Pat Dye, Football Coach Who Elevated Auburn, Dies at 80

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Pat Dye, who revived Auburn University’s football program into a power of the Southern gridiron but ultimately saw his reputation and that of the school undercut by scandal, died Monday. He was 80.

The university announced the death but did not give a cause.

Under Mr. Dye, Auburn — its teams variously laden with one of the most skilled running backs ever to play the college game; a top pick in the National Football League draft; and a defensive tackle who was later muralized at Jordan-Hare Stadium — contended for national glory and became a counterweight to in-state archrivals at the University of Alabama.

He had a 99-39-4 record at Auburn in 12 seasons. Five of his teams finished their seasons ranked in the top 10.

“Pat Dye could have won anywhere: He was the toughest coach I’ve ever seen or been around or covered,” said Paul Finebaum, the ESPN commentator whose longtime radio show out of Birmingham was, in essence, a broadcast barroom brawl between disciples of Auburn and Alabama.

And Mr. Dye reshaped the very architecture and culture of the rivalry that consumes the state, especially in November. Irritated by how the annual Iron Bowl showdowns were played at the not-truly-neutral Legion Field in Birmingham, which essentially served as an Alabama stronghold, Mr. Dye was largely responsible for regularly bringing the series to Auburn’s home stadium.

When the game was first played in Auburn in 1989, Mr. Dye coached the Tigers to a 30-20 victory.

“This is the reason we work you in the summertime, in January and February and in the spring,” Mr. Dye told his team afterward. “This is the reason we push you beyond what you think you can do, to experience moments like this.”

Patrick Fain Dye was born on Nov. 6, 1939 in Augusta, Ga. The frustration and stigma of losing often to two older brothers, he would later recall, forged a gritty toughness that manifested when he started on both defense and offense at the University of Georgia.

“He had so many assets as a player: quick, creative, as great of a competitor as I ever played with,” Fran Tarkenton, a Georgia quarterback who had an 18-year Hall of Fame career in the N.F.L., said in a statement. “He was instinctive as all great players are. He just simply would not be denied. He loved the physical contact, he liked to mix it up.”

After Mr. Dye’s stints in Canadian football and in the Army, Paul W. Bryant Jr., who was beginning to make Alabama into a mainstay of the biggest bowl games, hired him as an assistant coach in 1965. Mr. Dye stayed in Tuscaloosa for nine seasons, helping to cultivate Alabama into a modern football dynasty and recruiting players who tormented Auburn during Iron Bowls.

He led teams at East Carolina University and the University of Wyoming. It was at Auburn, however, that Mr. Dye became a national figure.

When he arrived in Auburn, just north of Interstate 85 and near the Georgia state line, the football program was in what counted as a crisis in a Southern college town. In the five years since Ralph Jordan, one of the university’s most celebrated coaches, had retired, the football team had managed just two winning seasons. The university had last won a national title in football in 1957 — and it had watched Alabama win six since then.

The new coach’s first campaign, in 1981, was inauspicious and ended with a 5-6 record. For Mr. Dye’s second season, though, a tailback from suburban Birmingham named Bo Jackson arrived on campus. Nebraska walloped Auburn early in the season. Then came losses to Florida and Georgia.

But in Alabama, just about any campaign can be fully redeemed by a win in the Iron Bowl. In the 1982 rendition, Alabama led late in the fourth quarter when Auburn faced a fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line. Mr. Dye agreed to a play that relied almost exclusively on Mr. Jackson, and the Tigers lined up and handed the ball to the freshman. He leapt over a swarm of linemen for a touchdown.

Auburn hung on to win, 23-22, vanquishing Mr. Bryant in his final appearance in the Iron Bowl.

The next season brought the first of Mr. Dye’s four Southeastern Conference titles, and in 1985, he coached Mr. Jackson to the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most revered individual honor.

Yet none of Mr. Dye’s dozen teams at Auburn won a national championship, almost certainly keeping him, Mr. Finebaum said, from being “a Mount Rushmore coach in the SEC.”

And his simultaneous service as the university’s athletic director contributed to scandals that tempered his on-field successes and led to his exit in 1992. Most notably, Eric Ramsey, a defensive back, secretly recorded Auburn coaches discussing payments to players, a violation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s amateurism rules. When Mr. Dye learned of possible violations, the N.C.A.A. wrote in a report in 1993, he effectively ignored them because he did not believe Mr. Ramsey’s parallel charge that racism had infected Auburn.

“Had there been a commitment on the part of the athletics department staff to investigate possible violations of N.C.A.A. rules when they came to light, this case might never have occurred or it possibly would have been only a secondary violation,” the association said. “Because that did not occur, very serious major violations were committed by members of the football coaching staff and representatives of its athletics interests.”

Mr. Dye, who was divorced, is survived by four children — Brett Dye, Pat Dye Jr., Missy McDonald and Wanda Dye — and nine grandchildren, as well as Nancy McDonald, his partner for 18 years.

Although Mr. Dye resigned from Auburn with the school in turmoil, he remained a campus fixture in the decades that followed.

Last year, in the final Iron Bowl of Mr. Dye’s life, Auburn upset Alabama, 48-45, and knocked the Crimson Tide out of contention for a national championship.

The euphoric crowd in Auburn rushed onto what had by then been named Pat Dye Field.

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