Wednesday, December 31, 2008


He's baaaaack! From the Lafayette, LA Advertiser:
New Orleans Saints defensive line coach Ed Orgeron is expected to join LSU's staff as its highest paid assistant coach with the title of associate head coach along with recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach.
Lester and the Ogre on the same staff? Break out the popcorn.

UPDATE: Or not. Via Bruce Feldman:
Ed Orgeron is headed to Tennessee.

The former Ole Miss head coach, who spent the 2008 season as the New Orleans Saints defensive line coach, confirmed via text message this afternoon that he has accepted an offer to be the Volunteers recruiting coordinator, defensive line coach and will have the title of associate head coach.
Suffice to say, this is a very disappointing turn of events. Ogre at LSU would have been a lot funnier.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Please Disregard the Prior Post

All that stuff about "don't panic" and "they sky is not falling" and "Auburn will hire a good coach?" Never mind all that. Dogs and cats are, in fact, living together in the luxury suites of Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Iowa State's Gene Chizik will be the next Auburn coach, has learned. Chizik has been the coach of the Cyclones the last two years, compiling a 5-19 record. Iowa State finished 2-10 (0-8 in the Big 12) in 2008.
News that this might happen broke this morning, but I could not bring myself to take it seriously. Gene Chizik is almost certainly the worst candidate interviewed during this utter farce of a coaching search. He is a poor recruiter who has completely failed to date as a head coach. Chizik's own friends in the coaching community openly scoff at the idea of him being a head coach for a major program.

For Auburn's program, he will be the equivalent of Mike DuBose, although hopefully without the cheating.

This is a terrible hire, and a monstrously bad decision on the part of an Athletic Director who shouldn't be put in charge of managing a janitorial staff of two, much less a multi-million dollar athletics program.

I don't say this lightly, but, Fire Jay Jacobs. And while you're at it, fire his buddy Tim Jackson, who inexplicably was invited along for the interviews, despite the fact that Jackson is Auburn's... ticket manager. That makes as much sense as asking a halfwit greenskeeper to sit in on interviews for a corporate CEO.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Pill Of Chillness

Coaching changes are by definition turbulent times, but this is just way over the top:
Today, Auburn finds itself in its deepest abyss in school history.
As Gretzky said to Bo, "No."

As little fun as the last three months have been, matters on the Plains are not even remotely as bad as during 1977-80, or 1991-92, or in the even-worse-than-this-year debacle of 1998. The NCAA is not on campus (well, not on our campus). Auburn has won significant football games within the last 13 months. The conditioning program has not collapsed. The Auburn City Jail is not having to rent out apartments on Magnolia Avenue to get a place to put all the arrested football players.

Things. Have Been. Much. Worse.

It's been a week since Tuberville resigned/was fired/what the hell, left. A week is not an indication of biblical disaster. Dogs and cats are not living together in the luxury suites of Jordan-Hare. Everybody obviously wants to see some resolution to the coaching search as soon as possible, but people, we are not on a deadline. There's no bowl to practice for, and no reason to panic just because there hasn't been a press conference on the schedule that you (and I) would have preferred.

This is a crazy situation, but if the 1990's taught Auburn fans anything, it should have been not to get emotionally attached to football coaches. Fact of life, they will come and they will go. If it makes you feel any better (and it should), they actually tend to stay longer at Auburn than in most other stops in this conference.

Now, is Jay Jacobs my idea of the perfect athletic director? Not in the least. Am I thrilled with the way things have gone over the last week-to-a-year? Hell, no. But get a grip, people. The sky is not falling. It's a job search. It's not Armageddon. Take the pill of chillness, and leave the blind coach-idolatry to others. Auburn will have another head coach before long, and if history is any guide, he'll probably be a good one.

If I may close by quoting from Say Anything, "Chill! You must chill!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Morning Update

Obviously, yesterday's rumor about an afternoon press conference did not pan out, and the AU coaching search is apparently still going on. As Jerry noted, it would have been logistically unlikely for anything to happen yesterday anyway, as Jay Jacobs was still in New York City until late in the day. It'd be pretty hard to imagine Auburn announcing a new head coach from a ballroom in Manhattan.

Then again, as improbable ideas go, even the Emperor Highly Unlikely would have had a hard time wrapping his brain around today's wild rumor, namely that Steve Spurrier is in the mix for the Auburn job. My initial take is that Visor Boy on the Plains is kind of fun to talk about, but I really seriously doubt it would happen. Spurrier is in his sixties, doesn't like to recruit, and frankly has looked beaten down over the past three or four years. When he does step down in Columbia, I think it's going to be to play golf, not to take another coaching job.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rumor Du Jour

The interwebs are burning up with rumors of an impending announcement at Auburn, reportedly as soon as this afternoon. File it under "I read it on the internet--so it must be true" for the time being, but things might just be taking a Turner--uh, I mean, turn for the better.

On The Search

Here's a quick rundown on where I think we stand with Auburn's coaching search at this particular moment. Things can (and probably will) change without notice:

The current frontrunner for the job is Buffalo's Turner Gill. Gill vaulted up to favorite status after leading the formerly hapless Bulls to an improbable MAC championship in just his third year on the job. I think I'm safe in saying that Gill is the Auburn fan favorite right now. His ascension was strongly aided by Will Muschamp's apparent decision to rely on Texas's promise that he will succeed Mack Brown in Austin--even while reports continue to circulate indicating the defensive wunderkind is still in contention at Auburn.

I would be happy with either Gill or Muschamp. The upsides are obvious; they're both widely respected among their peers, both are energetic and inspiring leaders, both are strong on their respective X's and/or O's, and both are obviously going to be major-program head coaches in the near future. The added plus for Muschamp is his life-long background in SEC football and prior stints at Auburn. In Gill's case you'd have a nationally-known figure who in addition to bringing in a wave of good PR, would arrive without the baggage of one James Sexton, Esq.

On the down side, Muschamp would return to the Plains with Sexton in tow, and given Muschamp's recent employment history, Auburn could look forward to further rounds of "will he bolt?" stories engineered by the uber-agent on a very regular basis. Given the way Muschamp did bolt from Auburn just under a year ago, there's also the question of whether Muschamp could work under current athletic director Jay Jacobs--but that's a problem easily solvable by just hiring a different AD. Jacobs is hardly indispensable. The 37-year-old Muschamp has also never been a head coach, and would bring the additional annoyance of being younger than me.

In Gill's case, the big question is whether one really good year at Buffalo is proof of head coaching genius, or just of a guy who had the ball bounce his way at the right times. The SEC quite obviously isn't the MAC, and Gill would be under pressure to produce at Auburn right now, not a few years down the line. Gill has few if any recruiting contacts in the Southeast, and nobody knows what kind of staff he would bring in as a head coach. Buffalo's defensive team was pretty awful, and questions are already being raised about whether Gill would retain his current defensive coordinator (Jimmy Williams) or bring in a "top gun" to take over the job Paul Rhoades is most likely vacating.

Regarding other names in the news recently, Rodney Garner and Patrick Nix are not serious candidates. They're getting interviews out of courtesy for their status as AU alums in the job market, and to help their future careers. Neither will be the next head coach at Auburn. As noted below, while it's possible that somebody at AU actually was stupid enough to consider Houston Nutt as a candidate, Nutt is not going to get the job, either; the flurry of Nutt-ism late last week was another example of Sexton's patented media manipulation to squeeze more money out of this clients' employers--and yet another reason not to hire another of Sexton's clients.

I don't think Ball State's Brady Hoke is a serious candidate, either, even given ESPN's apparent determination to push Hoke's name into the ring. While I agree with Jerry that Cincinnati's Brian Kelly would be a strong candidate and probably a good hire, I've seen no evidence to date that he's either being considered for or considering the job. One suspects he's holding out for the well-nigh inevitable departure of one Charlie The Hutt from Notre Dame instead.

This leaves us with but two remaining names, those of Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson. Yesterday, Phillip Marshall asked (quite reasonably) what would be wrong with a coach who's already been named as heir-apparent head coach for FSU, an undeniably big-time program. Fisher is obviously well-respected as a coach; Alabama's trustee overlord Cub Bryant was sufficiently concerned about Fisher getting the head job at UAB a couple of years back to torpedo what was considered a done deal. As I've noted in the past, Fisher is a terrific quarterback coach; anybody who could take Stan White and Patrick Nix and win nearly 30 games in three years clearly knows what he's doing.

But despite a series of non-denial denials and being the favorite of at least one Auburn trustee (one who favors a certain primary color that is not red or blue), I suspect Fisher probably isn't going to get the job. For one thing, he'd cost a fortune to get, over $5 million to buy out his FSU contract by some reports. For another, he's also a Sexton client (meaning Auburn would go through Sexton's goat-rope again when Bobby Bowden finally shambles off the field), and finally (and perhaps unfairly), because he has that Bowden stink on him. A decade after Terry Bowden's ignominious departure, much of Auburn wants nothing to do with either Bobby's brood or their disciples, and even given Fisher's obvious fondness for AU, I think that's one strike too many against him.

