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A Conversation with Senator Tuberville: How the Famed Auburn Football Coach Approaches Politics

Senator Tommy Tuberville (R–Ala.) was born in Camden, Arkansas and went to college at Southern Arkansas University as a two-sport athlete. While best known for football, Tuberville also played two years on the golf team for the SAU Muleriders. Among his many accomplishments and honors, Tuberville is a five-time Southeastern Conference (SEC) Western Division Champion, American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year, Paul “Bear” Bryant Award Recipient and two-time SEC Coach of the Year. In 2008, he was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Arkansas State University Sports Hall of Fame. Elected to the Senate in 2020, Tuberville brings the lessons and perspectives of sportsmanship to the political arena. The National Club Association had the opportunity to ask the senator a few questions so the club community could get to know him a little better, discuss lessons learned as a coach and educator, issues facing clubs today, golf and his Auburn Tigers. 

NCA: What motivated you to make the move from coaching to politics? 

Tuberville: I spent 40 years in education, but I was more than just a coach—I was an educator, a mentor, and often times, a father figure to kids who grew up in tough circumstances. The more time I spent in higher education, the more concerned I became about the direction of our country, especially when it comes to educating our young people. Education is the key to freedom and the best way we can provide an opportunity for success. Right now, we are ranked 37th in the world for math, and many students can’t read beyond a high school level. That is unacceptable. And rather than being focused on what is best for the student, we are politicizing our education system with teachings that are contradictory to the fundamentals of this great country. So, while coaching and politics might seem unrelated, in both jobs you have the opportunity to be a leader and have a positive impact on future generations. 

NCA: Are there lessons you take from your time coaching football to your approach in politics? 

Tuberville: Yes, you have to be able to work with people, especially those who don’t agree with you or those who see things differently than you. There were hard games on the field, and there are hard discussions in Congress. You also have to learn from the games you might not win. I have spent the last eight months in Congress doing a lot of listening and learning. I have made some friends across the aisle and that’s needed to get things done in Washington. We talk things out and try to find areas we can agree on, while standing firm in defense of core principles.  

NCA: Democrats have been openly discussing eliminating the filibuster in the Senate for months. As a freshman Senator, what are your thoughts on changing the rules of the Senate to do away with the filibuster? 

Tuberville: We cannot get rid of the filibuster; we need it to protect the minority party’s voice in the Senate. We all know how elections work—just like on the football field, the other team or, in this case, the other party will eventually get the ball back. 

NCA: The National Club Association represents private clubs, which are essentially small businesses. They wrestle with many of the same issues—labor policies, health care costs and regulations in general, but there are some tax policies that are specific to private clubs—what are your thoughts on how Congress can best help small businesses thrive? 

Tuberville:  COVID-19 hit the economy hard, and many small businesses are still trying to recover, but the agenda of this current administration is not helping—it is doing the opposite. Earlier this year, Democrats spent $1.9 trillion on an untargeted rescue package that expanded unemployment benefits at the same time small businesses were struggling to find workers. As a result, many businesses across the country are suffering from a workforce shortage, which is especially difficult for businesses in high-tourism or service industry-focused areas. While we are seeing an increase in customer demand, small businesses are struggling to keep up because they can’t get workers. At a time when they can, and should, be adding to their bottom lines, they’re cutting hours. What the government should be doing is encouraging workers to seize available job opportunities and cutting regulations. The more regulations there are the harder it is for businesses to thrive, but when businesses thrive our economy benefits. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act lowered taxes across the board, for individuals and businesses of all sizes, and as a result we saw the lowest unemployment rates in recent history. The economy was booming—we need to get back to that point and that starts with focusing on pro-business policies and cutting red tape. 

What’s more contentious: Auburn vs. Alabama or Republicans vs. Democrats? 

Tuberville: Being a senator for Alabama, I represent all Alabamians—that includes Auburn and Alabama fans. But whether you’re an Auburn fan or Alabama fan, we all share something in common at the end of the day: a love of this country. That’s why I get along with the senior senator from Alabama, Senator Shelby, so well, even though he’s an Alabama fan. We both want to do right by our state and our country, even when we argue about Auburn and Alabama football. When it comes to Congress, we still have our sides and there are still some bitter debates, but at the end of the day we are all on the same team—the American team. Everyone will do better just by keeping that in mind. 

Oklahoma and Texas joined the Southeastern Conference (SEC) what are your thoughts? 

Tuberville:  It is going to be a challenge for both teams. Not just in terms of competition on the field but also in recruiting. 

Tell us about the role golf has played in your personal and professional life. How often do you get to play these days? 

Tuberville: I played football in college, but a lot of people don’t know that I played on the golf team too. I’ve always told my sons that they needed to play golf because it helps to build professional relationships. You can get away from the formal office setting and really get to know someone on the golf course and that’s the way things get done. 

I don’t get to play golf as often as I’d like. There are some courses in the Washington, D.C., area I’d love to play, but I just haven’t had time with the amount of work that we’ve done during my first eight months in the Senate. 

Any predictions for college football this season? 

Tuberville:  As hard as it is to keep saying it, somebody is still going to have to figure out a way to beat Alabama. What Coach Nick Saban has done for over a decade is almost impossible. Auburn has a new coach, and I’m anxious to see how his first season goes. UAB is opening their new stadium in Birmingham this season and that’s going to be great for the University and for that area.  South Alabama has unreal facilities and a buy-in to become a consistent program. And then Jacksonville State is always a threat in their division. The South dominates football.  

You get to pick your foursome. One Democrat, one fellow Republican, and one member of the PGA or LPGA Tour. Who’s joining you

Tuberville:  It’s got to be President Trump, Joe Manchin, and Dustin Johnson. I’m friends with a number of PGA and Champions Tour players, but Dustin Johnson is an American at the top of his game, and you always want to play with the best to see if it takes you to another level.