Bob Petrino to run the offense and Gene Chizik to run the defense. Petrino left after a year to become the head coach at Louisville but Lowder was smitten by him.
“In 2003, when Auburn, the preseason No. 1 in some magazines, stumbled out of the gate with an 0-2 record and was only 6-5 heading into the Iron Bowl, Lowder and the school president had seen enough. Following a 31-7 loss at LSU and a 26-7 beating at Georgia, the decision was made. Tuberville would be fired and Petrino hired.
“Then, the Jetgate controversy erupted and Lowder was blamed, in part, because the Colonial Bank corporate plane was used for the Petrino interview.”
It doesn’t look like the Colonial Bank corporate plane will be used for many coaching interviews anytime soon.