"2008 is shaping up to be a pretty interesting year."
--FTB, January 2, 2008
That might be the most inadvertently-accurate prediction I've ever made. Sometimes I hate it when I'm right.
As everybody reading this likely knows by now, Will Muschamp, Auburn's highly-regarded defensive coordinator, resigned from AU yesterday to take basically the same position at the University of Texas (full disclosure: I attended and earned degrees from both Auburn and UT). Thus far, media reports have been more-or-less limited to straight accounts of the story itself, due in no small part to the speed of Muschamp's job change, as well as the official silence coming out of both Auburn and Austin regarding how and why that changed occurred.
The only point everybody agrees on right now is that this all happened very quickly, and it came as a surprise to just about everyone involved. Beyond that, things devolve quickly into the realm of "chatter." The two leading tales right now (and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive) go like this:
Story One: Back in December, Muschamp interviewed for and by most accounts was offered the head coaching job at Southern Miss. At that point, he went to Tommy Tuberville and basically said that while he'd like to stay at Auburn, a head job was something he'd have a hard time turning down. When asked what it would take to get him to stay at AU, Muschamp allegedly asked for a salary over $400,000 and a two-year guaranteed contract. Auburn agreed, proffering a $850,000 two-year deal, and Mushchamp declined USM's offer.
A few weeks later, Larry MacDuff resigned from Texas, and the ever-active Jimmy Sexton started calling Austin to sell Muschamp as a replacement. According to Story One aficionados, Tuberville thought his staff was settled for the year and was not happy when he found out Sexton had made overtures to Texas, either with or without Muschamp's urging. When Muschamp arrived back in Auburn yesterday after interviewing with Texas, he was told bluntly by Tuberville to either honor his agreement with Auburn or hit the road. At that point Muschamp resigned from AU and accepted the job at UT.
Again, this is not a confirmed account. This is Story One, based on underground chatter over the last 18 hours or so.
The other half of the tales making the rounds comprise Story Two: Prior to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia native Muschamp went to Auburn's ticket manger, Tim Jackson, and asked about extra bowl tickets for his friends and family, only to be told that no extra tickets were available. According to the chatter, Muschamp learned after the bowl that a number of extra tickets had in fact been held back by the ticket office and given to others in the athletic department, but Jackson never mentioned them to Muschamp.
According to Story Two, things got worse when athletic director Jay Jacobs handed Muschamp his new contract, which was supposed to meet the agreement (two years guaranteed at $425,000 per year) outlined in Story One. Either Muschamp or Sexton read through the contract and discovered fine print that gave AU the ability to back out of the term and remaining salary at any time, basically negating the "guaranteed" portion of the agreement. Per the chatter, Muschamp went back to Jacobs to have that clause removed, but Jacobs refused, saying basically, "You're going to leave after next season anyway, so what difference does it make?"
It's no particular secret that Muschamp is something of a hothead, and according to Story Two, the alleged administrative shenanigans with the new contract combined with the ticket incident pushed him over the edge. Per the chatter, he called Sexton on Wednesday with the instructions to "get me out of here." By Thursday he was on a plane to Austin, and on Friday he had a new job.
Once again: this is all based on chatter. It is not confirmed fact.
I will say this: Story Two has a lot of adherents, and a lot of them are in positions to know what they're talking about. There are indications--again, unconfirmed--that Story Two is actually Muschamp's own account of what happened in the last week, as told to his friends.
A few notes:
Tim Jackson is, to say the least, not the most popular figure in the Auburn athletic department. In his defense, Jackson is a guy who has to say "no" to an awful lot of people, and that kind of job just doesn't win you a lot of friends, often through no fault of your own. On the other hand, under Jackson the ticket office has developed a reputation for incompetence, and it has a customer service attitude that might as well have been lifted from the old Lily Tomlin routines about the Phone Company, whose motto was, "We don't care. We don't have to."
There are plenty of Auburn people who've encountered Jackson's often high-handed attitude who can easily sympathize with Muschamp's alleged anger. As an aside, Jay Jacobs was promoted to AD in 2005 after working alongside Jackson in Auburn's ticket priority fundraising office for a number of years.
The one thing I'm sure of is that Tuberville certainly had a "short list" of possible replacements in hand long before all this went down. Muschamp had interviewed for at least three head coaching jobs during December, and very likely would be settling into a big office in Fayetteville right now if Bobby Petrino hadn't made his own snap decision to bolt from the NFL. Auburn should have a new defensive coordinator within a few days, and given Tuberville's track record, he'll probably be a very good coach.
The other fallout from Muschamp's sudden departure, either on the field or within the confines of the Auburn athletic department, is yet to be seen.