That leaves us with Johnson, who is apparently (and unsurprisingly) the favorite of former coach Pat Dye. There's a lot to like about Johnson. Like Gill, he's been able to win in places where normally nobody can win. His tenure at Navy and first year at Tech were inspiring to watch, and anybody who could take a bunch of players recruited by Chan Gailey for an entirely different offense and score 45 on Georgia in his first time out can damn well coach.

Thing is, as much fun as Johnson's offense is to watch (especially for those of us who grew up on option football), the general suspicion is that no matter how good you are at running a triple option attack, you're never going to break through with it in the SEC. There's a reason why nobody outside of talent-starved Vanderbilt has even tried a traditional option offense since the mid-80's. As good and accomplished as he is, a Johnson hire would be widely seen as a step back to the past for Auburn, and it's very hard for me to see how Johnson's offense would attract any more playmakers than AU has right now (which is to say, very few). And even given all that, there's no indication that Johnson would actually bolt from Atlanta after just one year.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Let Me Be Completely Clear Here

Word has broken out that Houston Nutt is a possible candidate for the Auburn head coaching job. Whether this is a "real" story or just another case of Jimmy Sexton playing the media, I'm not sure, but I am completely sure of this:

Hiring Houston Nutt would be the biggest mistake in the history of Auburn University football. Bigger than Doug Barfield. Bigger than Eric Ramsey.

Houston Nutt is an undisciplined clown who recruits and makes excuses for undisciplined players. He coaches dirty football, and he was thrown out of his own alma mater for being a pardon-the-pun nutcase. He has no business being within several hundred miles of Auburn University, and that includes when he's working for another team that's playing AU. The idiot should have to coach by cell phone on those days.

I didn't think I would ever say anything like this, but I will have nothing to do with any football program that would hire Houston Nutt. Nothing whatsoever.

Anybody who is even thinking about this kind of hire should be given his walking papers just on general principles.

UPDATE: While I'm told there actually was somebody at Auburn dumb enough to express 'serious interest' in Nutt, this one appears to be yet another case of Sexton, the SEC's evil genius, playing outclassed AD's and university presidents like his own personal church organ--again. Nutt has agreed to a raise and will stay at Ole Miss.

Time Loves A Hero

Almost exactly five years ago, I got a call from Tim Stephens at the Orlando Sentinel, who was working on a story about the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. I'd done a few op-eds for Tim when he was the sports editor for the now-defunct Birmingham Post-Herald, and we chatted for a while about the then-news of the day. Tim asked at one point whether Scott Brown and I were planning to write a sequel to "The Uncivil War" that would cover the years after 1994. I told him I thought we probably would, and that I had the title already picked out, "Time Loves A Hero," which was lifted directly from the chorus of an old Little Feat song:
Well they say, time loves a hero
But only time will tell
If he's real, he's a legend from heaven
If he ain't he was sent here from hell

I doubt now that Scott and I will be doing another Auburn-Alabama book anytime soon, but I still like the title, and I'm as convinced as ever that those lines might as well have been specifically written about how football fans think, or more accurately, feel about their team's coaches.

As the prior post here at FTB indicates, I was pretty well convinced that Tommy Tuberville would remain at Auburn for the 2009 season as late as mid-day on Monday. After that, things started to change. Rumblings within and without the athletic department indicated that something more than a standard offseason staff shakeup was underway. By the time the story broke early Wednesday evening, Tuberville's departure was considerably less surprising than it would have been just a few days earlier.

The pressures that led to Tuberville's departure have been accumulating for a long time, probably since at least 2001, when he was forced to fire old friend and then-defensive coordinator John Lovett after a disastrous November slump. Tuberville has been working at odds with many of the big money guys at Auburn ever since that season, and it very nearly cost him his own job in the now-famous "jetgate" saga of 2003. Tuberville slipped through that crisis, but the hard feelings on both sides continued to fester. Every time something went wrong, the old bitterness welled up again, and I think those recurrences were destined to go for as long as Tuberville occupied the big office overlooking the practice fields. Sooner or later, something was going to give, and "later" turned out to be December 3, 2008.

Tuberville himself bears some of the blame for the ill will that's been building over the past ten years. Tuberville milked his near-martyrdom in 2003 for too long and too smugly, and instead of mending fences with people who, right or wrong, were not going to go away, he elected to rub their faces in it at every opportunity. He also didn't help himself any by allowing his agent, Jimmy Sexton, to float his name for nearly every coaching job that popped up over the intervening seasons.

The "duck hunting" incident in early 2008 cost Tuberville a huge amount of goodwill among Auburn folks both high and low, and by the time the '08 season went in the tank at Vanderbilt Stadium, much of the political capital collected during the 2004-2007 run had already evaporated. It was at that point when I started to hear talk about a mutual "amicable separation," although that talk pretty well died down by the open date before the Alabama game. The feeling was that given the size of Tuberville's buyout clause (which itself was all the proof you need that any college president or athletic director is just not in the same league as Sexton when it comes to contract negotiations) and his overall record, he'd get at least one year to try and turn things around.

On Monday morning, it was clear that Tuberville was expected to fire at least a couple of long-time assistants (Greg Knox and Hugh Nall being the most likely candidates), hire a top-notch offensive coordinator, and get started on rebuilding. There was considerable suspicion at that time that at least some of the "powers that be" had not only given Tuberville an ultimatum on a staff shakeup, but also had informed him that thanks to the ongoing contract payoffs to Al Borges and Tony Franklin, he would not be given carte blache with Auburn's checkbook when it came to new hires. Some were already calling this a recipe for "slow death" in 2009, and comparing the situation to Alabama's early-1990 poison-pill contract offer to Bill Curry.

The other view (although the two are likely not mutually exclusive) is that Tuberville simply decided by Wednesday that he really didn't have the heart to fire his old friends and start over again. If accurate, that's a position it's hard not to sympathize with. Ten years is a very long time in today's SEC, and even Tuberville's most severe critics can't deny that he's had a fine run. Tuberville has enough money to never work again if that's what he wants, and I don't think he's got anything to prove to anybody at this point in his life.

Auburn will also move on, and to be honest, it's probably better for everybody at this point to make a clean break and start anew. As in the past, and in the years to come, time will provide another hero, and if he's real...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Season In The Abyss

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.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Down But Not Out

As we're all re-learning when our 401(k) statements arrive lately, you have to hit bottom before you can start going back up. Auburn lost again Saturday, but for the first time in about eight weeks, the Tigers were able to walk away with something like confidence, and at least a glimmer of hope in the aftermath.

Georgia '08 was a hard loss to take, but I was still very proud of the team Saturday. Auburn played its best game since taking LSU to the wire in September, played hard for the duration, and finally played well on both sides of the ball. The defense broke out of its month-long funk and did a fine job, holding a very talented Georgia offense to 17 points and only 351 yards. Given the defensive eggs the Tigers laid in their last two games against the same team, that's a significant improvement.

It sure didn't look like AU was going to have a good defensive game early. Auburn wasn't able to stop much of anything on Georgia's opening drive, but aided by Tez Doolittle's block of a chip-shot field goal, the "D" was able to adjust and get a handle on things after a bad first quarter. After romping for more than 140 yards in the initial 15 minutes, the Bulldogs would average less than half as much per period for the rest of the game.

Kodi Burns has continued to improve. He had his best game so far as a Tiger, finally putting together a balanced attack on the ground and in the air. All those incompletions in the fourth quarter hurt his stats, but Burns deserves credit on most of those passes for recognizing that the receiver was carrying another guy on his back, and an incompletion is better than an interception. Burns threw for 180 yards and never put the ball where that other guy could catch it, and after the Ole Miss game, that's a step forward.

It's been a very long time since Auburn could drive 90 yards in the second half against, hell, anybody, but Burns put together just such a drive at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters. Mario Fannin also had a breakout game, even while making legions of Auburn fans reach for their long-since torn-out hair and scream, "Why hasn't he been getting the ball all year?"

Obviously, that's not to say that everything went well. As one message board wag noted last week, if Auburn were James Bond, this year's movie would be titled "You Only Score Twice." Georgia does not have a great defensive team, but the Tigers still couldn't get it done in the red zone.

Part of that was thanks to play calling. As usual, Steve Ensminger was terrible in critical situations. Why anybody would call all those fades to the end zone when you demonstrably don't have receivers who can get enough separation to run a fade is way beyond me. Yes, UGA's defenders were doing a good impression of your average mugger, and the officiating crew are apparently expecting to get a bonus check depending on the quality of Georgia's bowl bid, but neither of those things excuse calling the same dumb play over and over again. For example, I thought going for it on fourth down during AU's penultimate possession was the right decision, but the play call on that fourth down (you guessed it, a fade to a covered-up Montez Billings) was execrable.

