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Is he leaving?

If Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville leaves the Plains, it could have a big financial impact on five assistants.

Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville has a special bond with five of his assistant coaches. The quintet – Eddie Gran, Hugh Nall, Greg Knox, Don Dunn and Terry Price – have worked with Tuberville for 13 years, including the last nine seasons at Auburn. Tuberville hired them before his first season as a head coach at Ole Miss in 1995.

They have stayed together ever since, moving from Oxford, Miss., to Auburn without missing a beat, though other assistant coaches have come and gone.

And they’re close to reaping a big reward.

November 2008 will mark the 10th anniversary of Tuberville and his assistants’ arrival at Auburn. That will mean a considerable payoff: all six will be fully vested in the state of Alabama’s retirement system, guaranteeing annual payments from their 60th birthdays until their deaths.

Of course, to collect the cash – around $3,000 per month for each assistant – they’ll have to stay employed by the state of Alabama. Practically speaking, that means staying at Auburn.

And judging by recent reports, that’s no guarantee.

Tuberville is one of the nation’s hottest coaching prospects – at least according to the always-churning rumor mill.

Several reports have linked Tuberville to the potential vacancy at Texas A&M, which is reportedly negotiating a buyout with current head coach Dennis Franchione. Tuberville has also been rumored as a possible candidate for as-yet nonexistent openings at Arkansas, Nebraska and LSU.

So far, it’s all talk. No potential employer has contacted Auburn for permission to negotiate with Tuberville. Tuberville hasn’t expressed interest in any openings, though he also hasn’t publicly removed himself from consideration either.

AU President Jay Gogue and athletic director Jay Jacobs will meet with Tuberville after the end of the regular season – likely the week after next Saturday’s Iron Bowl – to discuss the coach’s contract.

There’s a chance Tuberville could be offered a raise from his current deal, which pays him around $2.6 million this season and will increase to $2.8 million next year.

Tuberville and AU’s administration could also discuss raises for AU’s assistant coaches, who are collectively the third-highest-paid group of assistants in the Southeastern Conference.

According to publicly available salary documents, AU’s nine assistant coaches make a combined $1.87 million annually. That’s slightly less than the $1.88 million LSU assistant coaches earn each year and considerably short of the $2.245 million paid to Nick Saban’s assistants at Alabama.

Nall, who served as AU’s offensive coordinator for a year and is considered one of the nation’s best offensive line coaches, will make $183,750 this year. So will Gran, who coaches Auburn’s running backs and also serves as special-teams coordinator.

Knox, Dunn and Price each currently make $173,750.

Assuming those salaries remain the same – and that the assistants remain at Auburn – Nall and Gran will receive $37,605.72 in pension payments every year after their 60th birthdays. Nall is 49, Gran 42.

Knox, Price and Dunn will receive $35,526.12 annually after their 60th birthdays. Knox is 44, Dunn is 54 and Price is 39.

If negotiations between Tuberville and Auburn break down – or if one of his possible suitors makes him an offer he can’t refuse – the head coach might leave.

If Tuberville leaves, it’s likely all five “core” assistants will leave with him. If they do, they’ll forfeit those lifetime pension benefits.

“If you have nine years in and you quit or die or something like that, we just send your money back with nominal interest,” said Dr. David G. Bronner, the CEO of Alabama Retirement Systems. “Unless you come back to the state at a later date, all you’ll get is your money back.”

Attempts to contact Tuberville for a comment on this story were unsuccessful. Through a university spokesman, the assistant coaches declined comment

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