As college football and Auburn fans across the state continue to mourn the passing of legendary Auburn coach Pat Dye, his former players also mourn the Hall of Fame coach.
A number of Enterprise Wildcats would go on to play for Dye at Auburn including All-State and All Americans Terry Jones and Jim Thompson.
Thompson – who now serves as a Coffee County Commissioner – played for Dye from 1984 through 1988 and said Dye was much more than a coach to his players.
“He was a father figure and a great man,” Thompson said. “He was a very hard-nosed, tough man on the football field but I think the thing that meant the most to him was that he wanted us to be good men, good workers and good fathers when we left Auburn, and I think he has thousands of perfect examples of that.”
Jones – who is now a corrections officer with the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department – echoed Thompson’s description of the late coach.
“Coach Dye was like a father,” Jones said. “If you had a problem you could go in and talk to him and he would talk to you just like you were his kid.
“He wouldn’t lie to you, he wouldn’t sugarcoat anything and he was completely straight-forward with everything. You could really talk to him about anything. I don’t care what it was, whether it be girls or whatever else.”
Both Thompson and Jones said that they would speak to Dye regularly after leaving Auburn and that Dye would even keep up with their parents.
“I had talked to him about five weeks ago about (purchasing) some trees from him,” Thompson said. “I think that’s one thing people don’t realize about him. He always talked to us and asked about our families. My mom passed away last February and Coach Dye called me on the phone.”
Former New Brockton star Todd Boland also played for Dye at Auburn and said that Dye had a special connection with all of his players.
“When we went back in 2003 for the Dye Reunion what stood out was that he never forgot you no matter who you were,” Boland said. “He kind of had a connection with all of his players. To put his arm around you that many years later and ask how your family was doing meant so much to me.”
Boland said that the way Dye measured his player’s didn’t have much to do with how highly rated a recruit was coming in.
“Growing up an Alabama fan to walk into that practice in December of 1989 and for (Dye) to state to me that it wasn’t the person’s size or speed that mattered, it was what was inside of his heart means so much to me,” Boland said. “Being from New Brockton and undersized he looked more on the inside of the man than what was outside of some of his players.”
Jones said that Dye talked him out of quitting football altogether after arriving at Auburn.
“He pulled me into his office and talked to me,” Jones said. “He told me I had the talent and I was young but things were going to be hard. If I kept working hard, though, I could get to the point where I needed to be. I didn’t understand it then but it was all about work ethic. He believed in working hard because he said if you worked hard in practice it would show up in the game.”
Thompson said that hard work that Dye demanded taught his players life lessons.
“I think the biggest thing that he taught me was that when you thought you couldn’t go anymore you could still go,” Thompson said. “It was a different time when we played as far as physicality. It was tough but he wanted it tough and he made it tough so that in the future when life got tough we would know how to keep going.”
Jones said that Dye wanted to create a family atmosphere at Auburn and did not tolerate fighting between his players.
“I remember two guys got into a fight and Coach Dye got an ear of it,” Jones remembered. “He had a big meeting and told us, ‘We play as a family and if you don’t like that then there’s the damn door’ and pointed at the exit. He was straight forward.”
Dye’s belief also extended to racial animosity amongst players.
“He put whites and blacks together in the same (dorm) room,” Jones said. “If you’re going to play with this guy you were going to live with him. At one time (at Auburn) the whites would eat on one side (of the lunchroom) and blacks on the other side but Coach Dye broke that up. We ate together, as a family.”
Another big aspect of Dye’s coaching philosophy was discipline and sometimes his players had to be disciplined, but Jones said he only needed to be punished once.
“I got in trouble just one time and one time only,” Jones said. “I had to run stadium steps, 25 of them, up and down (Jordan-Hare) Stadium. That’s a pretty big stadium, so imagine doing 25 of those. It didn’t happen anymore, that was a done deal for me. I never got into trouble again.”
Thompson had a different experience with discipline.
“It wasn’t funny at the time but it’s funny now when we look back on it,” Thompson said.
One weekend Thompson and Auburn quarterback Jeff Burger set out on a hunting trip with a mutual friend.
“We had curfew at 11 (p.m.) every night in our dorms,” Thompson recalled. “The guy we went dove hunting with said that he could pick us up in an airplane. So, we flew down to a town not far from where we’re sitting right now and ate lunch and had a blast. We flew back and made curfew.”
Thompson said a few days later the president of the university came down to practice signifying trouble.
“We were all in the offensive huddle giggling and laughing wondering who had gotten into trouble,” Thompson said. “The next day Coach Dye’s secretary called my room and told me that he wanted to see me and Jeff Burger.
“It became not real funny anymore because we had to meet the FBI over our dove hunting trip and Coach Dye was very, very, very upset with us.”
Apparently someone had reported the duo of Auburn Tigers and the FBI came to question them because their hunting partner was an avid gambler.
“They thought the guy that took us hunting liked to gamble a lot on sporting events,” Thompson said. “Someone turned us in and they thought we, especially the quarterback, were getting bribed to throw a football game.”
Thompson said the punishment from Dye was verbal but the NCAA also suspended the two for one game and also an additional offensive series of the following game.
Jones said that finding out Dye had passed away hit him hard.
“When I found out he died it was like my own father died,” Jones said. “It hurt me so bad and it still hurts. I was very blessed to play for him. He was a great guy that would do anything for you and didn’t lie to you.”
While Dye will surely be remembered for the wins and the championships, Thompson believes he will be most remembered for something that a price tag can’t be placed on; bringing the Iron Bowl to the campuses of Alabama and Auburn.
“What that has done for the Auburn community and the Tuscaloosa community you can’t put a price on it,” Thompson emphasized. “I don’t think it will ever go back to a neutral site. That was his idea and that was his goal and it took him 7-8 years but he got it done and I think he will be remembered for that forever.”
Boland said brining the Iron Bowl on campus is one of the reasons that Dye was able to put Auburn back on the college football map, especially in Alabama.
“He put Auburn on the map as far as bringing the (Iron Bowl) to Auburn and evening the playing fields here,” Boland said. “We were always the red-headed stepchild (of the state). His run, his tenure, made Auburn what it is today.
“I think that’s what he’ll be most known for whether it’s the championships or the players or the records. That gave way to the Tuberville’s of the world and Malzahn winning now. It helped Auburn become more of the same caliber as Alabama as far as our place in the state.”