On Nov. 1, nine days after Auburn coach Terry Bowden had resigned under pressure, interim coach and defensive coordinator Bill Oliver fired offensive coordinator Rodney Allison. That has given Tigers players about all die excitement they can stand for one season. Freshman tailback Michael Burks says he will discuss with his mother whether to transfer. "You trust the head coach with your four years, and he's fired," Burks says. "Then you turn around and your position coach is fired. You don't know what to expect."
Allison and Bowden are close. When Bowden explained his departure in an emotional speech to the Tigers on Oct. 23, Allison left the room in tears. That didn't sit well with Oliver, who already had decided to take play-calling duties away from Allison and give them to quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher. Before the Louisiana Tech game the next day, Allison learned he would no longer call plays. He put his house up for sale. Six days later, on the morning after Auburn's 24-21 loss to Arkansas, Oliver told Allison to leave. "We all need to be pulling on the rope in the same direction," Oliver told the media after canning Allison.
Oliver, who is 2-1 after the Tigers' 10-6 victory over Central Florida last Saturday, will most likely have his interim status lifted at the end of the season. If he's not pulling on the rope next year, the Tigers will be at die end of theirs. "I think if they bring in somebody other than Coach Oliver, the players aren't going to play up to their potential," says senior nosetackle Charles Dorsey.
More Than Merely Moss
When a sophomore quarterback leads the nation with 39 touchdown passes, has a higher pass-efficiency rating than Peyton Manning and throws for a conference-record 3,480 yards, as Marshall's Chad Pennington did in the Mid-American Conference in 1997, he's usually the team's focal point. But another player in Huntington, W.Va., grabbed die spotlight last year—a guy by the name of Randy Moss, who was on the receiving end of 25 of Pennington's TD tosses.
Now that Moss plays for the Minnesota Vikings, Pennington has shown that the Thundering Herd had a pretty good quarterback to go with its All-America receiver. This season, without a deep threat, Pennington has completed passes to 17 teammates while connecting on 65.5% of his throws, for 2,848 yards and 21 touchdowns. As a result Marshall is 9-1 and headed to its second straight MAC championship game. Pennington holds the Thundering Herd's record for career TD passes (78) and needs 301 yards to become its alltime leading passer. "Chad's a hell of a player," says Moss. "I think we made each other look good."
The picture wasn't always so rosy for Pennington. Though he passed for 2,445 yards and 15 touchdowns while leading Marshall to the Division I-AA championship game as a freshman in 1995, he was redshirted the following season after Eric Kresser, a senior transfer from Florida, narrowly won the starting job. The knocks against Pennington were his slight 6'3", 195-pound build and his lack of arm strength.
"In retrospect I'm glad the coaches did it, because it was the best football decision that was ever made for me," Pennington says. "But on game day I was a wreck. All I could do was stand on the sideline and watch. The day we won the I-AA national championship in 1996 was the best day of the year for me, not only because we finished 15-0 but also because it marked the beginning of the '97 season."
A broadcast-journalism major, Pennington carries a 3.75 GPA. His dream is to play in the NFL, and having grown an inch and added 25 pounds since his freshman year, he has persuaded at least one knowledgeable supporter. "I've seen NFL quarterbacks," says Moss, "and I think he can come in and play on this level right now."
Wake up, Beavers!
Early Reveille at Oregon State