AUBURN, Ala. -- Dozens of Auburn University students and alumni marched across campus to the president's mansion Tuesday to protest the school's treatment of former football coach Tommy Tuberville.
University officials say Tuberville resigned on his own last week after a decade that included an undefeated season and a Southeastern Conference title. But many demonstrators claimed that administrators and powerful boosters forced him out after a 5-7 record that included a 36-0 loss to Alabama.
"You don't throw a man's career away for one lousy season," said alumna Linda Ashurst, one of about 70 people who chanted and waved signs.
An organizer, freshman Taylor Jones of Montgomery, said he believes boosters had Tuberville removed with the help of athletic director Jay Jacobs, and for some reason university officials are trying to cover up what happened.
"I believe he resigned, but I believe he was forced to resign," said Jones, who was called to a meeting with President Jay Gogue before the demonstration. Jones said Gogue expressed support for the students' right to protest but wouldn't discuss Tuberville's departure.
Tuberville hasn't publicly discussed details of what happened, but his mother told the Opelika-Auburn News her son was fired.
A university spokeswoman, Deedie Dowdle, said the school stands by Jacobs' statement that Tuberville resigned.
Protester Philip Smith said Auburn never would have agreed to give Tuberville the $5.1 million required under his contract unless it fired him or forced him to quit. Jacobs said Tuberville would get the money simply because it is the "right thing to do," but Smith suspects Jacobs is lying.
"This is our university and I don't like what's going on," said Smith, of Stone Mountain, Ga.
University officials have said Tuberville would be paid out of a private foundation established to support the athletic department, but they have not released copies of any agreement with Tuberville to end his tenure at Auburn.
Dowdle said officials have not prepared any documents concerning the payment to Tuberville.
Protesters chanted "War Damn Tubs" and sang the school's fight song while marching to the mansion, where they stopped on the front lawn. Eight police officers guarded the front of the big white house, decorated in green garland and red bows for Christmas.
"Who do we want back?" one student yelled.
"Tubs!" answered the crowd.
Demonstrators said they also planned to protest at the next board of trustees meeting.