Tommy Tuberville was a struggling Arkansas restaurateur 20 years ago, frying fish and mixing “pond water” at Tubby’s Catfish Inn.

He made approximately $50 per day.

Things are changing.

The Auburn football coach took in $400,000 on Thursday alone, landing a sizable singing bonus for finalizing his new contract with Auburn. He’s now one of the richest men in college athletics, set to earn $18.2 million over the next seven years.

The pact also includes ultra-expensive buyout clause that provides both coach and school unprecedented security.

“When we told people that he liked Auburn and wanted to stay here for a long time, some people didn’t believe him. I think they’ll believe him now,” said Montgomery attorney Jere Beasley, who negotiated the deal for Tuberville. “This guarantees that he’ll be coaching at Auburn for a long time.”

The new deal promises Tuberville a $2 million salary for the 2005 season—a $500,000 raise—then boosts his total compensation by $200,000 each year. His contract hits a maximum value of $3.2 million in 2011.

Only five other coaches have contracts worth at least $2 million per season: Texas’ Mack Brown ($2.16 million), Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer ($2.05 million and Florida’s Urban Meyer ($2 million).

Tuberville’s contract differs from those pacts in one important manner.

“It’s the strongest deal in college football,” Beasley said.

The contract’s buyout is worth $7 million for two seasons, then drops to $6 million in 2007 and ’08. It decreases even more through the end of the contract, hitting a low of $2 million in 2011.

If Tuberville or Auburn decide to break the new deal in the next four years, an unprecedented amount of money will switch hands.

“I truly believe that this is the best coaching job in America,” Tuberville said. “From the fan support to the community to the support of the administration, all the resources are in place to consistently win

championships. I am looking forward to many more successful seasons at Auburn.”

The Tigers went 13-0 last season, setting a school record for wins. They beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, then watched Tuberville win every major national coach-of-the-year award.

In six seasons under Tuberville tutelage, Auburn is 51-24 overall. Since 2000, the Tigers have won 29 conference games.

Only Tennessee (30) has more.

“He is an excellent representative of the university both on and off the field,” Auburn interim president Ed Richardson said. “He is a gentleman whose teams play hard and by the rules, and Auburn is fortunate to have him running our football program.”

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