Mr. CFB: Pat Dye Changed The Dynamic of the Auburn-Alabama Game Forever

Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton (10) with Georgia head coach Wally Butts and Pat Dye. Tarkenton said Dye was his "best teammate."Photo Courtesy of University of Georgia

Tony Barnhart

On Dec. 2, 1989 Alabama played at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time in history.

Three decades removed from the event it may not seem like a big deal to a generation of fans who have known nothing else. But trust me. It WAS a big deal. It was simply the most emotional game I’ve ever attended in my 44 years of covering college football.

Remember that Alabama’s Bear Bryant vowed that Alabama would never play at Auburn as long as he was alive. Bryant died in 1983. When the contract between the two schools ended in 1988, Dye dug in his heels and moved Auburn’s home game in 1989 to Jordan-Hare.

“Unless you grew up as an Auburn fan you can’t possibly understand the significance of the day,” former Auburn SID/AD David Housel told me a while back.

Before the kickoff, over 30,000 Auburn fans lined the Tiger Walk from Sewell Hall down Donahue Drive to the stadium. There were grown men crying as the Auburn players made their historic march to Jordan-Hare.

Auburn not only won the game, 30-20, but it knocked Alabama out of a chance for the national championship.

In the Auburn locker room, with the game ball tucked safely under his arm, Dye delivered a speech that will live as long as they play football on the Loveliest Village on the Plains.

In the passion of the moment, Dye compared the win over Alabama in Auburn to the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

It was not an exaggeration.

Dye, through the sheer force of his will and work ethic, had changed the dynamics of the Iron Bowl forever.

Do you doubt it? Consider this: When Dye became head coach at Auburn in 1981, Alabama had beaten the Tigers nine straight times. In the 39 years since the Tigers hold a 20-19 advantage. And in that same span Alabama has won six national championships (five by Nick Saban and one by Gene Stallings).

Seeing the hand writing on the wall, Alabama began making major improvements to Bryant-Denny Stadium and eventually moved its home games with Auburn back to campus in 2000. Alabama also embarked on an unprecedented series of facility improvements.

“All the Auburn people ever wanted was to be able to look Alabama in the eye and know that we had a chance,” Dye told me several years ago. “The move was good for Auburn. But it was also good for Alabama.”

Dye was the head coach at Auburn for only 12 years but in those dozen seasons he elevated the program and dared the fans to dream bigger than they had ever dreamed before.

Patrick Fain Dye, whose football journey began on the fields of Georgia and ended on the Plains of Auburn, died Monday at the age of 80. He had been hospitalized in Atlanta with kidney problems and had tested positive for COVID-19 virus. Doctors said that Dye was asymptomatic.

Dye was born in Blythe, Ga., about 20 miles South of Augusta. He played his high school at Richmond Academy and then followed his two older brothers, Nat and Wayne, to the University of Georgia. Dye was an All-America player at both offensive guard and defensive tackle in 1959 and 1960 under Coach Wally Butts.

Georgia won an SEC championship in 1959 when Fran Tarkenton drew up a play in the dirt and threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Bill Herron in the final seconds for a 14-13 win. That play will live forever in Georgia history. But not as many people remember that Auburn had a 13-7 lead and was running out the clock when Dye recovered a fumble, setting up Tarkenton at the Auburn 35-yard line.

“I never played with a greater football player than Pat Dye,” Tarkenton said in a statement on Monday. “He was the ultimate teammate and I loved the guy. I have lost one of the best friends I have ever had.”

Dye played two years in the Canadian Football League and served in the military for two years. In 1965 Dye began his coaching career at Alabama, working for the legendary Bear Bryant. He stayed in Tuscaloosa for nine years and was part of two national championship teams (1965, 1972).

After nine seasons at Alabama, Dye decided it was time to move on and become a head coach. He got that opportunity at East Carolina, located in Greenville, N.C. In six seasons Dye was 48-18-1 and put East Carolina on the same footing with North Carolina and N.C. State, two of the state’s four ACC schools.

Dye was 6-5 in one season at Wyoming (1980) and then came the opportunity he had been working for all of his life.

Vince Dooley, a former Auburn quarterback and assistant coach, had a No. 1-ranked Georgia team that was getting ready to play Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. Auburn made Dooley an attractive offer to come home as both head coach and athletics director. Dooley, who had a pretty good freshman running back in Herschel Walker, ultimately stayed at Georgia, which opened the door for Dye at Auburn.

Bear Bryant tried to convince Dye that he could get the Alabama job if he’d hold out a little longer. Dye told Bryant that he wanted to build his own program, not maintain his.

During his introductory news conference Dye was asked how long it was going to take for his program to finally beat Alabama, which had beaten Auburn eight straight times.

“60 minutes,” was the reply.

It actually took 120 minutes. Auburn and Dye lost their first meeting with Bryant in 1981 and before that game Dye met Bryant, his aging mentor, on the field, and said: “I just want you to know that we ain’t scared of you anymore.”

In 1982 freshman running back Bo Jackson went “over the top” of the Alabama defense with 2:26 left to give Auburn a 23-22 victory at Legion Field, snapping the Crimson Tide’s nine-game winning streak. It would be Bryant's last Iron Bowl. He died in early 1983.

And the rest is history. In 12 seasons Dye would win 99 games and four SEC championships. In the midst for an NCAA investigation for rules violations, Dye stepped down as head coach after the 1992 Iron Bowl, which Alabama won on the way to a national championship.

While his time at Auburn did not end well, Dye’s legacy at Auburn was secure because of Dec. 2, 1989.

In 2005 Dye was named to the College Football Hall of Fame. That same year Auburn’s playing field at Jordan-Hare Stadium was named for him.

He is to Auburn what Bear Bryant was to Alabama—the icon whose words and deeds and inspiration will live forever.

No matter what happens in generations to come, the Auburn people know that nobody can ever take Dec. 2, 1989 away from them.

Coach Pat Dye saw to that.

Comments (2)
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Herb Gould
Herb Gould


RIP, Pat Dye, SEC legend. Condolences to his family and everyone who embraces Auburn football.


Thank you. Excellent writing. I was a Pat Dye fan even though I became sentient to CFB at Big 10 and Pac 10 Schools.

Tony Barnhart