Monday, November 26, 2012

New at Rivals: Time Loves A Hero

Here's my last Monday-morning column for the 2012 season, just posted at Rivals' Long-time FTB readers will recognize the opening theme; I really didn't figure on returning to it this soon, but it still applies. Here's a preview, the rest is on the subscription side this week.
Coaching is a very odd profession that, like politics or entertainment, tends to attract personalities who tend to do things that are inexplicable to, well, normal people.

Success is rewarded with big money and, more insidiously, adulation wildly out of proportion to the actual importance of a coach's place in the real world. Only a few can handle it. Many can't. Gene Chizik wasn't the first coach to decide, wrongly, that his own brilliance was the primary reason for his early success only to wind up alienating both the people who helped get him there and fans who briefly (and foolishly) viewed him as infallible.

He also won't be the last, although many would do well to learn from his example.

His last game was pretty much what everyone expected. Auburn played reasonably tough, if not particularly well, for about a quarter and a half before reverting to 2012 form. The rest was what tends to happen when really bad teams play really good teams.

Monday, November 19, 2012

New at Rivals: A Win Is Good, But Cronyism Isn't

My Monday-morning column for the Alabama A&M game (at least partly; most of the column looks at Auburn's near-future personnel decisions) is up at Rivals' This one is also on the free side, and you can read the whole thing here. A preview:
The number of people associated with Auburn who still support [athletic director Jay] Jacobs is vanishingly small, and those who support Gene Chizik smaller still. If anyone actually supports Tim Jackson, those individuals are doing a remarkable job of hiding from public view. All you need to do to get a rise out of pretty much any Auburn season ticket holder or donor is to mention Jackson's name in passing.

Chizik's support at this point consists of Jacobs and Jackson, but hardly anyone else. The mere suggestion that he might return in 2013 at this point is enough to generate genuine rage among Auburn fans of all ages and backgrounds. I don't even care to think about the real-world reaction (forget what the internet would look like) if Chizik were inexplicably retained for more than a few days beyond this coming weekend.

Support for Jacobs comes mostly from his former teammates and other personal friends. Fortunately for Jacobs, those friends have the ear of Jay Gogue, and their influence far outweighs their numbers. While it's hard to fault anybody for sticking up for a friend, Jacobs' defenders ought to be asking themselves some tough questions as they consider whether or not they're doing the right thing in backing his continued tenure.

Monday, November 12, 2012

New at Rivals: Dismal and Dysfunctional

My column on the Georgia game and what Auburn ought to be doing to rectify the current sorry situation is up at Rivals' This one is on the free side, you can read the whole thing here. A preview:
It's not worth arguing any longer if Gene Chizik's tenure will end this year. No Auburn coach could -- or should -- survive going winless in the SEC, mostly by blowouts, young players or not, change in coordinators or not.

To put it bluntly, Chizik has been forgotten but not gone for over a month now. The last two epic SEC debacles only served to display just what a terrible job he's done during the past two years.

But Auburn will fail badly if head coach is the only position that gets a new occupant. Plenty has to change off the field before anything substantial is going to change on it.

Auburn is suffering from a failure of leadership at every level. President Jay Gogue continues to dither, offering only an anodyne press release and acting as if he'd rather just muddle through until his own retirement with as little actual effort as possible. Gogue's well-known dislike for firing subordinates and unwillingness to make difficult decisions is harming both the athletic department and the university as a whole.

Gogue and his predecessors failed to reform the athletic department when they had the opportunity. Too many people in power at Auburn still wish the department could be what it was in the 1970's: A sleepy office that prints tickets, books travel and provides cushy sinecures for old buddies and former teammates.

A prime example is Jay Jacobs, who never had any business being athletic director.
Last week's column on the Homecoming game (sorry for not posting an update, but I was on business travel all last week) can be found here, on the pay side. Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Monday, October 29, 2012

New (and Not-So-New) At Rivals: The Walking Dead

My post-game column for the Texas A&M game is up at Rivals'  I neglected to post a notice here for the previous week's column about the Vanderbilt game... but let's face it, they really aren't all that different at this point.