So, better, but still another loss. This team has one last shot at redemption coming up, and while you'd have to be a truly committed pumper of sunshine to predict a win in two weeks, their performance Georgia game does give reason for optimism.

Monday, November 10, 2008


There shouldn't be much to say about a Homecoming game against a 1-AA opponent, other than, "Nice day, the kids had a lot of fun." In what Jerry's calling The Season of DEATH, things aren't so straightforward.

The game started out literally as well as it possibly could for Auburn when Tristan Davis took the opening kickoff 95 yards for an easy 7-0 lead. Since nothing is supposed to be easy for the Tigers this year, Robert Dunn made what might be the worst mistake I've ever seen from a senior player when UT-Martin punted on their first possession, fumbling in the end zone to give the Skyhawks a just-as-easy tying score. And just like that, what should have been a walk turned into a battle, at least for three quarters.

A friend of mine sent a message after UTM's first offensive touchdown, which thanks only to a muffed PAT pulled the game to within a point at 14-13: "How did we let them score?!?" There are two answers. The first is that Auburn had no answer for basically one play, namely a very simple pitch-and-catch from quarterback Cade Thompson to receiver Mike Hicks. Number 19 was camped out and wide open over on the short-side flat for what felt like a hundred snaps. Thompson, who was only sacked once, had pleny of time to throw, and Hicks must have thought he was playing pre-game drills without a defense most of the time. Not being stupid, UTM's play callers kept calling a play that worked fine, and AU rarely did anything about it.

The other answer was, Auburn was playing with absolutely no intensity on defense. Sure, lots of guys were hurt, and there's no doubt not having Sen'derrick Marks and Antonio Coleman up front is going to affect your pass rush against anybody, but it was obvious from the stands that there was a whole lot of going through the motions on the field and precious little aggression or hustle. A team that didn't win a game in October had no business taking any opponent lightly, but that's what Auburn did on Saturday.

On offense, while Auburn obviously had a decent day as far as the numbers are concerned, nobody should be overly-fooled by the outcome. Even playing against an entirely outmanned 1-AA opponent with speed issues (the opening kickoff was all the proof you need of that), Auburn couldn't get receivers free and couldn't get any resemblance of blocking until UTM got tired in the second half. Sure, Kodi Burns did some great running in the game. He was making some fantastic, shifty moves--but then again, he had to. He wasn't getting any help to speak of from his offensive line, and as usual, Steve Ensminger's play calling was as predictable (and as appealing) as vomit at the Supper Club.

But it was a win, and that's more than we could say since, oh, the end of September.

If my mailbox and conversations at the game are any indication, a lot of people seem to think I have the "inside" story on what's going to happen to Tommy Tuberville's job status at the end of the year. Sorry to disappoint anybody out there, but I'm not in possession of any such knowledge. I will say this: when UTM pulled even in the third quarter, people briefly stopped asking "if" Tommy Tuberville would be fired, but rather "when." A lot of that dissipated as the Tigers pulled away to win, but I think it's very safe to say that if UTM's defensive line hadn't run out of gas in the fourth quarter, Auburn could well have been holding a press conference sometime today, and not to announce when season tickets for the '09 baseball team will be available.

As to what's actually going to happen, the rumor mill has churned out two basic themes. Tuberville will either be retained for another year and "clean house" on his offensive staff, or he and Auburn will (and depending on whom you believe, an agreement has already been reached) amicably separate, said separation to include a very sizable check to complete AU's contractual obligations. I have no idea which of these stories might be correct, or frankly if either of them has any grounding in reality, but since everybody has asked, that's what I've heard. Take it for what it's worth, or to put it another way, that and ten bucks will get you 50% ownership in Circuit City this morning.

As noted here previously, I think Tuberville has earned the chance to fix this mess, but honestly, the more this fiasco plays out, the more I wonder if everybody involved wouldn't do better to just shake hands and walk away. Sometimes the best cure for dysfunction is a fresh start. But we'll see.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Annus Horribilis

By any sane reckoning, Auburn will finally win another game this Saturday. By any reasonable reckoning, it will probably be the last game the Tigers win this year. I'd most certainly prefer the latter to be an inaccurate prediction, but based on this team's continued slump, it's just hard to see how things are going to turn out differently. It's a horrible year, and one that's getting worse by the week.

As if it weren't obvious from the record and the numbers, this is a pretty bad football team, almost as bad as the talent-starved and snakebitten 1998 squad that finished 3-8 (and even that team beat Ole Miss). Even the defense that started out gangbusters has lapsed into mediocrity, thanks in no small part to an avalanche of injuries, but you also have to think that they've just been relied to on save the offense far too many times as well.

While the offense showed occasional signs of life in Oxford, its limitations are still painfully clear. Kodi Burns has a ton of heart and a lot of talent, but let's face it, Tony Franklin was right when he noted that Burns gets too excited and makes too many mistakes in crucial situations. Saturday was easily Burns' most productive game as a Tiger, but those three awful interceptions doomed any chance of getting a win. But then again, Burns is now being "coached" by a guy who took an eventual first-round NFL starter and wrecked him so badly that people wondered whether the guy would ever play again.

Chris Slaughter had a great individual game, and Tommy Trott continued to improve catching the ball, but the rest of the receiving corps was once again missing in action. And let's not even talk about the blocking, or rather the lack thereof. Auburn's running game has shuddered to a near-complete halt (I would have said complete halt if not for the single great play on Ben Tate's touchdown).

It's also clear that every defense the Tigers play knows exactly what Auburn is going to do before they do it, especially in the running game. AU can't run inside, can't run to the outside, and can't even run a screen without having three defenders around the ball at all times. This is not a surprise, or at least it shouldn't be. The last time Steve Ensminger was in charge of the offense, the same thing happened; Georgia Tech's defenders in 2003 were calling out the plays from the line of scrimmage. I wouldn't be surprised if Ole Miss was doing the same thing over five years later.

It's very little consolation at this point to think that Ensminger only has three games left to screw over Auburn University. Then again, I wrote that five years ago, too, and look where we are now.

A brief respite, and then the annus horribilis will rumble on to its finish. Where we go from there is, I think, anybody's guess.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Deja Vu

First of all, I apologize again for being so late getting this week’s postgame column up. We left town the first thing Friday morning for a friend’s wedding in San Antonio, which was followed by an extra day in Austin on Sunday, and there hasn’t been a lot of free time available for blogging. I’d meant to write up the WVA game on the flight out, but thanks to the 250-pound broad in front of me leaning her seat back nearly into my lap, I literally couldn’t even open up my laptop. It’s now mid-morning on Monday, and I’m bashing this out in the San Antonio airport (free wi-fi=good) before we board to fly home.

So anyway.

I got a lot of calls and messages during the first half of the West Virginia game, and as you can imagine, they were pretty giddy. Auburn looked like Auburn again, stifling on defense and productive on offense. The much-anticipated return to standard sets and three-point stances up front was effective, and success from the offense bled into the defense, seemingly raising them out of their post-Vanderbilt funk.

While I enjoyed those two quarters as much as anybody else, I wasn’t able to get really excited at halftime. I’d seen this show before, and when yet another second-half collapse started rumbling across the screen, what I felt wasn’t so much disappointment as recognition: yep, that’s about what I expected.

For all the good done early in the game--and there was plenty: Kodi Burns playing like he's been expected to play for two years now, the running game working and even Tommy Trott catching about everything that came near him--the flaws on this team and in its coaching staff just can't be camouflaged for long. Pardon the broken record, but the receivers not only can't catch and can't get open, they've now also forgotten how to block. Blocking on the outside (along with a lot of bad tackling on Auburn's part) was why WVU was able to play the screen and sweeps so effectively, and a complete lack of same was why Auburn wasn't. Outside of Trott (and what does it say that he had his best game in forever two weeks after being relieved of Steve Ensminger's position "coaching"?), there wasn't a notable receiver the whole night.

Anybody who was surprised by the awful play-calling in the second half really hasn't been paying attention. Underperforming Ensminger managed to blow the best onside kick recovery I've ever seen by calling that idiotic reverse and losing about 300 yards, and Auburn was basically done on offense from then on. With the passing game inactive and the Mountaineers building a lead, all WVU had to do was stack the tackle box, and Ensminger proved long ago that he isn't capable of calling a game at this level when anything at all is on the line. Auburn's run and pass blocking was bad enough before the Tigers got behind; once AU's lead evaporated, the outcome was academic.

I take a back seat to no one in my contempt for Thenator Lou Holtz, but old Cheatin' Lou had it dead right when he observed that the AU defense was obviously thinking, "Oh no, here we go again" as the offense sputtered to a dead stop in the third quarter. When the Tiger defenders started trying to strip the ball from Noel Devine instead of wrapping up and tackling (usually giving up another 10 to 15 yards in the process), the game was effectively over. That doesn't excuse the complete collapse on defense in this or the two games that preceded it, but it does help to explain things.

