Hope for Auburn? Toxic trustee Bobby Lowder steps aside

On the left, Bobby Lowder. On the right, former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. (AP photo)

On the left, Bobby Lowder. On the right, former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. (AP photo)

Yet another big story breaks over the Loveliest Village of the Plains, and this one has the feel of a new dawn rising. The toxic Bobby Lowder has decided not to seek another term on Auburn’s board of trustees. The first two words of an editorial in the Opelika-Auburn News were these:

“Good riddance.”

It was hard to know exactly how much power Lowder wielded over Auburn athletics because his modus operandi was to be seen but never heard.  I once asked another SEC athletic director if some booster could be classified as his school’s Bobby Lowder, and the AD thought for several moments. Then he said: “I’m not sure anyone else has a Bobby Lowder.”

Conventional wisdom holds that Lowder, an Auburn grad who came to power as head of the Montgomery-based Colonial BancGroup (seized by the Feds in 2009), essentially fired Terry Bowden as football coach in the middle of the 1998 season and almost fired Tommy Tuberville  five years later. It was a plane owned by Lowder’s bank that made the infamous flight to Sellersburg, Ind., carrying Auburn officials to interview then-Louisville coach Bobby Petrino — for a job that was technically not open.

Auburn president William Walker and athletic director David Housel, both of whom were aboard the plane, wound up resigning. Lowder, however, was immovable. He’d become a trustee in 1983, but his influence was mighty long before that. He was considered Auburn’s biggest donor and its de facto CEO. (Here’s an ESPN story on Lowder from 2006, written by esteemed former colleague Mike Fish.)

In January the New York Times quoted former AD Mike Lude on Lowder thusly: “I would describe him as a person who is very quiet, very much behind the scenes, yet very much involved. My wife one time said, ‘You know, Mike, Bobby Lowder really acts like the Auburn Tigers are his professional football franchise.’ ”

Lowder wouldn’t talk to the Times for that story. Lowder never talked to anybody. When the Auburn Plainsman, the student newspaper, was critical of Lowder, it wound up being subjected to what Jennifer Foster of the Opelika-Auburn News calls a “retaliatory restructure.” In 2004, Auburn nearly lost its accreditation as a university — this time its probation was levied not by the NCAA but by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools — due to meddling by its trustees.

Even the most rabid Auburn fans could never endorse Lowder. Why would one man want so much power? Why were so many afraid of him? Indeed, Lowder’s latest appointment to the board of trustees prompted a lawsuit and led Foster to wonder in print if Gov. Robert Bentley’s decision to reappoint Lowder had anything to do with a campaign contribution of $25,000 made by Lowder’s wife.

But now the man behind the curtain is gone, or at least going. (Lowder’s term expires next year.) He’ll leave having finally seen his Tigers win a national championship, but it was a championship accompanied by more skepticism than any in history. Much of that had to do with Cam Newton’s father, yes, but much could be traced to the knowledge that Auburn was, and had long been, Bobby Lowder’s team.

By Mark Bradley

146 comments Add your comment

Paul H

May 18th, 2011
11:15 am

Paul H

May 18th, 2011
11:18 am

How will Auburn get their next Cam Newton without Lowder?

PMC

May 18th, 2011
11:18 am

Ahem… Phil Knight….T Boone Pickens etc.

Mark Bradley

May 18th, 2011
11:23 am

Kudos, Paul H.

UGA

May 18th, 2011
11:26 am

1eyedJack

May 18th, 2011
11:26 am

He can still give $1000 dollar handshakes.

Paul N Destin

May 18th, 2011
11:28 am

This story is going to get big. Start the popcorn. The NCAA is going to takeout Auburn and the fact the banker quit will not help them one bit. The only way Auburn could compete was to buy players and that is documented before this year folks. The banker, the woodman and the old drunk coach understood they had to cheat otherwise they were Kentucky in blue and orange. The SEC is about to take a hit but in the end all of the SEC schools and many of the ACC schools will be so much better off due to the trash will be removed from our great game. They will need a dumpster to remove the trash fromt that school and the large version as well.

juvenal

May 18th, 2011
11:29 am

any body similar at other schools around here?