Anyway, here's a preview of the A&M column:

I didn't think I'd ever say this again after surviving the 1970's, but this is probably the worst Auburn team I've ever seen. They can't tackle. They can't block. They can't cover. They can't line up properly, and they don't follow their assignments. Of the three quarterbacks, the only one who's shown any fire or consistency is Jonathan Wallace, an unheralded true freshman, and he only did so against Texas A&M's backups.

This is a team that has a knack for penalties and turnovers at the worst possible moments. There is no fire on this team, very little toughness, and to cap it all off, its coaches are seemingly determined to put the players in bad situations as often as possible. The one and only bright spot is the kicking game, which is, a few shanked punts excepted, as good as anybody's.

Remember when we used to solemnly note that Vanderbilt always has a great kicking game?
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Monday, October 15, 2012

New at Rivals: Column for Ole Miss

My postgame column for this season's most recent disaster, at Ole Miss, is up at Rivals' A preview:

Everything that hasn't worked for weeks popped right back up: short-side sweeps, predictable formations, poor pass protection, "Wildcat" runs from Jonathan Wallace at inexplicable times (here's a hint, Scot: everybody knows what you're doing there), and of course, no Jay Prosch leading the way for Tre Mason. Both backs virtually disappeared from the field in the second half, after running roughshod over the Rebels in the first.

The defense hardly did any better, giving up over 450 yards and 34 points to Ole Miss.

Let me simply repeat that: Auburn's defense gave up over 450 yards and 34 points to Ole Miss, a team that hadn't won an SEC game in over two years. It was a pitiful display.

After slumping to a 1-5 start and a six-game SEC losing streak, there's no point in pretending that the job security of the current coaching staff isn't in question. While nobody expects Gene Chizik to up and quit this Thursday (or to fire Loeffler tomorrow), this season is resembling the shambling disasters of 1998 and 2008 more and more every week.

For those still arguing that a coach two years removed from winning the BCS can't be in danger of losing his job, I'll remind you that a similar lopsided loss in Oxford in 1992 marked the beginning of the end for Pat Dye. Dye was a living legend by then, with four SEC championships and over a decade's tenure.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Monday, October 08, 2012

New at Rivals: TURRIBLE

My Monday morning column for the disaster against Arkansas is up at Rivals'  A preview:

Workaday adjectives like "bad" or "awful" or even "terrible" aren't sufficient today. It's time to call on the Living Legend From Leeds and pronounce this result nothing short of TURRIBLE.

How TURRIBLE was Saturday? This TURRIBLE:

- The offensive line was demolished, owned, dominated by the 120th-ranked defense in the country. Both quarterbacks had bad interceptions and Kiehl Frazier once again held on to the ball for too long, but the sad fact is that neither QB had a chance most of the game. Auburn just didn't block anybody when it mattered, and rarely blocked anybody even when it didn't. At least we know now the answer to what happens when a movable object (Arkansas' pre-Auburn defense) is met by a resistible force (Auburn's 2012 offense).


This was a debacle. This was a disgrace.

This was TURRIBLE.

And with six more teams on the schedule whose defenses are ranked higher than #120, I see no reason to believe things are going to get any better.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Monday, September 24, 2012

New at Rivals: Auburn-LSU Column

My Monday-morning column for the near-miss against LSU is up at Rivals'  A preview:
If you wanted improvement from Auburn, you got it Saturday night, at least on defense. This was certainly the strongest defensive performance of the year, and the best Auburn has played on that side of the ball since last year's Florida game.
Holding LSU to 10 points on offense really should have been more than good enough to land what would have been a monumental upset and a fine benchmark to build on.  
Unfortunately, the previously-immaculate kicking game gave up a critical turnover, and the offense couldn't hold up its end of the bargain. Auburn gave up essentially two drives, LSU's opening touchdown and their next drive that ended with a fumble near the goal line (and provided the two-point margin of victory one botched Auburn play later). After that, the Bengals were held to eight punts and two field goal attempts for the rest of the game, one of those aided by the aforementioned fumble.
The rest is on the subscription side, but is offering a free first months' subscription to anybody coming over from FTB.