There's very little left to say at this point. This season is officially a fiasco, and I personally see no reason to think Auburn is capable of winning any of its remaining conference games, and the likely final record is only going to make the current torrent of outrage in Auburndom even louder (pun certainly intended).

For whatever it's worth, I do think Tommy Tuberville has earned a mulligan and ought to get a chance to repair all the damage done this year, but I would instantly reverse that statement if he were to once again insist on retaining Hugh Nall, Steve Ensminger, or Greg Knox on staff after Thanksgiving weekend. They have failed, repeatedly, and they've got to go. Period. It's time to have some actual professionals in those slots instead of guys who are still collecting high-dollar checks purely because of their personal friendships with the head coach.

Friday, October 24, 2008

All Apologies

I apologize for not having anything up about the West Virginia game yet. I'm traveling, and the closest I've been to a computer and Internet account is the wife's iPhone and the wifi in an Irish pub. There will be more later, but for now, I'm sorry to say that nothing in the second half surprised me Thursday. More later, hang in there.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Well, I hate to say "I told you so," but...

Now everybody who said, "How could it get any worse than this?" after the Vandy game has their answer. What's worse than Tony Franklin calling plays? Steve Ensminger calling plays, of course.

Why anybody should have been surprised at Auburn's offensive ineptitude against Arkansas is entirely beyond me. We knew Ensminger was incompetent one game in back in 2003. Saturday's pathetic showing was just one more brick in that particular wall. Terrible game plan, terrible play calling, panic in key situations, check, check, check. There wasn't anything new about any of the above. Franklin was a bad fit for Auburn, but Ensminger was, is and ever will be a terrible football coach.

Nothing new: Ensminger's compatriot Hugh Nall turned in yet another clunker up front, as there was no pass protection, and no blocking in the running game worthy of the term. Receivers dropped easy catches, and the quarterbacks overthrew open receivers. From the five yard line with the game on the line and facing the SEC's worst rushing defense, AU had no solution other than three incompletions from the shotgun. It was a pathetic sight.

I will allow a compliment: Tommy Trott made one great reception. He appears to be one of those guys who can't catch anything that hits him in the hands, but make him go acrobatic and he can somehow reel them in. Go figure.

I frankly think I would have been more embarrassed if Auburn had managed to hang on and win Saturday night. The Tigers would have had no business whatsoever winning that game. Not only was the offense execrable, their awfulness finally bled over to the defense. Arkansas came in to the game last in the SEC in giving up quarterback sacks, but AU's once-proud defensive front never so much as threatened to put Casey Dick in the dirt.

Yes, a lot of guys are out hurt. Certainly it's a big deal that Jerraud Powers didn't play at all. But there's still no excuse for giving up over 400 yards to that team. None. Whether it was due to the injuries, or the week of turmoil, or just plain coaching and playing badly, Auburn was not prepared to play on either side of the ball Saturday, and when that happens, you usually lose.

It's worth at least noting that AU had its best day of the season in the kicking game, and that was all that made the Tigers competitive. Tristan Davis single-handedly pushed Auburn into the lead and kept them there with that 97-yard return, and later forcing a fumble on the second half kickoff. Auburn's kickoffs were much better, finally getting one into the end zone, and kick coverage appears to have improved since early in the season. It wasn't enough, but it was something.

There's not much I can add here to the overall impression that Auburn is playing terrible football. I'd like to think that a week and a half off would make a difference, but the shadow of the Nallsminger combined with Saturday's defensive breakdown makes me suspect otherwise.

Auburn has been running a nice video on the Jordan-Hare big screen going into the fourth quarter this season. It's a riff on the Auburn Creed, with players and coaches and former stars saying "I Believe..." This week, looking at a 25-yards-a-quarter offensive output next to one of the conference's worst teams pushing 400 as that last quarter started, I turned to an old buddy sitting next to me and murmured, "I believe we're going 5-7 this year."

Sorry to say, I believed that even more a half-hour later.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

Based on my inbox, apparently a few people want to know what I think about the abrupt end of the Tony Franklin Era at Auburn. I don't think I have a whole lot to add at this point (as usual, Jerry has done an admirable job of covering the bases), but here goes.

To state the absolutely obvious, this is a fiasco. Nobody comes out of it looking good. Fairly or not, Franklin looks like a failure. Auburn's other offensive assistants look like boobs who weren't able to put their own egos aside and work for the "new guy." Tommy Tuberville clearly buffooned the whole thing, from hiring Franklin without allowing him to bring in even one spread-experienced assistant (Josh Moon wrote a good column on that topic), to managing his coaches during the off-season, to handling a situation that never should have reached Wednesday's denouement on the front steps of the Auburn Athletic Complex. The one and only good thing I can say about Tuberville in this entire situation is that he did step up and take the blame for his bad decisions. That's more than he did five years ago, and perhaps it's a start.

Of course, by Wednesday morning he didn't have any good options left. Franklin clearly decided by Tuesday's practice that he was going to do things his way, and if Hugh Nall, Steve Ensminger and Greg Knox weren't going to be on board--and I think we can all agree that they were not--he'd shove them aside and do all the coaching himself. This put Tuberville in an untenable situation, and while he never should have let things deteriorate to that point, I suspect he made the only decision he could have when facing a (possibly unspoken) ultimatum from Franklin: "Them or me."

It had to be "him." You can make do without one coach at mid-season. Unfortunately, you can't replace three or four of them, no matter how badly they're performing, or how much damage they've done to the program by being pigheaded idiots.

That's now, of course. It's not, say, the first week in December. At that point, if Tuberville is serious about Auburn continuing as a "spread" team, he's going to have to cut out a lot of dead weight that he's been carrying along for the last five years. That is, if the decision is left up to him at all.

I do not have high or even moderate hopes for the Auburn offense in the remaining six games. Auburn is fortunate to be playing three not-great defensive teams over the next few games, but I wonder if even that will make any difference. As a quarterback coach and play caller, Steve Ensminger makes Tony Franklin look like Bill Walsh. I have less than zero faith in either Ensminger or Hugh Nall when it comes to game-planning or gameday coaching. That ship sailed long ago, in Grant Field.

So, there you go. Still glad you asked?

Monday, October 06, 2008

All Aboard!

Funny thing. When Wes Byrum's extra point kick rattled off the upright in the first half, I had the same thought as when LSU missed a PAT in 2004: "Ah, that won't matter much."


Well, here we go again. Another second half when the offense can't buy a first down, the defense stays on the field too long, and a game that ought to have been put away goes the other way instead. No surprises, which might be the most damning comment I could make today.

Before I go any further, give Vanderbilt the credit. This team is fundamentally solid, they didn't have the traditional "Vandy breakdown" when they got behind or when the game was on the line, and they are very well coached. They certainly deserved the win, which is more than I can say for their opponent Saturday night.

The offense's performance in the first quarter was enough to have long-suffering Auburn fans doing Tim Allen impressions: line up under center, put the line in a three-point stance, blow the defense off the line and run downhill. Might not have been what anybody expected to see this year, but hey, it worked great, even if the lack of a fullback killed the first drive within inches of the goal line. Worked so well that the defense even gave Chris Todd time to find open receivers down the field, and that led to two pretty easy scores.

Fast-forward ahead to the second half, when Vandy, having been given a new spark from a new quarterback (hey, guys, not to be too critical, but let's just quit knocking out the other guys' starter for the rest of this year, okay? I'm tired of seeing backups come in and play lights out), gets back in the game, and eventually takes a one-point lead.

One point. No big deal, right? Lots of time on the clock. No reason to panic.

Well, not unless you're Tony Franklin, or whomever is making the decisions for Auburn's offense. If you're that guy, you drop back in the shotgun and let the opposing defense do to you what every other opposing defense has done to you in the second half this year: tee off on the quarterback and shut down your one running play. Once you've established that, all the rest is just commentary.

It's hard to overstate just how awful Auburn's offense was in that second half. The line couldn't block anybody. The receivers couldn't break the press. With no Robert Dunn in the game, there wasn't a credible threat at wideout, and Vandy figured that out by halftime. The running backs and quarterbacks were entirely ineffectual--but to be fair to them, no QB on the planet is effective when they can't sell their own souls to get a block.

It's hard to see how this offense can be described as anything other than a fiasco. Franklin is nightmarishly bad as a situational play caller. Hugh Nall is apparently incapable of coaching linemen how to pass protect from a two-point stance. Greg Knox has yet to teach a receiver how to run a route properly (check the NFL scouting reports on Obomanu and Aromashodu if you doubt me), and one look at Auburn's tight ends will demonstrate that Steve Ensminger is the very definition of negative coaching.

