Wednesday, June 24, 2009


The recent spate of columns about Terry Bowden's new job at North Alabama (or more accurately, Jerry's post about them) got me thinking about Bowden for the first time in quite a while.

Terry Bowden is the only Auburn coach I've ever actually known personally. Pat Dye wouldn't know me from a pair of mud-encrusted plaid pants, and while Tommy Tuberville certainly knows who I am (he almost banned the local Rivals guys from the athletic department thanks in part to my '03 columns), we've never spoken in anything other than brief pleasantries at the Atlanta alumni club banquets.

But I spent a bit of time with Terry while writing "The Uncivil War," and a little more time in the years between its publication and his abrupt departure. Not a lot; we weren't on each other's Christmas lists, but he'd take my calls on the very rare occasions when I made them, and I got to know him a little bit. Most of what I got to know you could figure out from a distance: Terry is a smart and talented guy, but he was always a lot more about Terry than he ever was about Auburn.

I suspect the only people Terry ever really listened to were other Bowdens, and this was the downfall of both Terry and Tommy as coaches if you ask me. Together they could bounce ideas off each other and one could call the other out when he was suggesting something stupid. Apart, lacking feedback they respected, each one would go ahead and do the stupid thing. Quite obviously, Terry loves the sound of his own voice, and he's got the politician's habit of telling whomever he's talking to what he thinks they want to hear.

When it comes to why things just didn't work out with Terry and Auburn, two specific moments leap to my mind. Bowden's Auburn honeymoon ended on the night of September 21, 1996. The hometown Tigers lost a close one to the LSU variety on the night the old gym burned down outside the stadium gates, but what sticks out from that night for me was Bowden's post-game radio interview. Obviously agitated, Terry recounted how Auburn's kicker had a meltdown, and the backup quarterback threw a bad interception, and a few other things that time has thankfully erased from my memory.

Mind you, nothing he said was untruthful. The kicker did melt down, and the backup did throw a pick or three, but Bowden didn't take responsibility for the loss on himself, and virtually everybody listening thought, "He's blaming his players." The resulting reaction was the first real dose of poison in the relationship between Bowden and Auburn at large, and things festered, slowly, over the next couple of years. Bowden was still successful enough on the field to survive and occasionally thrive--at least while Dameyune Craig was in an AU uniform.

I also remember the exact moment when I knew Terry's job was in trouble. In August of 1998, there was a scrimmage for the scholarship donors in Jordan-Hare, with a coach autograph session in the Club Level after the "game." I'd recently done some freelance stuff for Inside The Auburn Tigers magazine, and was on the sidelines for the scrimmage (I recall ITAT editor Mark Murphy trying to telegraph to me that it was going to be a long season).

I walked up to the Club Level to see how things went afterwards. A couple of hundred hot, sweaty donors were lined up with their kids for autographs, but no Terry. I chatted with Pete Jenkins for a little while; Jenkins was and is one of the best people ever in that profession, and he did his level best to calm things down, but time kept ticking, and the day kept getting hotter, and still no Terry. The line got angrier and angrier; you could see Bowden's support literally dripping away on the faces of the rank-and-file athletic donors, the people whose goodwill he'd need the most just a few weeks later.

Since I was never looking for any autographs, I decided to hang it up and go find some air conditioning. On my way out of the stadium, I glanced down into the superstructure below the south end zone. There was Terry, yukking it up and eating watermelon with the ground crew. I shook my head, and went on home.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Good Stuff

Chris Brown at Smart Football breaks down the Gus Malzahn offense so you--er, that is, I don't have to. Check it out.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Per Ian Rapoport in the Birmingham News, the NCAA has ordered Alabama to "vacate" (as opposed to forfeit) the following 21 (!) football wins from 2005-2007:

2005: Middle Tennessee, Southern Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah State, Mississippi State, and Texas Tech (Cotton Bowl).

2006: Hawai'i, Vanderbilt, Louisiana-Monroe, Duke, Mississippi, and Florida International.

2007: Western Carolina, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Houston, and Mississippi.

That brings the Tide's official records for those years to 0-12 in 2005 and 2006, and 2-10 in 2007. I think we can safely say now that the 2000's will go down in the record books as the worst decade in Alabama football history.

Despite players in 15 other sports (pretty remarkable number all by itself) also being involved in the textbook scandal, apparently only one other team win will be vacated. Why exactly these games are being considered "vacant" as opposed to forfeits was the NCAA's call; in the past, they have ordered actual forfeits in sanctions cases, notably in Alabama's 1995 Antonio Langham sentence, and in a major violations case at Mississippi State in the mid-70's.

I'm still asking around regarding the coaches' poll issue, but as far as I can tell to date, Alabama is in the same boat as Oklahoma, and will be eligible for that poll, and thus for the BCS, going forward.

I haven't had much of a chance to read through the morning's editorial reaction yet, but Kevin Scarbinsky really lays the wood in this column. A sample:

The last thing Robert Witt wants to do at a press conference is answer questions, even on a day when the integrity of his institution has been called into question.


Instead, the president of the University of Arrogance chose merely to read a statement Thursday afternoon. In those 256 words, he made a statement that helps explain why his school leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with four major infractions cases in the last 14 years.

Through multiple presidents, athletics directors, coaches, administrators, student-athletes, boosters and sports.