Mark Bradley

May 18th, 2011
11:31 am

I go back to what the AD of an SEC school told me, juvenal: Nobody else had a Bobby Lowder.

nemov

May 18th, 2011
11:32 am

With Auburn’s long history of cheating I’m sure they’ll find an adequate replacement.

DawginLex

May 18th, 2011
11:35 am

Beginning of the end?

We can only hope that Auburn, Cecil and Cam all get exposed.

Enjoy!!!

Perfect

May 18th, 2011
11:37 am

I can give you 180,000 reasons why Lowder is now free of his responsibilities. No longer harnessed by his position, the checkbook will be open even wider now.

#1bamafan

May 18th, 2011
11:42 am

Bobby Lowder controlled the Board by making loans and doing favors to the other members and that is how he maintained control. Alot of the same people lost money (and faith) in Lowder after the Colonial fiasco. His time had ran out, I assure you he would not give up the power if he did not have to. Ready for football…RTR

Bryan G.

May 18th, 2011
11:45 am

Now if UGA can only get rid of Don Leebern….

Mr. Obvious

May 18th, 2011
11:51 am

The unscrupulous, dishonest, cheating people running and “boosting” Auburn University look like saints compared to the members of ATLANTA SPIRIT GROUP.

Red Blk Dawgs8034

May 18th, 2011
11:54 am

Who will Auburn use now to fund payments to players? Everyone can pretty much believe Lowder was the main bank role in payments to athletes!

sogadog

May 18th, 2011
11:57 am

I suspect the root of Lowder’s departure lies in the failure of his bank. His wealth was probably derived from the his bank stock which is now worthless. Money created the power he wielded and I bet the money is gone or greatly depleted. Auburn will be much better off in the long run if they will install a mechanism to prevent other Bobby Lowders from stepping up. One man should not have that much control over a public institution.

mexdawg

May 18th, 2011
11:59 am

Paul N Destin your right.Auburn is making this move trying to appease the NCAA but it won’t work.Too little too late.Perfect is right to about the 180,000 rea$ons why he is no longer going to be on the board.This will all come out over time.If I were Auburn I wouldn’t put up that statute of Cam just yet.

Just Me

May 18th, 2011
12:01 pm

Can we hope the Leeburn will do the same over at UGA?

Mark Bradley

May 18th, 2011
12:03 pm

I don’t know that Auburn had anything to do with this. Lowder had already been re-appointed to the board.

Shug

May 18th, 2011
12:08 pm

Thing is, Mr. Lowder is probably the cleanest person associated with Auburn athletics.

Herschel Talker

May 18th, 2011
12:08 pm

MB:

Forget Auburn. I am still waiting for you to write an article saying that Mark Richt should be fired.

Are you going to wait until the Bulldogs lose to USC to write it?

HT

Dr. Phil

May 18th, 2011
12:16 pm

Lowder ran Auburn with an iron fist for over 30 years. Pat Dye’s pay for play policy can be linked directly to Lowder as can the Bowden problems of the 90’s, the Petrino issue, and the departure of Tommy Tubberville. Tubberville was never a Lowder surrogate, and I believe that Tubby tried to run a clean program. In addition to the football program, Lowder ran roughshod over academics, selecting deans, presidents, and tinkering with and eliminating academic programs that Lowder felt were useless, such as music and art. It will take years and maybe probation for Auburn to recover from Lowder’s toxic influence. And, yes, Leebern is the poor man’s Bobby Lowder.

TexasPeach

May 18th, 2011
12:18 pm

You GA dawgs are still hating on AU for spanking that butt!!!! Stop hating and get on with your lives!!!!!!

WDE

May 18th, 2011
12:20 pm

Wait a second….I need to get some popcorn this ought to get good.

Old Dawg

May 18th, 2011
12:21 pm

Everyone I know who is associated with Auburn hates Bobby Lowder. Like any kingpin, he is known for his ruthless behavior and lack of developing a consensus from people he works with.