This season is another unfortunate demonstration of one of Tommy Tuberville's two worst traits, namely excessive loyalty to assistants who are also his buddies (the other is complacency). Tuberville used his near-martyrdom in the wake of the 2003 fiasco to retain Nall and Ensminger, even after the dysfunctional duo had reduced a roster full of NFL talent into an offense barely better than the one we see today. During the two times since when Tuberville has had to go and hire an actual offensive coordinator, rule number one for any prospective coach has been that all the current position staff must remain on the payroll. This was a terrible, selfish, destructive position, and one that's directly related to Auburn's woes today.

Five years later, Nall, after demonstrating spectacular offensive incompetence during his one pathetic season at OC, still thinks he got a raw deal, and has managed to sabotage both of his successors via bad coaching and meddling behind the scenes. I don't want to hear any more accolades about how Nall is an "elite line coach" when his guys just got pushed around by Vanderbilt. He's managed to take a stellar group of linemen and make them look like a 2-A scout team. I won't even bother critiquing Ensminger any further, since it's an open question as to what the hell he does all day anyway.

The problem here is that this offense (or more accurately, lack of an offense) is neither fish nor fowl. It doesn't know what it is. Is it a running team, like the one we briefly saw in the first quarter? Franklin doesn't think so. Is it a passing team? Well, no, not based on performance. Is it a "spread" team? Certainly not, regardless of the formations. It's doing very little well, and most things quite badly.

The point is that the oil-and-water mix of a "spread" coach with this group of position coaches (the notable exception being the inestimable Eddie Gran) is a complete failure, on a par with Tuberville's split-the-baby decision to put "Nallsminger" in charge of the offense after Bobby Petrino's departure. It serves no one involved well, most certainly including Auburn University.

I believe Tuberville when he says he needed to change Auburn's offensive philosophy, but apparently Tubs didn't believe himself enough to do what he really needed to, which is hire a proven OC and let him bring in the right assistants to get the job done properly. Whether Franklin as an individual was the right hire or not (he certainly doesn't look like it at this point), trying to shoehorn a spread attack into the straight-out-of-1980 abilities of Nall and Company was a terrible mistake.

What gets done about it now, I have no idea. If nothing else, it ought to be interesting (if not terribly informative) to see what happens when the exceptionally resistible force of Auburn's offense meets the thoroughly movable object of Arkansas' defense this Saturday. I wouldn't be hugely surprised (well, okay, I would) if the Tigers manage to put a more respectable point total up against the Pigs, but that won't really tell us anything, and worse, it could well lead to a likely-incorrect assumption that the ship has been righted and everything is both hunky and dory on the Plains.

That, like many of the decisions made in Auburn over the last couple of years, is likely to be an incorrect assumption. Wish I could be more optimistic here, but the train wreck is liable to continue until further notice.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Freshly Squeezed

Ho hum, just another game. Just another hand-wringing, nail-gnawing, hair-pulling three hours plus of frustrating immovability followed by... another W on the schedule.

I'm getting too old for this crap.

Auburn put on a defensive showcase, again, and again, it was just barely enough. Sophomore Josh Bynes, substituting for an injured Tray Blackmon, was the breakout player numerically with an eye-popping eleven tackes (six of those solo), but the entire defense deserves player-of-the-game honors. Tennessee's much ballyhooed offensive talent couldn't do a thing when the game was on the line, and couldn't do much the rest of the day. The Vols had seven possessions in the second half, and all but one of them started no more than four yards from midfield. They scored exactly once, and in that case were assisted by an interception.

Never have so few made so many clutch stops with so little help. And oh, yeah, the defense scored a touchdown for the third time in five games. In a word, "Wow."

I've resigned myself at this point to seeing Auburn get career days out of every opponent's punter. Tennessee's Chad Cunningham is bringing up the conference's rear statistically, but he played lights-out all afternoon. Between Cunningham's punting and Auburn's offensive immovability, the Tigers spent almost every minute of the second half in the shadow of their own goalposts.

I have never, ever seen a team spend that much of a game backed up and still win. The work this defense is doing is nothing short of astonishing.


This team doesn't have an offense. It has a bunch of players who block and run and catch and throw, and some coaches who call formations and plays, but when all those pieces are put together, they don't add up to an actual offense.

It's not an accident that Auburn's lone scoring drive featured a lot of things we hadn't seen before. That made sense, as most of the plays and formations we had seen before don't seem to work all that well. Tennessee was caught off-balance, and the playmakers that AU does have started to make plays. And what do you know--the Tigers marched right down the field and scored. My question is, hey, Tony Franklin: where'd all stuff that go to afterwards? Were you afraid to use any of it again, because, you know, it worked? That gives me flashbacks to Terry Bowden, and not in a good way.

"Hey, wait," you may be saying. "Hang on a second here, you just finished praising Auburn's defense to the skies for shutting Tennessee down for most of the game. Why aren't you doing the same for Tennessee's defense?"

Because, let's be honest here: Tennessee is not a good defensive team. You can quote me "best secondary in the conference" all you want, but the numbers say that the Vols have not been good on defense for at least two years now. Tennessee is so far down, even Instapundit is making fun of them--and he works there! This is the same unit that got shredded by a UCLA squad that itself couldn't get a point against BYU. John Chavis is the least-competent defensive coordinator in the SEC, and he still managed to figure out Franklin's "system." With very rare exceptions, Franklin seemed unable to do anything to break the Tigers out of their rut; his situational play-calling was nothing short of awful. If you doubt me, just count all the no-blocking draw plays on third and very long.

So, in short: I don't get it. Is Franklin so married to his "system" that he can't bring himself to work with what he's got? Is he so bound to running a "script" that he literally can't call the right plays in key situations? Heck if I know, but you don't need to be any kind of an expert to note that when an offense only gets one first down in thirty minutes of play, that offense has serious problems. Kudos to Kodi Burns and Montez Billings for making that first down--thanks to Phil Fulmer's pissing away of UT's timeouts, it won the game for Auburn--but what the hell? ONE first down? In a HALF?

It's enough to make your hair turn gray, and although I'm on the cusp of forty, I'm still in no mood to start trying out Grecian Formula.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

How's this for a quick rundown of last night's game:

Once again, Auburn was able to take control of a game and dominate the first half, but also once again, AU was not able to maintain that control after halftime. Whether it was due to the fan-decried "Tubershell" of conservative play-calling with a lead or simply LSU stepping up its game in the third quarter (I think it was the latter), Auburn stopped moving the ball until after the Bengals had taken the lead midway though the final period.

What I didn't like is fairly obvious: Auburn's running game lost steam and the pass defense all but fell apart in the third quarter. I didn't like the pooch kickoffs, and I really didn't understand pooch-kicking after Auburn's last score. Yes, AU's kick coverage has been awful this year and LSU has a great return game, but I don't think that validates giving them the ball on the 40 for that last drive.

The preceeding was lifted directly from my column on last year's Auburn-LSU tilt. I removed exactly one word ("road," as in "road game"), but otherwise it fits the 2008 edition just fine.

I've heard of deja vu, but this is ridiculous.

Obviously, not everything was quite the same, but enough was to make an orange-and-blue Tiger feel like tearing some hair out, starting with the kicking game. Tommy Tuberville turned out to be dead on when he predicted last week that special teams would be the difference in the game. Whether Ryan Shoemaker was being told to corner-punt (if he was, why, particularly after Trindon Holliday was benched for fumbling?) or just shanking everything he hit in the second half, bad field position put a tiring Auburn defense in terrible situations. Was Chad Jones really a threat to make a big return? I tend to doubt it--but we're never going to know based on that game.

It was a frustrating second half, but you have to give credit to LSU's depth for being the difference in the game. They were able to hold off a slackening Auburn pass rush and run past the thin AU secondary when it counted. When Paul Rhodes inexplicably stopped blitzing freshman QB Jarrett Lee, the defensive line didn't have enough gas left to get after him on their own. LSU's fleet of receivers did the rest, with no small help from Charles Scott, who looks to be a sensational running back.

On the other side of the ball, Auburn's penchant for not platooning offensive linemen caught up with the Tigers in a big and bad way. LSU's two-deep defensive line stayed fresh enough to account for two monumental sacks, one to knock Auburn out of field goal range in the third quarter, and then again to kill the would-be comeback drive, knocking AU back to an impossible-to-make-up second and 25.

Obviously, things weren't all bad. Auburn really did dominate defensively in the first half, and the Chris Todd-led offense finally showed signs of life. Receivers were getting open, and generally making catches (although Tommy Trott continues to do a good impression of a stone-handed defensive back). Robert Dunn probably had the best day of his career in terms of clutch grabs. The running game was less effective; why Tony Franklin continued to call Ben Tate runs into the heart of the LSU defensive line with no lead blocker is beyond me. There were plenty of times when the offense had LSU on its heels, particularly when Auburn would run a play, immediately get back to the line, and quickly run another play repeatedly. The "Meercat" option of stopping to look back at the sidelines didn't work anywhere near as well, and clearly caused problems in both communication and execution.

And finally, somebody figured out that lining up in the "I" near the goal line makes sense. That somebody has my sincere gratitude.

