April 18, 2014
Former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville, left, with Carnell Williams, center, and Ronnie Brown (Anthony Hall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – Tommy Tuberville laughed and shook his head Friday night as he remembered the early days of his time as Auburn’s head football coach. It was a night for remembering and laughing and celebrating.
“It seems like only yesterday that I got here to Running Back U, and discovered we didn’t have a running back,” Tuberville said.
By 2000, Tuberville’s second season, Auburn had Rudi Johnson, the Southeastern Conference's best. But he was a shooting star, gone to the NFL after one season. Tuberville and his coaches already had snatched Ronnie Brown out of Cartersville, Ga. In 2001, they went after Carnell Williams, one of nation’s top running back prospects, the man everyone called “Cadillac.”
Williams and Brown, catalysts in the 2004 team’s run to a 13-0 record, were in town Friday to be inducted to the Tiger Trail, a tradition that honors former greats with plaques in the sidewalks. Tuberville, headed toward his second season as head coach at Cincinnati, introduced them.
And the stories flowed.
“We got here and lucked into Rudi,” Tuberville said. “We went after the best running backs in the country, and Carnell and Ronnie just happened just happened to be close by. We got Ronnie because he was committed to Tennessee as a linebacker and wanted to play running back.”
Williams had no intention of signing with Auburn out of Etowah High School.
“Auburn was not on my list at all,” Williams said. “I felt obligated, because I was from the state, to come visit. My top two were Tennessee and the University of Alabama.”
The week before Williams was to visit Auburn, he visited Tennessee. And he committed to Vols’ head coach Phillip Fulmer. Back at home, he called Tuberville and told him he wouldn’t be visiting Auburn. Tuberville, not so easily discouraged, convinced Williams and his parents to let him come to their home to visit the following day.
Tuberville didn’t go alone. He took his entire coaching staff.
“I’m expecting Coach Tuberville, but it’s like 15 staff members,” Williams said, laughing.
Williams reluctantly agreed to visit the Auburn campus the next weekend, but he flatly told his mother Auburn would not be his choice. That soon changed.
“I came down here, and once I got on campus it was overwhelming,” Williams said. “I think within three hours of getting here, I told my mom ‘I think this is where I want to go to school.’ It was just so overwhelming.”
Despite missing the last two games of his freshman season and half his sophomore season with injuries, Williams finished his Auburn career with 741 carries for 3831 yards and 45 touchdowns. Brown had 513 carries for 2707 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Brown took a medical redshirt in 2000 after an early injury. Together, he and Williams led Auburn’s running game for four seasons. They decided together after the 2003 season to put the NFL’s riches on hold for a year and returned to lead Auburn to the 2004 SEC championship.
In the 2005 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins made Brown the No. 2 overall pick. The Tampa Bay Bucs snatched Williams at No. 5.
Brown said joining the Tiger Trail together was fitting.
“It’s great,” Brown said. “Being a part of what each other did the whole time at Auburn and the friendship we established, being able to do this on the same day, get the award on the same day, feels good. It’s just like being in the backfield together.”
Williams and Brown took pride in last season’s Auburn team reaching the BCS Championship Game and pride in the 2010 team winning the national championship. But almost 10 years later, it still stings that they didn’t get a chance to play for it.
“I really felt like that 2004 team was special,” Williams said. “It’s just a shame we didn’t get to play for it. That’s still kind of an empty spot that’s left in my heart. We still talk about it. We just felt like we got robbed big-time.”
Williams went on to play seven seasons in the NFL, six for the Bucs and one for the St. Louis Rams. His career was cut short by knee injuries. He and his wife, Evan, are in the insurance business in Fort Lauderdale. They have a 10-week-old son, Cole.
Brown has played nine NFL seasons – six for the Dolphins, one for the Philadelphia Eagles and two for the San Diego Chargers. A free agent, he hopes to play for at least one more season.
“Since high school, I’ve just tried to take it a year at a time,” Brown said. “Just to have the opportunity to play in the NFL was amazing. It’s been a blessing. To be a little kid from a small town in Georgia and experience all the things I’ve experienced has just been great.”
Brown and his wife, Taylor, have a son, 1-year-old Rhys.
Williams and Brown were joined by former basketball great Doc Robinson and former soccer goalkeeper Meagan Rivera in accepting Tiger Trail induction. Rivera was introduced by soccer coach Karen Hoppa and Robinson by Chuck Gallina, assistant athletics director and long-time media relations professional.
Former swimming and diving coach Richard Quick and Cleve Wester, a hard-nosed lineman on the 1957 national championship team, were inducted posthumously. Quick’s award was presented by former Auburn swimming coach David Marsh and Wester’s by former Auburn great Ken Rice.
Coming Monday: Doc Robinson reflects on an All-American basketball career. Megan Rivera talks about being the first soccer player to join the Tiger Trail.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: