Thomas Hawley (Tommy) Tuberville (1954–)

Tommy Tuberville was a successful college football coach who, in 2020, was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Senate from Alabama. Tuberville held the position of head coach at several major universities but began his career coaching high school football at Hermitage (Bradley County). His first college coaching position was in 1980 as an assistant at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County).

Thomas Hawley Tuberville, youngest of three children of Charles and Olive Tuberville, was born on September 18, 1954, in Camden (Ouachita County). He was raised in Ouachita County and graduated from Harmony Grove High School in 1972. He attended Southern State College (now Southern Arkansas University) in Magnolia (Columbia County), where he lettered for the Muleriders football team. He also played for the college golf team for two years. He graduated with a BS in physical science in 1976.

Tuberville married fellow Camden native Vicki Lynn Harris in 1976. The couple later divorced. In 1991, he married Suzanne Fette; they had two sons.

Tuberville began his football coaching career at Hermitage High School, where he spent three years, the last one as head coach. In 1980, he accepted an assistant coaching position at ASU under Coach Larry Lacewell. While there, he helped the Indians advance to their first appearance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1AA playoffs. After leaving ASU, he accepted the position of graduate assistant at the University of Miami (UM) in 1986, and, by 1993, he had been promoted to defensive coordinator. UM won three national championships during his time at the university. In 1994, he became the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M University. After one year, he moved to his first NCAA head coaching position at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and was named Southeastern Conference (SEC) Coach of the Year in 1997. Tuberville was involved in the movement that eventually banned the use of the controversial Confederate flag at university events. His overall record at Ole Miss was 25–20.

In 1999, Tuberville moved to Auburn University, where he led the Tigers to an SEC championship and a 13–0 record in 2004. Tuberville was named SEC Coach of the Year and national Coach of the Year by four organizations.

After posting a 5–7 record in 2008, Tuberville resigned; whether the resignation was voluntary or forced is not clear. During his tenure, he led the Tigers to eight consecutive bowl games, five of which included coveted New Year’s Day bowls. His overall record at Auburn was 85–40.

In 2010, Tuberville was hired as the head coach at Texas Tech University. The fans never seemed to accept Tuberville, who was following in the footsteps of popular coach Mike Leach. His first year, with a record of 8–5, was his most successful. It was followed by a losing season. A 7–5 record the next year was not enough to keep Tuberville at Texas Tech. During his final season in 2012, many fans became upset when Tuberville apparently slapped a graduate assistant coach on the sidelines. He resigned his position after three years, during which the team had compiled an overall record of 20–17.

Tuberville moved immediately to his next head coaching position at the University of Cincinnati. He remained at Cincinnati for four years, compiling a 29–22 record. His second-year team was the co-champion of the American Athletic Conference. Though his teams won twenty-five games his first three years, they never won a post-season game.

Tuberville retired in 2016 and entered into private business. At the time of his retirement, he was one of the top fifty winningest coaches in the history of college football. He remained connected to football, serving as a member of the ESPN sports broadcast staff.

Tuberville was involved in a number of controversies in football and business ventures. Among those were his apparent slapping of a player at Texas Tech, walking out on a Texas Tech recruit at dinner to accept the Cincinnati job, and his departure from Auburn. In 2010, Tuberville was a co-defendant in a lawsuit for securities fraud against TS Capital LLC, a company he had founded with John Stroud. The company was accused of defrauding investors in the amount of almost $2 million. In 2012, the company was barred from conducting business, and the next year Stroud was convicted of securities fraud and required to pay over $2 million in restitution and to serve a ten-year jail sentence. That same year, Tuberville, who was not criminally charged, settled a civil case brought against him. The terms for the settlement were sealed and not disclosed. Tuberville claimed that he was only an investor and that his main involvement in the business venture was the use of his name in Tuberville Stroud Capital LLC and TS Capital Partners. However, court records indicate that Tuberville, while not involved in the daily operations of the company, did visit with potential investors and identified himself as a managing partner.

Tuberville has also been criticized for the financial dealings of the Tommy Tuberville Foundation, founded in 2014 to support veterans. Tax records have shown that as little as one third of the money raised by the foundation was being used for the charitable cause.

In 2018, Tuberville reestablished his residency in Alabama with the goal of running for the U.S. Senate. During the primary in 2020, Tuberville finished first in a crowded field of seven. The second-place finisher was former senator and U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions. Each candidate polled a little over thirty percent, far short of the needed vote to avoid a runoff election. During the campaign, Tuberville, a conservative member of the Church of Christ, was strongly supported by President Donald Trump. During the runoff held in July, Tuberville won with over sixty percent of the popular vote. He then easily defeated Democrat incumbent Doug Jones, polling approximately sixty percent of the state vote.

Following the insurrection of January 6, 2021, when violent, right-wing insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol with the intent of both disrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory and kidnapping or killing members of Congress regarded as disloyal to Donald Trump, Tuberville remained supportive of Trump and was one of six senators who voted in objection to the vote certification. In fact, during the insurrection, both Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph (Rudy) Giuliani, attempted to place calls to Tuberville but mistakenly called Senator Mike Lee instead.

On July 27, 2021, it was revealed that Tuberville had broken the federal STOCK Act, having failed to disclose stock trades within a window of forty-five days. These trades ranged in total value from $894,000 to $3.5 million and included a sale of stock put options for Alibaba Group Holding Limited, a Chinese e-commerce company. Tuberville had, during his senatorial campaign, divested himself of investments in Alibaba as part of his broader criticisms of China.

For additional information:
Dowdy, Josh. Orange Is Our Color: The Tuberville Years Through Navy-tinted Glasses. Seven States Publishing, 2013.

Hakim, Danny. “Tommy Tuberville’s Financial Fumbles.” New York Times, October 12, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/12/us/elections/senate-alabama-tuberville-jones.html (accessed June 17, 2021).

Kilgore, Ed. “Will Two Alabama Extremists Force a Vote on Overturning the Election?” New York Magazine Intelligencer, December 17, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/12/two-alabama-extremists-may-force-vote-to-overturn-biden-win.html (accessed June 17, 2021).

Tommy Tuberville: U.S. Senator for Alabama. https://www.tuberville.senate.gov/ (accessed June 17, 2021).

Mike Polston
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 07/27/2021