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.