Alabama has what Nick Saban might call a cultural problem.

It's a culture that demands doing the right thing -- but only after you've been caught doing the wrong thing.


Witt should've applauded the Infractions Committee members. Unlike their counterparts in 2002 -- current chairman Paul Dee was the only holdover to hear the rogue booster and textbook cases -- they didn't stop Alabama from competing.

Have they stopped Alabama from cheating?

That's not a rhetorical or academic question. Too bad Witt didn't have to answer it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Alabama On Probation... And Banned From the BCS?

As noted virtually everywhere by now, the NCAA placed Alabama on three years of probation today, after almost every varsity sport at the school was found to have players who'd abused the textbook reimbursement system between 2005-2007 (and probably longer than that, but UAT threw away their older records).

Scuttlebutt had held for weeks that Alabama was looking at a small handfull of scholarship reductions (on the order of two to six) in football, but as it turned out, no team was so penalized; officially, the only sanction is a chump-change fine (about $41,000) and forfiets in a large number of victories during the past school years in question.

Forfiets are always a weird sanction. They're at once the most appropriate and the most meaningless of penalties. Appropriate because fundamentally, a team that competes with ineligible players does so outside the rules and should not be allowed to claim a victory won in that fashion, but meaningless because few people take a forfiet seriously after the fact. I doubt that the various directional schools who lost to Alabama in, say, 2005 are going to put up any billboards over their new 1-0 record book "win."

But there's one other thing to consider here, and I'm not talking about the standard five-year extension of the "repeat offender window" following this four-peat of Alabama major violations cases.

Under the rules of the coaches' poll, a team on probation cannot be ranked. As of today, the coaches' poll comprises one-third of the BCS total. I'm not aware of a precedent here, but it stands to reason that a team on NCAA probation can never collect that one-third of BCS points, and thus is effectively banned from BCS bowls.

If that holds up, then football probation all by itself, regardless of any other sanctions, just became a major, major penalty.

UPDATE: Or not. Oklahoma is still on probation until the middle of next year, and they played in last year's BCS championship. Heck if I know how they squared that circle, but I'll read up and see what I can find.

UPDATE UPDATE: Well, this is clear as mud. The American College Football Coaches Association website indicates that "the coaches’ poll does not include teams on either NCAA or conference-sanctioned probation." USA Today, the sponsor of the poll, tempers that with the modifier "major probation," but what exactly that separates "major probation" from (presumably) "not-major probation" isn't spelled out anywhere I've been able to locate.

Obviously, since Oklahoma was not excluded from the coaches poll last year, it's doubtful that Alabama would be excluded from 2009-2011. It's a weird situation, perhaps somebody will ask the ACFA or the BCS to issue a clarifying statement in the near future.

UPDATE^3: Here's one funny bit: assuming that the NCAA rejected Florida State's recent appeal, this decision would mean that nobody won the 2007 UAT-FSU game, and in theory, it wasn't actually played...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Recommended Reading

Holly Anderson, writing at Dr. Saturday, just demolishes Paul Finebaum's latest column rabble-rousing show prep. A sample:

He paints by the belligerent numbers so skillfully that you hardly bother to notice that ... there's nothing there. Nothing to such a degree that we honestly wonder what Finebaum's doing putting this much effort into his word count. He could write the headline, "Is Tuberville at the heart of the rumor mill?" followed by an entire column consisting solely of the words, "Probably not," and gin up precisely the same level of traffic and righteous indignation on the Alabama boards.

The more we reread this piece, the more we admire its diabolical simplicity, the craft of it. It's not only a two-page gossip column about nothing of any verifiable substance whatsoever -- it cops straightaway to its vacuousness.

Seriously, read the whole thing.

In a way, Finebaum's long descent into Jerry Springer territory is a shame. There was a time when the guy was the top sports reporter in the South, and one of the best in the country, but over the last decade and a half, he found that it's much easier (and a lot more lucrative) to just endlessly stir the pot for his parochial radio show.

If you can stand to wade through the general insanity and moronic callers (I can't), it can be fun to watch, even given that the most salient feature of Paul's show is his abject contempt for both the Auburn and Alabama fan bases... but, sadly, his success in radio has degraded his column to nothing more than show prep, and outside of one or two good pieces a year, into an excellent birdcage-liner.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Big Empty

So, here's Josh Moon's much-hyped "expose" interview with Tony Franklin.

After reading it, the biggest revelation I walked away with was, based on the level of promotion for this nothing sandwich, the Montgomery Advertiser must be utterly desperate to boost its flagging readership. Otherwise, why would any sane editor or publisher go out of their way to flog six pages worth of stuff everybody already knew?

Is there anybody even remotely familiar with Auburn football who didn't know already that the Tommy Tuberville and the Auburn Trustees (to say nothing of Jay Jacobs) didn't like or trust each other? Anybody who didn't know already that Franklin was a terrible fit with Tuberville's underperforming good ol' boy offensive assistants? Anybody who didn't figure that Franklin himself wasn't terribly happy with the way things worked out last season?

In related news, water is wet, and nighttime is dark.

This "story" is the journalistic equivalent of a Chinese food lunch: after finishing it, you wonder whether you actually read anything at all. A pretty pathetic effort all around; Josh Moon is capable of doing good work, but this one is not a feather in his cap.