Lowder leaving Auburn board
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Powerful Auburn University trustee Bobby Lowder has been a lightning rod during his 28 years on the governing board, criticized by some of micromanaging the school's sports programs to the point of interfering, while others say he has given of his time and service for decades.
Once named college sports' most powerful booster by ESPN, Lowder chose not to seek another term for a position he has held since being appointed in 1983 by then Alabama Gov. George Wallace.
Former trustee and ex-state Sen. Lowell Barron of Fyffe said Lowder has done much good for Auburn, both through his work and his generous financial contributions, and will be missed.
"Bobby Lowder was a tremendous leader on that board. He made many contributions to Auburn University and I'm not just talking about the monetary ones," Barron said Tuesday.
In the financial world, Lowder was known for growing one Birmingham bank branch into a powerhouse regional bank. That came to an end in 2009, when Lowder left Colonial BancGroup before it was taken over by federal authorities in the sixth-largest bank failure in American history.
Barron said Lowder's commitment to Auburn showed in his work and contributions to the university's business school, whose main building is named for the power broker.
Others contend that Lowder's interference in the sports programs means the university will benefit it he's not on the board.
Former head football coach Terry Bowden has said that he quit on the eve of a game after Lowder told him he would not be retained after the 1998 season.
Another dustup with Lowder came in 2003, when an Auburn contingent made a clandestine trip to Kentucky to interview Bobby Petrino to replace embattled head football coach Tommy Tuberville if he was fired. Tuberville was preparing the Tigers for the Iron Bowl against archrival Alabama at the time. They traveled on a plane owned by Lowder's Colonial Bank.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools later placed the university on probation, citing micromanagement by trustees. Gene Chizik was ultimately hired to replace Tuberville after a 5-7 2008 season. Auburn under Chizik won the national championship last season with star quarterback Cam Newton.
Despite the criticism, Lowder also has given millions to the university and has fans on campus.
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, who is also president of the network that broadcasts Auburn sporting events, praised Lowder's work. "I think Mr. Lowder has done a lot of good for Auburn. The board has operated very well and Auburn is in the best financial shape of any institution in Alabama," Hubbard said. "Some people love him and some people don't like him. But look at what he's done for Auburn personally."
The president of the Auburn Alumni Association, Bobby Poundstone, said he feels 28 years was long enough for one man to serve. Poundstone is a member of the Auburn trustees selection committee and said he voted against reappointing Lowder. But he said the committee chose Lowder on a 3-2 vote.
The leader of the Alabama Senate, President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has held up nine appointments to the Auburn board, including Lowder's. Marsh said Tuesday his holding up the nominations had nothing to do with Lowder. He said he wants the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment to change the selection process.
"Mr. Lowder wasn't my issue. I think he's been good for the university. He has donated a lot of his time toward moving Auburn in the right direction," Marsh said.
Poundstone said he's glad that Lowder decided not to seek another term. "Bobby Lowder brings institutional knowledge to the table. Other board members have to step up now and take more responsibility and that's a good thing," Poundstone said.
Some 100 people have joined a Facebook page that encourages the Senate to reject Lowder's nomination to another term on the board. One member of that page is Hugh Walker, a 1973 Auburn graduate who lives in Florence. Walker called Lowder "a super fan," who has interfered with Auburn's sports programs.
"It's past time for him to go. He should have been gone long ago," Walker said.