Before anybody asks, no, I don't know why Kodi Burns didn't play (again). It could be due to that leg injury from the first game; Burns was held out against Mississippi State largely because the cut broke open again during his brief set of snaps against Southern Miss. By most accounts, that was a very nasty cut, and even a highly-conditioned athlete can't make his flesh heal any faster than normal humans (it's my understanding that the NCAA is already moving to ban a new design of facemask visor that caused the cut in the first place). Maybe that was it; maybe the coaches didn't want to break up Todd's play. Given how LSU was crowding the line and leaving the deep ball open, I have to think they simply chose to stay with the "pass first" guy.

Where-to from here is obviously an open question. Saturday's game against Tennessee is a genuine must-win for both teams; you have to think Auburn has the advantage given how inept the Vols have looked this season, but Phat Phil always seems to pull one big surprise win (and usually on the road) out from under his stack of McRibs. Auburn is clearly improving on offense, but "the system" has still got a lot of bugs.

Auburn had better get out the Raid in a big hurry. Saturday's loss removed any margin for error in the SEC West race. LSU could conceivably lose on the road to Florida and at home to Georgia (I think they'll win the rest rather comfortably), but the flipside is, one more conference loss is tantamount to elimination for the eastern Tigers.

Friday, September 19, 2008


First up, thanks to Lein Shory for going in an fixing Blogger's mistakes and my blogroll all at the same time. The links to Tony Barnhart's blog and The Wizard of Odds will now send you to the correct sites. As usual, Lein deserves all the credit for the look and layout of FTB.

In other news, some two years after the fact, the NCAA has confirmed that Pete Thamel's much-ballyhooed and deeply-dishonest NY Times story about Auburn athletes was a load of sensationalist bunk:

An NCAA investigation into Auburn University found no instances of academic fraud and has determined the school will not be penalized following a probe into sociology and directed reading courses that student-athletes took in 2005 and 2006.

I'm anxiously awaiting another NYT front-pager on this one.

Well, actually, I'm not waiting for that at all; being Big Media means never having to admit you were full of crap. But if I were Carnell Williams, I'd seriously consider suing Thamel for libel, and James Gundlach for slander.

The does article go on to note that the NCAA determined, "the school committed secondary violations involving student-athletes who took those courses after they had exhausted their eligibility." How this makes any sense (or is of any interest to the NCAA) I have no idea. I guess in the NCAA's eyes, Williams should have just dropped out instead of trying to keep pursuing a degree between the 2005 Sugar Bowl and April 2005 NFL Draft.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tiger Bowl V

Big one coming up this weekend. Big game, big consequences, big questions to be answered. But that's no surprise; it's Auburn-LSU, and that's serious business.

Of late, the Tiger Bowl is easily the best series in the SEC. Don't give me this Florida-Tennessee or Georgia-Florida or even Auburn-Alabama business. Not one of those has been as competitive, meaningful, or riveting as the Tiger Bowl over the last four years.

After swapping blowouts in the early years of the decade, the two tribes of Tigers have consistently offered up brutal, nail-biting contests in every recent tilt. Not only have the last four games been split evenly and decided by less than a touchdown each, all four went down to the last play, and both teams (and certainly both fan bases) are convinced that they should have won the two games they lost.

Take a look at the rundown:

In 2004, a defensive battle came down to Auburn's final drive. Jason Campbell came into his own by completing a clutch fourth-down pass, and then hit Courteny Taylor for the game-winning touchdown. Campbell lit up every remaining team on AU's schedule, and went on to be the SEC's Player of the Year. Auburn went undefeated, and was never again in serious danger of losing that season.

In 2005, a wild back-and-forth battle ended in a 17-17 deadlock after LSU's Chris Jackson hit a 44-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. Neither team made it to the end zone in overtime, but Auburn's John Vaughn unbelievably missed his fifth field goal of the night when given a chance to answer. The Bengals went on to the SEC Championship Game, losing to Georgia.

2006 featured a defensive slugfest the likes of which I've never seen before or since. The sheer ferocity of the impacts on the field, play after play, still rings out today. Auburn eked out a 7-3 victory, but if you ask me, AU quarterback Brandon Cox never fully recovered from the pounding he absorbed that day. Both teams went on to win marquee bowl games.

Last year's game was another crazy scene, with the heavy-underdog Auburn Tigers roaring out to a 17-7 halftime lead. LSU responded with four unanswered scores, only to see Cox bring Auburn back to lead 20-17 with 3:21 remaining. It all came down to the improbable Flynn-to-Byrd touchdown with two seconds left, saving Les Miles from a likely sideline lynching, as well as the Bengals' hopes for... well, you know:

What's coming up in 2008? Heck if I know. It's one of those odd years when large chunks both fan bases, obsessed with lackluster quarterback play, are going in suspecting they're going to lose (although true to form, and not without reason, given last Saturday's offensive follies, the pessimism is heavier on the Auburn side).

I think I can safely say that these are easily the two best defensive fronts in the SEC. Neither team is going to have an easy time running the ball, and all four of the starting and backup quarterbacks are likely to be spending most of Sunday in the training room. Both teams have explosive kick returners. If you're looking for edges, LSU's receivers are really going to be a challenge for Auburn's secondary--but whether LSU's quarterbacks have enough time to do anything about it is another question. I'd give Auburn the coaching advantage; Tommy Tuberville vs. Les Miles in a big game is a mismatch--unless, of course, The Hat gets lucky. Again.

And this is a big game, for both teams and for the SEC as a whole. There will be few, if any that get any bigger this year.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Batter Up!

Final score, 3-2. Well, haven't seen that in a while. Like, er, ever.

Let's start with the defense. It'd be well-nigh criminal not to.

With the understanding that Mississippi State is not a good offensive team--even when compared to Auburn--the level of defensive domination parceled out by the Tigers Saturday night is still staggering. Not only was State held to 116 total yards, the Other Bulldogs did not convert on a single third down (in 14 tries) or fourth down (three tries, one of them from less than a yard away). MSU had a grand total of five earned first downs in the entire game, and despite ESPN moron Bob Davie's repeated quoting of Sly Croom's desire to "break Auburn's will" with the running game, only one of those five came on the ground. 2008 marks the third time in four games that Croom's team hasn't scored an offensive point on Auburn. Barring a dumb mistake on the part of an AU offensive lineman (more on that later), State wouldn't have scored at all.

Tray Blackmon was a ravening beast against State's (pretty darn good) running backs. His snuffing out of MSU's close-to-last gasp on a short fourth-and-one was a textbook combination of timing, ferocity and strength. Jerraud Powers continues to bring All-American-caliber play at cornerback, and Auburn may well have found the answer at the other corner in Walter McFadden. Both did stellar work against State's tall wideouts, and along with another suffocating performance from the defensive line, they stomped on any semblance of a passing threat. McFadden's Powers-esque interception late in the fourth quarter most likely salvaged the win.

It was as dominant a team performance against SEC competition as I've seen in quite a while. There can't be much question now as to whether Paul Rhodes was a good hire at defensive coordinator. He's got this team playing sound, smart, disciplined fundamental football--something that would have won this game for Auburn a year ago, despite all the offense's miscues.

Speaking of which...

Now clearly, when one field goal accounts for all your points, you did not have a great or even good day on offense. Still, looking at the other numbers (admittedly, the ones that don't count), Auburn's offense was actually... okay. The Tigers netted 315 yards of offense against a very good defensive team, including running for 161 and passing for 154--they were even balanced. The average per completion was a perfectly good 11 yards (even if the rushing average was a just-getting-by 3.6 yards). Chris Todd's completion percentage was a pedestrian 54%, but he didn't throw an interception, he made some nice reads at the line, and after a two-year-plus hiatus, Auburn is finally throwing the ball down the field, and with some success.

So what was the problem? Besides the awful 0-fer on third down conversions in the first half, it came down to mistakes. Penalties and fumbles. In one of the worst performances by an Auburn team that I've seen in many years, the Tigers were hit for twelve penalties netting just under a hundred yards, and most of those were courtesy of the offensive line. I can't even count the number of drives that either started at first-and-fifteen or ended with third-and-twenty because of holding calls or false starts. Undisciplined, stupid mental errors. Some of them could have been prevented by using this archaic thing known as a "huddle" when communication was obviously a problem, but the really damaging mistakes, including the fumbles and giving up a stupid safety by holding, were thanks to plain old not playing fundamental football.

Oh, and if you think I'm letting Tony Franklin off the hook here, I'm not. Franklin is calling plays for players he doesn't have, and that's a recipe for disaster. Some of his situational play calling, particularly conceding drives with a run up the middle on third and long, were nigh-on inexplicable. While things are seemingly improving for a few individuals (most notably Montez Billings), receivers are not consistently getting open, and there are still too many dropped balls. When you don't have great talent at wideout, what you do have had damn well better be well-coached. Right now Auburn has neither of the above. Even worse, and more particularly to Franklin's discredit, hate to say "I told you so," but I told you so. Going into the shotgun from inside the five in the SEC is as crazy as a soup sandwich, and this time it cost Auburn enough points to put the game away.