Monday, September 17, 2012

New at Rivals: Column for Louisiana-Monroe

My Monday-morning column for the Louisiana-Monroe game is up at Rivals' A preview:
In an old episode of "The Simpsons," Homer accompanies convenience-store owner Apu on a pilgrimage to the original location and home office of the Quikee-Mart Corporation. When Homer observes that the store, situated on top of a remote mountain in India, is not actually all that convenient, an exasperated Apu retorts, "Must you dump on everything we do?"

That's a little what it feels like today when you have to write about Auburn's 31-28 overtime win over Louisiana Monroe. Considering the Tigers came in 0-2 with nowhere to go but up, and actually looked like a functioning SEC team for several stretches on Saturday, the notion of "a win is a win" is tempting to embrace.

And if Auburn had finished out the way it played most of the first three quarters, there would be more reason for optimism going forward. As it is, almost everybody left the stadium thinking, "this team is fortunate not to be 0-3."
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Monday, September 10, 2012

New at Rivals: Postgame for Mississippi State

My Monday-morning column for the Mississippi State game is up at Rivals' A preview:
Almost nothing went right on offense. Auburn's statistics are grossly padded by the last, failed drive in garbage time. The few times the running game got going, State just piled more guys up front to stop it, and Auburn had no way to take advantage. The passing game went nowhere meaningful at any point. 

Put bluntly, Kiehl Frazier looks tentative, and he looks scared, and to be fair to the kid, there are good reasons for both, as he's not getting much help from anybody. Not from a line that can't pass protect, not from receivers who can't get open or block, not from a coordinator who's in the booth apparently calling plays for a team that's not on the field. But even so, Frazier was nothing short of dreadful Saturday, tallying all of Auburn's five turnovers on his own.


To no one's surprise, after such a debacle, talk almost immediately turned to the future duration of Gene Chizik's tenure at Auburn. Talk of spoiled fans or unrealistic expectations all you want, but nobody should be surprised by that reaction. As noted here a week ago, the AU football team is beset with a number of problems, many of them not of Chizik's making... but not so many that his squad had any business getting destroyed by Mississippi State.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

New At Rivals: Clemson Postgame Column

Here's a preview of my column for on Auburn's opener against Clemson:
Stated bluntly, for the second year in a row Cousin Clem brought more to the fight. Taj Boyd is an outstanding player at quarterback: strong, fast, experienced and accurate. Clemson has a ton of team speed on offense, particularly including Andre Ellington, who's obviously something special at running back. A rebuilt Clemson defense had a lot of bend but very little break, holding Auburn to field goals on three trips to the red zone and closing with a ferocious shutdown of the new AU offense on its last few possessions.
Defensively, Auburn played respectable football for the first 45 minutes, but ran out of gas in the final period. Clemson converted nearly 50% of their third downs (which while still bad, was from Auburn's perspective an improvement on 2011's 78% conversion rate) and had the horses to put the game away after trailing early in the fourth quarter. The real killer was in the play totals: Clemson snapped the ball a remarkable 87 times to Auburn's 64, in a textbook example of how the hurry-up game can wear out an opponent through sheer repetitive attacks.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Carl Stephens, RIP

Carl Stephens passed away last night.

Carl had been my friend since I was a little boy.  My parents' seats in Jordan-Hare Stadium were near the edge of the press box where Carl, the public address announcer for nearly 30 years, had his post.  In the days before the internet (and for that matter, before ESPN), I would run him score updates from my dad's portable radio.

If you've never been about eight years old and had 72,000 people cheer wildly over a couple of names and numbers you just passed on to a PA man, you really missed out on something.