The midnight flight to talk to Petrino is one of the most unethical events in college athletic history. I’m sure similar incidents have occurred at other schools, but Auburn seems to wallow in them.

Perhaps with the fall of Lowder’s bank life on the Plains will resort to a somewhat normal existence.

404

May 18th, 2011
12:22 pm

Auburn is in DEEP DEEP trouble, and the Trustees know it.

Thats why Auburn is desparately trying to separate itself from Lowder.

Why? And better yet, Why Now??

Because the folks at Auburn KNOW the NCAA is on its way.
They know the NCAA is going to blast Auburn.

When the NCAA gets thru trashing Ohio State, theyll turn their teeth on Auburn.

And thats going to open the door to a far-ranging review of the entire SEC

If the NCAA is willing to throw Ohio State and Jim Tressel under the bus,
SEC fans everywhere should be very afraid of what the NCAA is going to do the SEC.

That will open the door for the NCAA to put the grey-shirting and over-signing
and a whole list of other issues on the table.

And I dont think the NCAA is going to stand any longer for the numerous methods
of cheating and fraud that is so pervasive and well-established in the SEC.

Auburn is in SERIOUS trouble. And soon, the entire SEC will be also.

SSIgator

May 18th, 2011
12:30 pm

“I’m not sure anywhere else has a Bobby Lowder.”

Maybe not, but UGA has the next best thing – Mark Richt. Mr. Smoke and Mirrors – I know what the hell I am doing – Because I have been studying cutting edge football since January – head football coach. The original $3,000,000 Con Artist. Yet the UGA KoolAid machine keeps humming along.

al.com

May 18th, 2011
12:33 pm

I love all the BS coming from the clowns on here that know nothing about what is going on at Auburn. It is simply laughable. Let me guess you all were stupid enough to vote for YES Can obama. Now I know why 1 in 6 of americans are on food stamps.

Hollywould

May 18th, 2011
12:35 pm

Still the Champs!! Whoops, Newton just ran over Rambo again. pups just mad another player is leavin. War Eagle

Footballrules

May 18th, 2011
12:46 pm

al.com: At least “Yes Can” got Bin Laden, and didn’t borrow BILLIONS from Red China to invade (with conventional troops….gad) the wrong country, costing hundreds of thousands of lives. As to Auburn, they will eventually get the hammer, along with UNC and Ohio State.

Tim

May 18th, 2011
12:46 pm

UGA fans can only hope regent Don Leebern will be the next to go!

Dumb Dawgs

May 18th, 2011
12:50 pm

So when is Auburn going on probation, mutts?

Herschel Talker

May 18th, 2011
12:52 pm

Wish Tech would wake-up and cut Paul Johnson loose!

Whisky Breath

May 18th, 2011
12:54 pm

I don’t like him or Auburn. However, the success Auburn has enjoyed over the last 30 years has been primarily because of Bobby. Nobody crosses Bobby and gets away with it.

Red Blk Dawgs8034

May 18th, 2011
12:55 pm

Well al.com enlighten us on your take of the whole Auburn situation since we know nothing!!! As for Yes can Obama, He has been no better than W. Obama gave billons away to companies like GM, AIG, Merrill Lynch who in turn gave the $ to their top executives as bonuses.

George G.

May 18th, 2011
12:58 pm

No, the NCAA isn’t going to hammer Auburn. Auburn University hasn’t even received an LOI. The NCAA has stated on numerous occasions that nobody at Auburn could be connected to Cecil Newton’s conversation with Mississippi State boosters (who then told other boosters…but that’s a different problem) about money. The HBO stories are just that…stories. Stories with no names attached, no less. Those of you that are waiting for the NCAA to drop the hammer on Auburn are going to be waiting a long time, because facts of both cases suggest that it won’t happen.

But Internet mythology is more fun, so keep bangin’ that drum. You’ll be the one looking ridiculous in the end though.

Ted M

May 18th, 2011
1:02 pm

Is the NCAA still investigating the Auburn/Newton thing?

2010 Fulmer Cup Champs

May 18th, 2011
1:08 pm

404

Earlier today, on another blog, you made the same statements about Auburn. Where did you get your info because I haven’t read one single article that states that Auburn will get hammered by the NCAA.

