He led teams at East Carolina University and the University of Wyoming. It was at Auburn, however, that Mr. Dye became a national figure.
When he arrived in Auburn, just north of Interstate 85 and near the Georgia state line, the football program was in what counted as a crisis in a Southern college town. In the five years since Ralph Jordan, one of the university’s most celebrated coaches, had retired, the football team had managed just two winning seasons. The university had last won a national title in football in 1957 — and it had watched Alabama win six since then.
The new coach’s first campaign, in 1981, was inauspicious and ended with a 5-6 record. For Mr. Dye’s second season, though, a tailback from suburban Birmingham named Bo Jackson arrived on campus. Nebraska walloped Auburn early in the season. Then came losses to Florida and Georgia.
But in Alabama, just about any campaign can be fully redeemed by a win in the Iron Bowl. In the 1982 rendition, Alabama led late in the fourth quarter when Auburn faced a fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line. Mr. Dye agreed to a play that relied almost exclusively on Mr. Jackson, and the Tigers lined up and handed the ball to the freshman. He leapt over a swarm of linemen for a touchdown.
Auburn hung on to win, 23-22, vanquishing Mr. Bryant in his final appearance in the Iron Bowl.
The next season brought the first of Mr. Dye’s four Southeastern Conference titles, and in 1985, he coached Mr. Jackson to the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most revered individual honor.
Yet none of Mr. Dye’s dozen teams at Auburn won a national championship, almost certainly keeping him, Mr. Finebaum said, from being “a Mount Rushmore coach in the SEC.”
And his simultaneous service as the university’s athletic director contributed to scandals that tempered his on-field successes and led to his exit in 1992. Most notably, Eric Ramsey, a defensive back, secretly recorded Auburn coaches discussing payments to players, a violation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s amateurism rules. When Mr. Dye learned of possible violations, the N.C.A.A. wrote in a report in 1993, he effectively ignored them because he did not believe Mr. Ramsey’s parallel charge that racism had infected Auburn.