Resurgent Auburn rides Cadillac in Iron Bowl – again

By JOHN ZENOR, AP sportswriter

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams was previously the Iron Bowl hero for Auburn.

Now the former All-America tailback is trying again. Not by racking up rushing yards like he did 19 years ago against Alabama, but by making the right decisions from the sidelines and saying the right things in the locker room.

Williams already energized Auburn’s team and fanbase ahead of Saturday’s game, with the No. 8 Crimson Tide going from five straight losses to a two-game winning streak in Tuscaloosa.

The 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year, who had been Auburn’s running backs coach, took over as interim coach on Oct. 31 when Bryan Harsin was fired.

Williams becomes the first black head coach at the Iron Bowl.

“It honestly didn’t even hit me until I saw it this morning,” he said Monday. “And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.'”

What was shaping up to be a disastrous season at least had an infusion of positives.

Auburn lost to Mississippi State in overtime in Williams’ first game in that role, but has since beaten Texas A&M and Western Kentucky to stay alive for bowl eligibility.

“He did a great job – the energy, the enthusiasm, the way the guys compete and play, the way they play to win,” said Tide coach Nick Saban. “And that was his personality as a player.”

Williams, who ran for 204 yards at the 2003 Iron Bowl, was a unifying force off the field with his unpretentious, folksy manner – he kicked out with an “Oh, Lordy, Lordy. Wow” after the win in Western Kentucky.

New athletic director John Cohen is more likely to hand the program to someone more established and proven, and Williams appears to be OK with that.

“I don’t know. I really don’t care,” Williams said. “My seat doesn’t dictate my service. Auburn is special and these kids are special.”

Williams is clearly the rookie in a matchup against Saban, a seven-time national champion coach who was trying to recruit him to LSU.

Williams only had five carries in the first two games against Alabama through injury. He then broke for an 80-yard touchdown streak in the first game to spark a 28-23 Auburn win in 2003 that helped coach Tommy Tuberville keep his job. He still calls it one of his most memorable plays.

Late Auburn play-by-play man Rod Bramblett’s radio call, “Go crazy, Cadillac,” became a rallying cry before the Texas A&M game after the school posted a photo of Williams showing him at practice “Go Crazy” t-shirt wore.

Former Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell knew Williams “had gotten into a pretty sticky situation.” Campbell noted that he benched starters for the Mississippi State Game for showing up late for meetings and also for cracking down on class attendance and punctuality.

“It was definitely a perfect fit,” Campbell said. “Think about it … if you reached out to anyone else during that time who wasn’t an Auburn person that we felt was a little drowning, you could set your program back years.

“Now you not only have someone who played there, you have someone who is very well respected in that dressing room by the players and the other coaches and you have someone the fan base loved.”

Campbell, who works on Auburn’s radio shows and with the NIL collective, helped lead the Tigers to an unbeaten record and No. 2 final rankings alongside Williams in 2004.

Now former teammates have gathered around Williams and his team. More than 30 of them attended the Texas A&M game, his first as head coach at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and were taken to the locker room beforehand.

The “Go Crazy” shirt took many Auburn fans “back in time” to one of the program’s best seasons, Campbell said.

Former Auburn defenseman Bret Eddins describes Williams as “kind of an aw-shucks guy” and believes that’s one of the reasons Auburn fans and players have rallied around Williams so much.

“He’s just like that,” said Eddins, who lives in Auburn and is a season ticket holder. “He’s humble. he works hard He loves Auburn. He loves these children. He really wants these kids to be successful.”

In Alabama, that can start with hitting the tide.