Auburn legend Pat Dye holds a cherished place in Tigers football history
Patrick Fain Dye passed away Monday morning at the age of 80.
That isn’t an easy sentence for Auburn Nation to read, as Dye was perhaps more woven into the fabric of the school’s athletic program than any other single person in history. To know that Dye is gone now is to somehow understand one’s own mortality, because not only did it feel like Dye was forever Auburn but it also felt like Dye was Auburn forever.
Dye, 80, died from “complications of renal and hepatic failure” at the Compassus Bethany House in Auburn, according to Lee County coroner Bill Harris. Dye had recently tested positive for COVID-19 during a hospital stay in Atlanta for kidney issues. His son, Pat Dye Jr., told ESPN that his father was asymptomatic.
Only Ralph “Shug” Jordan won more football games at Auburn than Dye, who went 99-39-4 during 12 seasons (1981-1992). The beloved former coach recruited Bo Jackson to the Plains and won 4 SEC championships at Auburn. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
Dye was named SEC Coach of the Year 3 times (1983, 1987 and 1988) with the 1st coming during Auburn’s 11-1 season that included a share of the national championship after defeating Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. Auburn finished 3rd in the Associated Press and Coaches polls though The New York Times awarded it a national championship.
“People will talk about all of the games Coach Dye won, all the championships and bowl games, but his greatest contribution is the difference he made in the minds of his players and the people who worked for him,” former Auburn athletic director David Housel told AL.com. “I am one of them. He made a difference in my life. He came to Auburn at a time when Auburn needed leadership and focus. He provided that leadership and focus, and Auburn will be forever because of him.”
Patrick Fain Dye won almost 100 games and resurrected a program that was gasping on fumes from Shug Jordan’s past successes. That is fact.
It is also fact that Dye was the person who both made the annual Iron Bowl a truly competitive contest — moving the game to Auburn on a bi-annual basis starting in 1989 — as well as a rivalry that somehow made it *not* the Iron Bowl anymore.
Auburn won that first Iron Bowl at home, 30-20, ruining No. 2 Alabama’s chances of a perfect season. Dye finished his Auburn career with a 6-6 record against the in-state rival, including a 1982 win over Paul “Bear” Bryant’s last Alabama team that ended a 9-year winning streak for the Crimson Tide. It was Dye’s move that eventually made Alabama follow suit and shift the Tide’s bi-annual portion of the rivalry away from Legion Field and to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Dye’s bold stance on the Iron Bowl, not to mention the victories themselves, gave Auburn Nation ground to stand up on its own and say “hey, wait a minute, why can’t we be a powerhouse too?”
A lot of folks don’t know that Dye and Bryant actually got along quite well. They shared hunting and fishing cabins during the offseason, and while Bryant’s needle to “that school down the road” was often sharp, Dye understood that Bryant was trying to win ballgames just the same as he was, and that recruiting isn’t just done in living rooms. Dye served as an assistant under Bryant at Alabama from 1965-73, and their ties ran deep.
Disclosure: Your humble scribe observed Auburn from afar during my time in Tuscaloosa, interacting with Auburn and Auburn Nation from a largely adversarial perspective. Dye was a visible, audible voice of dissent during my time there, and many drops of ink were spilled on my end toward the cause of dissenting against said dissent.
And listen, this isn’t a “little brother take.” Dye made Auburn not only an equal part of the state’s family relationship but often usurped Alabama in the process. Dye loved Auburn just as much as Bryant loved Alabama, and the fact that they could co-exist and be friends while tussling over square inches of living-room recruiting territory should actually be an example of positivity.
Dye’s exit from the Auburn sidelines wasn’t easy, ending due to an NCAA investigation involving a member of the team. The NCAA found that Dye was personally responsible for rules violations, and fallout from the investigation eventually led Dye to step down as athletic director in 1991, and as head coach the following year.
Instead of fading into retirement, though, Dye did what The Auburn Creed suggests — “I believe in Auburn and love it” — by being a tireless representative of the school that would name its field after him in 2005.
Pat Dye died on Monday, and with him a cherished part of Auburn history died along with him. Auburn Nation mourns its loss, knowing that it has lost a favorite son. The college football world joins them, knowing that Dye was all Auburn … just the way it should be.