As Phillip Marshall wrote yesterday, Carl was one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet.  He was always happy to chat in between calling out the game in that magisterial voice.  For most of my life, stopping in to speak with him before or after or during a game was one of the highlights of any trip to Auburn.  He never failed to ask what I'd been up to, or to tell me about how his own children were making their way through grade school and college and life.

It got harder to check in with Carl after I moved over to the student section, and then out to Texas for graduate school, but we still managed to stay in touch.  Email eventually made that much easier; Carl kept up with my work on- and off-line, and went out of his way to encourage me as a writer.  When I stopped in to WSFA (where Carl was the program manager for a large portion of its history) to promote "The Uncivil War" in the mid-90's, he showed me around the station like a proud parent.

Everyone has a favorite Carl Stephens moment.  For many people of a certain age, it's the famous 1983 announcement at Legion Field, in the third quarter of the Auburn-Alabama game, that a tornado had touched down in Jefferson County (as Pat Dye later wrote in his autobiography, "I don't think three people left").  I remember a basketball game against Alabama when I was a student.  After the presentation of the Governor's Trophy for Auburn's 1987 shutout win, Carl noted for the benefit of the crowd, "To remind everyone, the score of that game was... Auburn, 10."

And of course, there was the ridiculous scene after the 1997 Alabama game when a group of players handed the goalposts up to a crowd of students in the end zone.  I was standing next to Carl, watching those kids carry it up to the top of the bowl, and if I live to be a hundred, I'll never forget the look on his face when he picked up the microphone and sternly advised them to not throw it over the side.

After retiring from WSFA and his announcer duties, Carl joined the rest of us in the stands for a few years.  He sat with his old friend David Housel, by then both fans emeritus (what we all would have given to be able to listen in on those in-game conversations).  But eventually, poor health stopped him from attending games altogether.  I don't think I'll ever get over Carl not being able to be there in person two seasons ago.  How he must have loved seeing it anyway, from afar.

There's more to say, and I wish I could say it, but I am overdrawn at the grief bank these days.

Right now, I just miss my friend.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Since many have asked, here's the photo (originally taken by a poster on "The Bunker," an message board) I put up on my Twitter feed yesterday.  Dang thing went viral and got picked up by CBS.  It's not a Photoshop or a vanity tag, just a standard-issue Alabama license plate.  The picture was taken at the Shelby County tag office:

Also see this shot, of one of the tags "in the wild" (and yes, I believe that is a Toyota CAMry--H/T to The Auburner).

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

New at Rivals: Good Win, Fun Night

My Monday (er, Tuesday--hey, sue me) morning column for the It Should Still Be Called The Peach Bowl is up at Rivals' Here's a preview:
Given the fact that Auburn and UVA share the same team colors (thanks to Virginia alum George Petrie having founded the AU football program back in 1892), it was often hard to tell who was Hoo in the crowd, but the scene and the game both wound up being a lot of fun, at least if you were wearing the SEC's correct versions of burnt orange and navy blue.

Whatever you thought about Gus Malzahn's Auburn tenure and/or departure to become a head coach, you'd have to like his last game calling plays for the Tigers. The only thing we didn't see in the Georgia Dome was Malzahn's Ludicrous Speed hurry-up game; pretty much everything else in the playbook came out against Virginia, resulting in more points than the Tigers had tallied against any other opponent (yes, including Ole Miss).

I must confess, Saturday night was the first time I'd seen the Cavaliers play this season, and I've read a bit of "ah, it's just Virginia" commentary since the bowl game, particularly regarding the UVA defense. Maybe so, but that defense was still good enough to finish third in total "D" for their conference (yeah, I know, it's the ACC, but still) and in the top four of most of the ACC's defensive categories.

Their defensive line looked pretty good to me early on, as the "O" in Auburn's O-line appeared more like it stood for "Ole!" than "offensive" (again). Clint Moseley didn't have much of a chance to do anything in his brief start before being injured, and Barrett Trotter spent an awful lot of time having to make something out of nothing in a bravura return to the field after six games on the bench.
The rest is on the subscription side. Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.