Bloomberg has broken the news that the FDIC is about to take over Alabama-based Colonial Bancgroup and sell its branches and deposits to those objectivists at BB&T. This is the biggest bank failure of the year, although not on the scale of last year’s Wamu takeover—Colonial has $26 billion in assets. But for anybody who has lived in Alabama for a significant amount of time (I was there for five-and-a-half years), the all-important question it raises is, “What’s this going to mean for Auburn football?”
Colonial founder and long-time CEO Bobby Lowder has been the dominant force at Auburn University since George Wallace appointed him to the board of trustees in 1983. Auburn is, despite its name, a state school—traditionally agriculture oriented, although not so much any more. And the power that private citizen Lowder wielded there was truly remarkable. The football program appeared to be his main interest. As ESPN.com’s Mike Fish nicely lays it out, Lowder was behind the hiring and firing of every Auburn football coach (and university president, but who cares about them) for decades. The most successful Auburn coach of the modern era, Pat Dye, is even a member of Colonial’s board of trustees. Make that was, I guess.
The Power of Lowder has definitely been waning lately. His second 12-year term as a trustee (there was an interlude of several years in the 1990s when he wasn’t on the board) expires in 2011. And he’d been kind of busy since last fall trying to save his bank, which got sucked under by the Florida real estate mess. He gave up and left Colonial in May. One would think his reign at Auburn really is ending as well.
So what does that mean for Auburn football? Possibly nothing good. For all the complaints about Lowder’s power politics (here’s a whole blog devoted to them), Auburn’s football program has been more successful since 1983 than in the decades before. The university itself seems to have improved as well. It’s tied for No. 96—with Northeastern University, SUNY-Stony Brook, the University of Arizona, UC Santa Cruz and the University of Missouri—on the U.S. News ranking of “national universities,” for whatever that’s worth.