Sunday, January 06, 2008


One more post on l'affaire Muschamp:

First, I am satisfied at this point that "Story Two" as outlined in this post is essentially Muschamp's side of his brief job search, as related by the coach to his own friends. I'm sorry to contradict Phillip Marshall, whose work I hold in the highest regard, but from talking to people inside and outside of the AU athletic department, I now believe the portion of Story Two concerning bowl tickets is essentially accurate. Whether any conflict or misunderstanding or what have you regarding those tickets did or should have contributed to Muschamp's decision is beyond my pay grade (which, considering I don't get paid for this, isn't saying very much).

One thing that is clear to me is that almost nobody has come out of this mess looking good, with the sole and somewhat ironic exception of Tommy Tuberville. If Muschamp really let his emotions get away from him over words he didn't like in his contract and/or a few bowl tickets badly enough to yank up his family and move halfway across the country to take a pay cut, quite frankly he needs to grow up. If, conversely, he simply thought Texas presented a better opportunity and he's using the contract-and-tickets story to semi-privately justify himself, he also needs to grow up. Neither option puts him in a good light, and although I think the guy is a superb young football coach, everybody involved is probably better off with him working somewhere else after all of this.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs also moves on with a considerable black eye. At the very least, Jacobs did not shine in displaying managerial skills over the past few days. Even if you accept Jacobs' version of events--namely that Muschamp was upset over language that had been in his contract for over a year--that doesn't excuse Jacobs' failure to defuse the situation when it occurred. If you are the CEO of a multi-million-dollar business who values a key employee enough to make him the highest-paid individual in his job in your market, you damn well ought to do a better job of managing that individual to keep him from leaving for a competitor, albeit a distant one.

Auburn has now lost three very highly-regarded coaches under Jacobs' watch, and while I don't see how he could bear any responsibility for Gene Chizik's departure in early 2005, the same can't be said for either Muschamp or, worse, David Marsh, an alumnus and the most successful college coach in the history of the state of Alabama. Jacobs came into his current job with a widely-held perception that he got it based on who he knew rather than what he had done to earn it. Three years in, he's done little to change that perception.

As noted earlier, about the only person at Auburn who's come out looking better for the experience is Tuberville, who by most accounts put his foot down and told Muschamp to, er, spit or step away from the spittoon after his now-ex-assistant returned to Auburn on Friday, and who appears poised to name a replacement within the next few days. I've heard from a number of observers that Tuberville was not a bit happy to find himself caught in the middle of one of his own agent's infamous coaching shuffles; one can only hope that the head coach will remember how that feels the next time Jimmy Sexton starts floating Tuberville's own name for other jobs--again.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Cause And Effect

"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.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

News Flash From OU

PHOENIX, AZ-- In a long-anticipated move, University of Oklahoma president David L. Boren announced early today that OU has officially changed its name to Overrated University. The name change came immediately after OU lost its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game, in this case the Fiesta Bowl, in embarrassing fashion.

During brief remarks to the media following the heavily favored Sooners' 48-28 loss at the hands of a coachless West Virginia, Boren said, "We felt it was time for the University's name to more accurately describe the true nature and proclivities of our football team, and hopefully to remind the national pollsters just what they're getting in for when they rank us highly in the future."

Boren did deny reports that "Overrated University" had been selected in a close vote over the alternate suggestion of "Chokelahoma." When asked about the name change, OU head coach Bob Stoops ducked out of the interview room without comment. However, University of Arizona head coach Mike Stoops said in a written statement that he will continue to over-rate his brother's team in the USA Today Coaches' Poll, and encouraged all other voters to follow suit.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Just Peachy

Hey, happy new year. Quite a month, eh?

Okay, okay, sorry for being away for so long, but so long as blogging remains a hobby, I reserve the right for life (including down time) to intrude. That said, with due deference to the current drought, an awful lot of water has passed under Auburn's bridges since Thanksgiving weekend, and I'll try to hit on everything eventually. Might as well start with the most recent events, namely the Peach Bowl (oh, go stuff your corporate name; I intentionally had a burger today just because I'm completely sick of seeing "EAT MORE CHIKIN").

