A financial crisis bailout for Auburn football?

Auburn might be getting its own reality show, but it has much bigger problems. Colonial Bank, of which Bobby Lowder, Auburn trustee and booster, was CEO, failed, was taken over by the FDIC, and now is being sold by the FDIC to BB&T Bank. Lowder was no ordinary booster: He was the “most powerful booster” in America, and had effectively hired and fired every Auburn football coach (and University president!) since 1983. (As one minor example, Lowder used to use his private jet for recruiting trips.)

Bobby Lowder, Auburn booster

Bobby Lowder, Auburn booster

Indeed, all this was significant enough for the Wall Street Journal to ask the fairly difficult (and fairly silly) question: What Does Colonial Bank’s Failure Mean for Auburn Football? One answer, at least, appears to be a diminished role for Lowder, both in terms of hands-on involvement (probably good) and money (less so):

Lowder founded Colonial in 1981, building it up through 68 acquisitions in five states. For years, Colonial had a coveted franchise, one that attracted suitors, but Lowder repeatedly rebuffed overtures, pushing Colonial to keep growing. In 1983, Gov. George Wallace appointed Lowder to Auburn’s Board of Trustees. In that position, Lowder took particular interest in his alma mater’s football team. He used Colonial’s corporate jet to recruit for the Auburn’s football team, and he was behind the hiring and firing of every Auburn football coach, according to ESPN.

In fact, from those two posts, he was arguably the most powerful person in Alabama, ESPN writes.

That is no longer the case. Lowder was forced out of Colonial last month, and his rule at Auburn seems diminished. Writes Paul Davis of the Opelika-Auburn News:

“It is over. Bobby Lowder’s Colonial Bank is dead, along with his powerful control over Auburn University. That’s terrible news for the thousands of Colonial Bank employees but wonderful news for Auburn University.

“He had personally selected a majority of the board and almost brought the University down before he drove his bank out of business. The high-handed tactics at Auburn brought probation from the Southern Association of College and Schools for his micro-management of the University, for his shutting down academic programs and for stepping out of bounds in hiring and firing Auburn coaches.”

The WSJ even includes a cheeky chart showing Colonial bank’s assets as compared with Auburn’s record. Surprisingly there is a correlation, particularly in 1993 and 1994, when the Tigers finished 4th and 9th, respectively. (Though the numbers are odd, since Colonial’s assets exploded but then shrank rapidly, and didn’t really recover until the housing boom, and we know how that worked out.)

So what do you think? Is Colonial’s bad business bad for the taxpayer, but good for Auburn football? Did we collectively wrest control of the football program away from Lowder by helping shove him out?

  • Matt

    Being a strong Auburn fan all of my life, I personally feel that this will be great for the University. We had always felt his presence lurking over things around town as though he had this strong desire of wanting to rule over all. Maybe now it will allow other people on the board who I feel truly have Auburn’s best interest at heart (Jimmy Rane, Pat Dye, etc.) to begin making decisions while facing less scrutiny and less pressure of being silenced and overturned.

  • Dave

    If they hadn’t given Tuberville his $6 million buyout of out the goodness of their hearts they’d be okay. *snickers*

  • RollTide

    “he was arguably the most powerful person in Alabama, ESPN writes”

    Excuse me, that title belongs to Mr Nick Saban

  • Leroy

    Umm…not quite. Lowder could buy Saban’s soul in his prime…

  • James

    In the SEC, success = out-recruiting adversaries. And, whether people want to admit it or not, SEC recruiting success hinges on available cash. Auburn started off strong in recruiting this year as far as excitement goes, but they have had trouble parlaying that into high-profile commitments. Whereas schools like UF, LSU, Georgia, Bama, and even UT have had noticeable success this recruiting season. Boosters do affect recruiting, and when the biggest name booster is struggling financially then recruiting is likely to struggle as well.

  • RollTide

    Leroy says:
    August 19, 2009 at 3:37 pm
    Umm…not quite. Lowder could buy Saban’s soul in his prime…

    Leroy, Saban has no soul to sell……..

  • DrB

    Anything that gets Lowder out of power is good for Auburn.

  • Weagle

    RollTide says:
    Leroy, Saban has no soul to sell……..

    Well, at least you mullets recognize that fact.

  • Dick Lowder

    Something is wrong with the system/school if a guy like this was able to assert so much influence over the school…wake up Auburn! Something must be wrong with a guy like this to want to pay that much money for a power trip, it is not an investment or an asset you can sell later, what does he get out of all that money? He must have a really small prick to be such a large dick.

    Now he has disrupted thousands of families lives for running his business into the ground like a douchebag.

  • J

    I’m a Bama’ fan and I think, in all seriousness, that Bobby Lowder losing some of his power is the best thing that could happened to Auburn. He was the cancer in that program, they’re better off without him.

  • I agree. This is likely the best thing that could have happened for Auburn. At Alabama and many other programs they do not care about the coach as long as he wins. At Auburn you still have some of the good ole’boy club that has clung to the team. I believe with Lowder being gone this will help AU heavily in the long run.

    With that said I am sad to see him go in some ways. This is a man who gave his all to Auburn as a school and to the athletic department. While I disagree with many of the things he did how many of us would spend serious money to help out our university the way he did. He did what he felt was right at the time even when it was wrong.

  • Thank you for all these thought-provoking pieces. Thank you.