There was the “60 minutes” quote and all the other out-of-the-gate tough talk towards Bama and the Bear. But an even better example of Pat Dye coming out swinging in his first days on the Plains was how willing he was to buck protocol, and consequently butt heads with Bobby Bowden and Florida State.
At the time, Auburn, along with several other SEC schools, had an agreement of sorts with the independent Seminoles: No poaching. Once a recruit signed and sent a letter of intent to Auburn, it was hands off for Florida State, and vice versa.
The SEC then limited the number of annual signees to 30, a rule independent Florida State felt no obligation to abide by that year since it had undersigned in 1980 — and they didn’t. By February, Bowden had supposedly either received commitments from or signed nearly 40 players, two of which — Cedric Jones and Ron O’Neal — had expressed interest in switching to Auburn. Dye wanted them. So, after informing Bowden in a letter that he was going after them, he went after them.
That didn’t sit well with Bowden. And that it didn’t sit well with Bowden didn’t sit well with Dye. It turned into a thing. Words were exchanged, privately and publicly. Florida State fans bombarded Dye’s mailbox with unpleasantries.
It didn’t matter. There was a new sheriff in town. He didn’t budge.
“When they went over 30, as far as I was concerned, it was unethical,” Dye told reporters. “Then Bobby said I was desperate. It looked to me like he was the one who was desperate.”
By late February, things had smoothed over. Bowden “released” O’Neal on the condition Dye not pursue Jones.
“I talked to Bobby this morning,” Dye said. “We kissed and made up. He got one recruit and I got one (O’Neal), so I guess we came out even.”
Yet, had Dye not forced the issue, O’Neal wouldn’t have come to the Plains; to Auburn fans, it looked like a victory — a gamble that payed off.
“It started out we weren’t going to get any,” Dye said. “I told Bobby we came to play and he said he understood that.”
O’Neal also came to play. The fullback rambled for 75 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries in the first half of Dye’s victorious Auburn debut over TCU. (Dye dismissed him from the team before the ’83 season, but, you know, still…)
A month later, Auburn fans were still talking about the gumption of their new coach. And Dye was still adamant that his new friend Bobby had been in the wrong.
Here’s rare audio of a man asking about “the situation with FSU” at the end of Dye’s March 25, 1981 speech to the Savannah Auburn Club. It was Dye’s first-ever appearance for an AU alumni group.