Obviously, this was not your average mid-level bowl game for Auburn. I doubt we're going to see too many games period when any team--particularly Auburn--is going to put in an entirely new offense after nine practices, but there it was.

It's no secret that I'm not a particularly big fan of "the spread," but then again, "the spread" has become more lazy sportswriter shorthand than an actual descriptive term these days. Picking a few teams at random, Florida, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Missouri are all regularly identified in the press as being "spread teams," even though the four of them don't have much in common other than the base formations. Still, the Tony Franklin offense is seriously far removed from the Pro-I variants that have dominated college football for the last generation. No huddle for a whole game, never lining up under center, no lead blockers? It's gonna take some getting used to.

I won't deny it's exciting, though. Even with AU's limitations at wide receiver, there were guys open all over the field Monday night. Given a couple of months of extra practice, and the quarterback protection ought to get a lot better--or at least you have to hope so if you're a Tiger fan. And what the heck, it worked. Clemson has a very good defense for an ACC team, and they gave up several long drives; Auburn's problems in scoring had more to do with AU screwing things up than Cousin Clem shutting things down.

As much as Brandon Cox deserved to lead his team one last time (and all things considered he did that well once again) I liked seeing Kodi Burns getting all those snaps. I've been waiting all season for Burns to fake a run and then drop back for a long pass, even if either Burns or Rod Smith had his wires crossed when they actually tried it in the bowl game. It killed me when that play never appeared during the regular season. Of course, Burns handled the pressure just fine, all the way down to putting the thing away in overtime.

You certainly have to give Franklin credit for one call that nobody in the stadium expected, namely running Cox on a third-and-long quarterback draw during AU's game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. That one was the very definition of "unpredictable," and it worked like a charm. I've never been a fan of platooning quarterbacks, but once again: it worked. Auburn moved the ball at least as consistently as in any big game this season, and the offense was far, far less predictable than it's been since November of 2005.

The thing that bothers me about this set is, you can talk all day about spreading out the defense and creating gaps, but there are still going to be times when you need to line up tight and pound the ball for two or three yards. Not all "spread" teams can; when Missouri had a first and goal on the one against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship, they lined up in the shotgun and couldn't get that yard, settling for a field goal and really conceding the game to OU. Auburn could still do that in the Peach Bowl; Brandon Cox effectively won the game by gutting out a first down on fourth and short during overtime. We're going to need to keep that capability in the future.

And yeah, the manic signal-calling on the sidelines is a hoot. I'm reasonably sure Neil Caudle was just making up stuff by the middle of the second quarter. Seeing the front line stand up and look to the sidelines for a signal was, to say the least, different. I've seen this picture on a few message boards today, and credit where it's due, it's really funny and more than a little accurate:

The most important thing about the new offense showed up in the fourth quarter. Clemson was just flat-out gassed by then, and Auburn was able to blow the Other Tigers off the line repeatedly (and as an aside, that would have been a perfect time to revert to a standard formation and run right at them, but who am I to argue with success?). I like the idea of wearing teams out and beating them in the fourth quarter (or, er, overtime), no matter how you get there.

Defensively it was just another ho-hum shutdown of a good team. I'll be honest, Clemson's offense scared me to death: a balanced attack with lots of playmakers and a very smart guy calling the plays. They reminded me a lot of this year's Georgia team. It was very heartening to see AU handle them for the majority of the game. Clemson didn't have an extended drive, and without that really impressive (to say the least) C.J. Spiller touchdown run and Auburn's fourth-quarter interception, they never would have been in the game. Pat Sims and Antonio Coleman had a fantastic game up front, and Patrick Lee finished his last game in style.

Nobody starts off a season hoping they'll play in the Peach Bowl (well, okay, maybe Ole Miss), but it was still a good win, a good way to send out a remarkable senior class, and a whale of a football game. The atmosphere in the Dome was great, and both teams were clearly up for the game and fighting hard for the win; you don't get that in every bowl these days.

And of course, where Auburn was concerned, it also included a very big change. 2008 is shaping up to be a pretty interesting year.