(AL.com) – When Tommy Tuberville left his coaching position at Ole Miss, he played that coy game coaches do when looking for another job. His loyalties were to the team he had, he said, not some other place — like Auburn, say — that might be wooing him with better offers.
To be fair to Tuberville, this dance is not unusual. Nick Saban has done the same thing more than once.
But Tuberville was particularly adamant in his denials, and it left a lot of Ole Miss fans sore, as Mississippi Today sports columnist Rick Cleveland recounted in a column earlier this year. According to Cleveland, Tuberville looked him and other sports reporters in the eye and gave them a quote for the ages.
“They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box,” Tuberville said.
Two days later, Tuberville was on a plane to Auburn, but the pine box quote has followed him for years, especially when he’s been on the verge of other career changes.
Lots of people remember it.
Lots of people except Tuberville — sometimes.
For instance, Tuberville couldn’t remember any of this when he was under oath giving sworn testimony in a securities fraud lawsuit brought against him by investors who said they’d been ripped off by his hedge fund, TS Capital Partners.
After Tuberville left Auburn, he partnered with a man named David Stroud to start TS Capital. He gave interviews to the Birmingham News about his new career, and he made a cameo with Stroud in the feel-good football flick, “The Blind Side.”
But by 2013, TS Capital had collapsed and Stroud turned out to be a scam artist who had embezzled money from the firm. Stroud was convicted of fraud in criminal court, and Tuberville eventually settled civil claims from other investors with a deal that is now sealed. Tuberville said he was a victim, too.
But before Tuberville made that secret settlement, he sat for a deposition in which a plaintiff’s lawyer tried to test his memory and his honesty.
“The quote attributed to you is ‘They will have to carry me out of here in a pine box,’ in reference to not leaving Ole Miss to coach for another school,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer said. “Did you make that statement, or something to that effect?”
Tuberville’s answer: “I can’t remember that.”
The lawyer continued: “Do you feel you were honest about your stated intentions to remain with Ole Miss toward the end of 1998?”
Tuberville: “Yeah, uh-huh.”
The former coach’s answers might come as a surprise to Ole Miss fans. Tuberville had been really, really insistent he was happy there.
But here’s what’s weird: Tuberville couldn’t remember the pine box comments in that 2013 deposition, but in an interview six years later, his memory came back somehow. Not only did he remember making that comment, but he recalled the events leading up to it and what followed after with a great deal of specificity.
“We were getting close to the end of the season, my fourth year, and people are calling my agent, Jimmy Sexton,” Tuberville told AL.com’s Mark Heim in a radio interview. “I had three real good offers. The athletic director comes to me on a Tuesday night. We’re playing Jackie Sherrill and Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl on Thursday. I had my radio show the night before. We’re planning on staying. Finally, I just got tired (of answering questions about leaving), and I said, ‘Listen, they’re going to have to carry me out of here in a pine box. I love this place.’”
So in an interview that didn’t have legal or financial consequences for him, Tuberville seems pretty sharp. But in a deposition in which he has to avoid implicating himself in securities fraud, things got all fuzzy.
Whether it’s his memory or his honesty that’s the problem, it matters.
It matters because he’s running for the United States Senate.
And it matters because he was asked a lot of other questions in that deposition, too.
Questions about when he knew his partner Stroud was using another employee’s securities license to trade because Stroud’s had been suspended.
Questions about when he realized their business was bouncing checks because all the money was gone.
Questions about whether he realized the lease for his company car and the travel expenses for trips he took were being paid with fraud victims’ investment funds.
Questions about what he knew and when he knew it.
He couldn’t remember a lot of that stuff, either.
Perhaps the lawyers should have asked him on a radio show, instead. But it’s too late now, because as Tuberville has shown, you shouldn’t expect an honest answer when he’s on the hunt for another job.
He buried the truth in that pine box.
(Kyle Whitmire, AL.com)