Remember Gump, that Auburn hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing by the NCAA.

2010 Fulmer Cup Champs

May 18th, 2011
1:13 pm

George G.

That won’t stop the losing UGA fan base from talking about it. Most of these fans, not grads, think that TigerDroppings is a real news site.

Good luck in 2011, 6-7ers.

George G.

May 18th, 2011
1:14 pm

Ted M –

The Newton investigation (which was never official), is stalled, and there’s no sign that it will ever go anywhere. It remains technically “open” because the NCAA is investigating the role of recruiting agents during the recruiting process (Kenny Rogers, Will Lyles, etc.).

AlUm 04

May 18th, 2011
1:16 pm

I remember when I was a freshman at Auburn, the students staged a walk-out to protest Lowder and held a rally at the state capital. Strangely, all my classes with attendance requirements were cancelled that day.

I’m not sure how much pull Lowder will have going forward. He lost nearly $156 million when his bank failed.

Mark, you failed to mention that Mr. Lowder and the other execs of Colonial are under investigation for misappropriation of TARP money. Think that investigation had anything to do with his decision?

THE MAJOR

May 18th, 2011
1:16 pm

ENVY the official sign of the Georgia Bulldog fans. You don;t think UGA has a guy like this… How dumb are you BRADLEY and UGA followers…..try Don Leeburn. He is just as much involved in UGA athletics as Lowder at Auburn.

NCAA at Auburn, hell they are more involved in UGA football at the moment than Auburn.

LOSERS ALWAYS COMPLAIN THAT WINNERS CHEAT!!!!!!!!!!!

VININGSDAWG

May 18th, 2011
1:22 pm

We have serious idiots on this board. The NCAA is not coming after Auburn as all of you wish. Tennessee is in serious trouble not Auburn. Remember all the crap thrown at the Auburn wall and nothing sticks and my good friends in compliance tell me that there is nothing out there on Auburn. When have to compete with a corrupt organization like the Red Elephant Club in your backyard you have to keep your nose clean because they will do everything hurt you. Now that CMR has spoken out against Saban watch things start to trickle out. There is already a story brewing in Columbus regarding Crowell and police problems.

82Dawg

May 18th, 2011
1:31 pm

HT…Bradley will write the article about the same time you stop with all of the fire CMR bull. See that now you are getting on Paul Johnson..maybe you need to find a new State to live in….like Idaho.

Notamutt

May 18th, 2011
1:41 pm

Viningsdawg: Crowell is one heck of an athlete. You can’t say enough about his potential, but I have been wondering from all the Facebook pix and noise, is he going to be one of the same we have just seen in Athens to the other backfield members.

SEC fan

May 18th, 2011
1:53 pm

Auburn has nothing to worry about. The NCAA enforcement folks are totally gutless. Unless someone at AU admits a wrongdoing, nothing will happen. The SEC office has a primary concern with any SEC coach being critical of the SEC and/or its enforcement/compliance group. Heavy penalties if any school official criticizes anyone in the SEC. Other than that, oversigning/pay for play/etc is all okay as long as the school is bringing in money for the SEC. For the NCAA compliance folks, they totally believe anyone who says “I didn’t know”. Any form of denial of a violation is viewed as a way of slithering out of levying a heavy punishment. At OSU, kids who had nothing driving around in new cars and ‘no one knew’ anything was wrong. You watch, the NCAA will absolutely buy that story as it is a gutless way to avoid dropping the hammer.

WDE

May 18th, 2011
1:58 pm

Yeppers I was right it has gotten good….but there isn’t quite as much venom from the Auburn fans as I thought there would be…but its still early. Bye the way I think its time to move on folks until and IF any formal charges are made against Auburn.

CJ

May 18th, 2011
2:00 pm

al.com

is the reason I read this blog, hilarious!

Auburn Grad 87

May 18th, 2011
2:08 pm

I always thought Lowder’s contributions to the school were generous.

He obviously cared a great deal about the institution to donate his time and money.

Let’s give the guy a break.