There were no surprises in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. The outcome had been telegraphed for at least a couple of months; only the "how" was really in doubt. As more than one observer noted, the question wasn't whether Auburn would self-destruct, but in what ways. As it turned out, the answer was three unforced turnovers, two dropped interceptions on defense, an offense accurately described as "inept" by Stan White (if you saw White play in 1991-92, you're aware he knows from inept), and a defense that couldn't keep it together for 60 minutes with no help from their teammates.
Add all that in with an opponent in Alabama that's hitting on all cylinders, and what you will get every time is a blowout. For Auburn, the only real question is, "Now what?"
While Tommy Tuberville is correct in the macro sense that this season of disaster is his fault, and I suppose it's honorable that he's at least verbally trying to accept a hundred percent of the blame, 2008 has been an object lesson that in football as in politics, personnel is policy. It's manifestly obvious that Auburn's personnel on the offensive staff are not competent to coach football in the SEC. Tuberville loves to call himself a "CEO coach." Very well; it's high time he started acting like GE's Jack Welch in regard to the low performers on his staff.
Hugh Nall, while a capable position coach when being led by a competent coordinator, inexplicably believes himself to be an offensive genius who ought to be running things. Nall reportedly sowed dissent against both Al Borges and Tony Franklin among his fellow assistants and even Auburn's players. No matter what anybody thinks of either coordinator (although it should be noted that both have far better track records than Nall when it comes to running an offense), those are unforgivable sins. Even if Nall weren't a staff troublemaker, Auburn's line play virtually disintegrated this season; the O-line could neither pass protect nor open holes for the running game, and was still jumping offsides in the twelfth game.
Nall is a cancer on the program that must be removed; indeed, his removal is five years overdue.
As painfully demonstrated once again on Saturday, Auburn does not have a single dependable wide receiver. They can't get open, and they can't catch. Other than that, they're just fine, I suppose--except that they can't block any more, either. The utter lack of a passing game doomed AU's offense Saturday and indeed for the season; even if the offensive line were playing well (and they weren't), with no passing threat, all you had to do to stop Auburn was put lots of guys up front. NFL scouts and coaches regularly observe that Auburn receivers have to be completely re-coached once they reach the pros, and that's on the head of long-time assistant coach Greg Knox. Time for him to go, and to be replaced with somebody who can actually do the job.
There's no mystery as to why Kodi Burns has not developed much as a quarterback--he hasn't been coached. Burns was virtually ignored by both Borges and Franklin, and then left to the tender mercies of Steve Ensminger, a coach so monumentally incompetent that he managed to turn the best AU signal caller of the last 30 years into a near basket-case in 2003. The less said about Ensminger's play calling, the better; the very best thing about this horrible season's horrible end is that it should be the last time anyone ever sees a college game "called" by this guy.
Ensminger is, by far, the worst coach on the staff, and likely the worst assistant in the entire SEC. He needs to go back to teaching driver's ed in a high school, preferably one far, far away from Auburn University. Unfortunately for the Auburn program, unlike the assistants who accompanied Tuberville from Ole Miss, Ensminger is not yet vested in the Alabama teachers' retirement fund, and for that fact alone, he is apparently expected to be retained. Suffice to say, this is not a valid reason.
Carrying around Ensminger's dead weight for the last five years has even affected Auburn defensively. As an alleged "tight ends coach," Ensminger takes up an assistant slot that would normally be dedicated to either the defensive secondary or special teams, two places where Auburn badly needs the extra help. With Underperforming Steve still around, AU's defensive coordinator has to pull double duty as a position coach for the secondary, and that situation is made worse since Tuberville apparently can't be bothered himself to coach special teams, a la Frank Beamer or Mack Brown. That effectively leaves two slots unfilled, and is deeply unfair to the team, the program, and to the competent assistants on either side of the ball.
As things stand today, Tuberville is most likely going to survive for another year. If he still wants to be around in 2010, when the buyout in that ill-advised "lifetime contract" will be a few million dollars lower, he's going to have to make major changes, and that starts with the right hire at offensive coordinator. It's also time to end any excuse-making out of Auburn. We heard a lot of opining this season about how Auburn couldn't run a "spread" offense with players recruited for a West Coast set, but as Paul Johnson ably demonstrated this year at Georgia Tech, it's entirely possible to be successful in a completely different offense if the right coaching is there.
Tuberville said Sunday that he now plans to allow the new OC to choose his own staff, and that at least is a start, but Tuberville himself has got to get out of the office and get to work, and that starts with taking a dispassionate look at his program's shortcomings. He got lucky this year, when a high buyout matched up with Colonial Bank shares that aren't even worth the price of a Jordan-Hare hot dog, but that won't save him again if the 2009 season is anything like the shambling debacle of 2008.