Note to Franklin: it doesn't matter whether or not "the system," i.e. no-huddle and shotgun, worked at short-and-goal against Sun Belt teams. In the SEC, it doesn't work. It's not going to work. It's stupid to keep trying something that doesn't work. So stop doing it. You've got a bunch of big, tough hosses on this team who know how to punch the ball in from short range. Let them.

I'd be churlish if I didn't give Mississippi State's fine defense a world of credit here. The Other Bulldogs have been solid up front for a couple of years now (everybody forgets that they had LSU shut out for most of the first half in 2007, only to collapse under the weight of about a thousand interceptions), and they played a whale of a game Saturday with absolutely no help from their offensive teammates. Linebacker Dominic Douglas and tackle Jessie Bowman in particular were terrifyingly effective, and what can you say about punter Blake McAdams other than, "Wow."

Finally, regarding the uproar in Auburndom that's been going on since about the second quarter of the State game: A fanbase that's genetically inclined to pessimism is rumbling towards a pitchforks-and-torches revolt over the offense's ongoing struggles. Somebody has bought already (although there's no page there yet). On the one hand, getting upset is entirely understandable (and appropriate) over an offense that can't seem to get out of its own way after being talked up all off-season as the greatest thing since single-barrel bourbon. On the other hand...

Get a grip, folks. Is this a good offense? Nope. Does it--and Franklin--have serious problems? Yep. Do those two things warrant this level of panic after three games? That's an entirely different question.

Call me a "sunshine pumper" if you must, but I'm inclined to think not. There are tools enough to do well, if they're ever employed correctly. Either way, it's going to take some time to sort out.

Unfortunately, Auburn will play a defensive team very likely better than State's come Saturday. I'm not sold on LSU having a dynastic, greatest-defense-in-the-country thing going--any team that gave up 50 to Arkansas and 43 to Kentucky and what the hell, 24 to Auburn last year could not legitimately be called "great"--but I'm certainly satisfied that they'll be very damn good. Auburn will have to show more improvement than anybody has any business expecting to get many (any?) points against the Bengals.

So, here we are, three games in and dominant on one side, sputtering on the other. One suggestion aimed Auburn-way: Coaches often need coaching themselves. It'd be a good thing for the head coach to carve out a little private time with his offensive assistants for conversations regarding the fundamentals. Not just of football, but also of life--and employment--in the SEC.


Monday, September 08, 2008

This Week's Sign Of The Apocalypse

Vanderbilt has sole possession of first place in the SEC East, and has the best record in the conference.

Yes, that's because Vandy is the only team in the league to beat any other team in the league this young season, but still...

Blogger Follies

Here's the part you don't care about: Blogger, aka Google, which runs the servers and software on which FTB is hosted these days, recently changed the way user blogs are set up. In many ways the changes were a massive improvement; I'm now able to manipulate stuff on the page like graphics and the blogroll myself, without having to bother Lein Shory, the guy who does all the actual work for the site's design.

However, BloggerGoogle has also over-automated the piece of software that runs the blogroll (over on the right side) to the point of buffoonery. For reasons I don't even pretend to understand, the blogroll mini-application just will not let me put in direct links to either Tony Barnhart's blog (it reverts to the homepage of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) or Jay Christensen's new-and-improved Wizard of Odds blog (Blogger reverts to Jay's old, Blogger-hosted site).

So, until either BloggerGoogle fixes this, or alternately until Lein or I figure out how to get around it, here are the correct links:

Tony Barnhart (Mr. College Football)

The Wizard Of Odds

And like Frank and Ed used to say, we thank you for your support...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Southern Comfort

In the Master Of The Obvious segment, a lot went right for Auburn Saturday. Chris Todd racked up more passing yards in the first quarter than all three AU quarterbacks could manage the week before, and he did it against a better team. Todd eventually went 21 of 31 for a solid 248 yards against a squad that held its last opponent to under 150 yards through the air. With the day's emphasis on kickstarting the passing game, the running backs were something of an afterthought, but as long as they held on to the football, Messieurs Lester, Tate and Davis were still moving the chains quite well. The Tiger defense completely locked down a USM ground attack that broke 400 yards a week before, and had a shutout in its grasp before turnovers let the Golden Eagles back in the game.

Those turnovers--four of them, all ugly--left at least 14 Auburn points on the field, and make that 21 when you add in the meaningless-to-the-play penalty that called back what would have been Robert Dunn's second punt return for a touchdown in as many games. Three discarded touchdowns are expensive mistakes, no matter who you're playing.

USM and their new coach, Larry Fedora, deserve a ton of credit for hanging in there. There isn't any quit in the Golden Eagles, and Fedora showed a mountain of confidence in his team when he went for it on two long fourth downs--and his guys made both of them. The Tiger defense treated quarterback Austin Davis the way Rocky Balboa treats a side of beef for most of the game, but Davis kept popping back up and eventually had a very solid second half.

Defensively, holding a team that scored 55 points the week before to thirteen, and shutting that team down completely for the better part of three quarters was excellent, but with the exception of Jerraud Powers, who put on an absolute clinic Saturday from start to finish, the "D" didn't follow through. Whether due to the stifling heat, fatigue, loss of focus in what looked like a blowout, or plan old getting outplayed, Auburn's pass defense collapsed midway through the second half. The Tigers brought USM's rightly-vaunted running back Damion Fletcher to a near-complete stop, but the Eagles' Shawn Nelson and star-in-waiting Deandre Brown shredded the non-Powers portion of the secondary in the fourth quarter.

Southern Miss converted only one third down the entire game--but then again, they did convert on three of four fourth downs, and two of those were for double-digit yardage. That's an answer to the question, "What's worse than giving up a third and long?", and it's flatly unacceptable.

Here's what I liked the best about Saturday: the Auburn offense not only answered an impressive 90-yard USM scoring drive in the fourth quarter, they did so in a sudden, blinding downpour. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that brief rain was so heavy that I could barely read numbers on jerseys for most of that possession. I've seen an awful lot of teams that would have quickly gone three and out, followed by a bad punt, in that kind of weather.

Here's what I liked least about Saturday (besides the turnovers, but I liked this a lot less because it was intentional):

The ball is less than a yard from the goal line. Why in the name of Bo would you get in the shotgun and intentionally snap it five yards farther away? As the late Jonnie Cochran (okay, the South Park version of Jonnie Cochran) would have said, "This does not make sense." It's the one thing I hate the most about "the spread." Gave me flashbacks to what Missouri did against Oklahoma in last year's Big 12 Championship, and not in a good way.

Auburn got away with it against Southern Miss (Tate scored on the next play--barely), but they wouldn't have against LSU or Georgia, and probably wouldn't have against Mississippi State, Ole Miss or Alabama. Franklin swore up and down during the offseason that his offense does have a traditional "I" set for short yardage situations; I humbly suggest that he start using said formation in said situations, and soon.

So, two games in, and we've got significant improvement, but this is still not a team that's ready to play against the best in the SEC. Kodi Burns hardly played Saturday, and besides a nice touchdown run (again from the shotgun near the goal line, and again, barely), he didn't play well compared to Todd. Todd himself did a nice job of managing the offense, but he also floated too many passes and was not effective with the long ball. This was not helped by a receiving corps that still can't get separation down the field, much less by a running back position that managed a fumble from each of the top three players on the depth chart. Pass protection is still a problem, and I suspect it was made worse by the injury-forced move of Jason Bosley from center to tackle.

I don't mean to be overly-negative here; a team that can overcome four turnovers and still beat a good opponent by two touchdowns is obviously doing a lot of big things right... but also obviously is still doing to many little things wrong. The offense did look a lot better, and against a better opponent. It's going to have to get better still, and that includes eliminating the dumb mistakes, if the Tigers plan to live up to their billing this season. And some better pass coverage would help, too.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back To The Future

One of Auburn's questions was answered Saturday night, at least as well as such a thing could be answered against a Louisiana-Monroe: you can have a power running game from "the spread." Running the ball was not a problem. Brad Lester, Ben Tate and newcomer Eric Smith were all able to move the ball on the ground, amassing over 300 rushing yards on the night. Passing, on the other hand...

The first (okay, first and a half) version of the Tony Franklin offense looked an awful lot like the last crippled couple of years of the Al Borges offense: lots of screens with no blocking support, nobody getting open for longer balls, and thus an inability to... wait for it... spread the field. Now, tell me, what hasn't changed here? (*COUGH* "inside receivers" coach *COUGH*). Third and long conversions were, to polite, not good.

As Tommy Tuberville noted at halftime, the much-ballyhooed feature of this offense to speed up the game's tempo was missing in action Saturday night. Kodi Burns rarely threw down the field, and the one time he did attempt a long pass, it bounced off the hands of the receiver. Talk about deja-vu. Chris Todd's standard play was to check about a receiver and a half and then try to scramble. News flash--he's not a scrambler. Teach him to step up in the pocket and/or get rid of the ball. It didn't help either quarterback that pass protection--against LAMO, mind you, not LSU--was downright awful in the first half, something Franklin noted in a Quentin-Riggins-reported chewing out of the rest of the offensive staff at halftime. Said chewing did seem to help; protection was notably better in the second half.

Let's hope we've seen the last of alternating series for the quarterbacks. That's fine for A-Day (and what was this opener, if not a glorified A-Day?), but it's not going to fly against the rest of the schedule. Pick one, preferably Burns. Leave him in, and let him establish something. It's very telling to me that the one time Todd looked good was in the Tigers' last scoring drive, after Burns had left the game and Todd was able to stay in for several series by default (Burns turned out to have a laceration on his leg, and should be fine). The long pass to Rod Smith and follow-up baseline dart to Slaughter were easily Todd's best plays of the night.

On the other side of the ball, it's hard to criticize a shutout that opens with a defensive touchdown. Antonio Coleman has inherited not only Quentin Groves' position (which Coleman actually won and didn't give up midway through last season), but also the miasma of fear generated by Auburn's weakside defensive end over the last several seasons. Jerraud Powers had a couple of outstanding pass breakups, and the hit of the night came courtesy of freshman DB Neiko Thorpe, midway through the fourth quarter.

The kicking game was something of a mixed bag. I think I'm safe in saying that nobody knew what to make of preseason all-SEC punter Ryan Shoemaker losing his position to Clinton Durst, a guy who'd never played football before Saturday night. That impression was enhanced when Durst shanked a punt in the middle of the game, but that flub didn't keep Durst from racking up a decent 43-yard average on seven kicks, with one 58-yard boomer. Robert Dunn's punt return for a touchdown was obviously a great run--but then Dunn reminded everybody why he drives us all up the wall by losing yardage on his next reception. AU's kickoff coverage is still depressingly bad.

So, a first game, a warmup. As such things go, it wasn't great, but it could have been a whole lot worse. With a solid defense and the running game still there, there's reason for optimism going forward, but let's be honest here: Auburn was emphatically not ready to play anybody much better than LAMO on Saturday.

Disclaimer: this is not by any stretch a prediction. But. Four years ago, I wrote this about an Auburn opening against... LAMO:

On the one hand, you've got a workmanlike shutout of (let's face it) one of the worst football teams in the country. To their great credit, Louisiana Monroe's players didn't show a lot of give-up on Saturday, but they also didn't show a whole lot of ability. Auburn substituted all the way into the scout team by the fourth quarter, and the closest LA-MO ever got to scoring was a couple of missed field goals. On the other hand...

Look, it's obvious that the AU coaches went into this game intending to show future opponents absolutely nothing of use, and it's safe to say that they succeeded. "Vanilla" doesn't begin to describe the blandness of the formations and plays displayed on Saturday. Try "tasteless and odorless," or maybe "invisible."

... With that understood, there are still worries. Either La-Mo's defensive line has gotten a lot better since last October (entirely possible; they were big and quick, easily the best-looking athletes as a group that the Indians fielded), or Hugh Nall still has a lot of work to do up front. Run blocking was hit-and-miss (sometimes literally), and pass blocking was downright bad a lot of the time. And don't get me started on the reappearance of last year's bugaboo, the dreaded slanting defenders. More than once, a friend sitting nearby said, "It's a good thing they suck, or we'd be in trouble."

I would also be remiss if I didn't admit that Jason Campbell's play was not encouraging. Whether by habit, design, or just happenstance, Campbell is still locking in on his first guy and not seeing open receivers down the field, he's throwing behind the receiver too often, and his two turnovers were flat-out awful, the kind of stuff you expect from a freshman, not a fifth-year senior.

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?

Now, once again--not a prediction, or anything remotely like it. I'm not expecting, anticipating, or even wildly dreaming about a 2004-ish run for this team. But it's still comforting, in an odd and nostalgic kind of way, that the best Auburn season in recent history also started against LAMO, and not with a bang, but with a "What the--?"

Friday, August 29, 2008

New And Improved

FTB's new look (and the old look, for that matter) is courtesy of my old bud Lein Shory, who learns how to do this stuff so I don't have to. It also helps that he has actual artistic talent and taste--again, so I don't have to. If you're in need of site design, drop me a line, and I'll be glad to pass it on to him.

Thanks, Lein. Great job, as usual.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Geoffrey Norman:
We were supposed to be talking politics but we couldn't help ourselves. It was hot. It is always hot in the black belt of Alabama in the middle of August, and it feels like it will be hot for all eternity. So we talked about sports for some relief.

"You know," the man said wearily, "I just can't wait until they kick it off again. I mean, I feel like if I can just make it for another two or three weeks, then they'll be playing football again and then everything will be okay."
Hallelujah, Amen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Exodus: Jay Mariotti

In a bombshell announcement in the world of sports journalism, star columnist Jay Mariotti has abruptly resigned from the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Sun-Times says Mariotti left to "pursue other opportunities."

But Mariotti told the Chicago Tribune he decided to quit after covering the Olympics in Beijing because newspapers are in serious trouble, and he did not want to go down with the ship.

"I'm a competitor and I get the sense this marketplace doesn't compete," he said in the Tribune story. "Everyone is hanging on for dear life at both papers.

"To see what has happened in this business. … I don't want to go down with it."

Mariotti said he plans to pursue opportunities on the Web, and continue his regular appearances as a panelist on ESPN's "Around the Horn."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fair Warning

Blogging is liable to be very light for the next week or so--even by my standards. All apologies; the circumstances are quite beyond my control. I'll certainly be making every effort to get some preseason stuff up between now and the first SEC game next Thursday, but I can't promise anything at all at this point.

Fortunately, things will be back to normal by the time the season actually kicks off...

Friday, August 15, 2008


Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News weighs in on Alabama coach Nick "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" Saban, this week's Forbes cover boy. This might be the most brutal thing I've ever read in that paper about a not-days-away-from-being-fired UAT coach, and Scarbinsky doesn't have to do much more than recite the cold facts:

Nick Saban is the most powerful coach in sports ... who's lost four of his last five games.

Saban is the most powerful coach in sports ... who's one game over .500 at his current job.

Saban is the most powerful coach in sports ... who hasn't had a winning regular season in three years.

... and it gets (a lot) tougher from there. Read the whole thing.

Scarbinsky probably ought to have a bomb-sniffing dog check out his car before he drives home tonight. This one isn't going to go over so well with all the Kool-Aid drinkers in Bamaham--which certainly includes a massive crimson cheering section at the Bamaham News...

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Oh, great. The SEC just announced that we're stuck with Can't Broadcast Sports as the conference's broadcast TV partner for another fifteen years.

How wonderful. Fifteen years of lousy kickoff times, terrible announcers, and a commercial every ten seconds. Whoo-pee.

And I don't care how big the check is--FIFTEEN YEARS?!? Live sports are one of the only things left on broadcast TV that are DVR-proof, meaning they're only going to get more valuable as advertising dollars for "regular" television dry up. How much future money just got taken off the table by over-committing to such a long term deal?

Dumb move, Slive. Next thing you know, the SEC will commit to a 50-year deal with the Three Idiots Named Dave...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Chris Bertelli in Sacramento, CA...

... you owe me a beer.

(For the rest of you, check out Chris's email, as read on the air by Ivan Maisel in the last minute or so of the August 6, 2008 ESPN College Football Podcast.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Simpson Pepper, RIP

Simpson Pepper, who was Alabama's stadium announcer during the 1970's, 80's, and 90's, and who also worked Legion Field games for UAB in this decade, died yesterday at age 79.

I feel quite safe in assuming that Pepper was decidely not on Auburn's side, but he was from the "old school" of PA guys who took pride in being absolute professionals on the mike, much like Auburn's own recently-retired Carl Stephens. There are too many schools in the SEC today (LSU, Georgia and Florida, I'm talking to you) whose stadium announcers could learn a lot from the examples of Pepper and Stephens.

Speaking for myself, I will always remember (and not a little fondly) hearing Pepper make the familiar call: "Time out for... Alabamaaaaaa."


Monday, August 04, 2008

Exodus: Tony Barnhart

Following up on last week's post regarding the ongoing exodus of top talent from newspapers comes today's news that the only remaining reason to read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is on his way out the door. Per several online reports, Tony Barnhart has accepted a "voluntary" buyout and will leave the paper.

Barnhart, a near-universal pick as the best college football reporter in the country, will certainly have a new job (hopefully in the new media) before the ink is dry on his buyout check, if not sooner. As far as I'm concerned, this completes the AJC's descent into irrelevance (an impression confirmed by the realization that Terence Moore and Mark Bradley are apparently staying on).