Where Smart Picks Go to Die
Another week, another embarrassing loss. So it is for the Auburn faithful these days. I’m not even going to waste your time using this space to recap this year’s installment of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. It’s futile to try and point out anything about the on-field product that hasn’t already been said. Aside from five or six players, Auburn’s team has totally and disgustingly quit. The blame, however, does not rest with the players.
It has become painfully obvious that Auburn is a ship without a captain (or perhaps more accurately – a canoe without a bottom). Bits and pieces of the story are now falling into place, and we are finding evidence to back up long held theories of major dissonance within the Auburn coaching staff. Brian VanGorder’s postgame comments about his inability to win with the type of players he currently has implied not so subtle feelings about philosophical disagreements between himself and Chizik. Rumors earlier in the season of VanGorder forcefully removing a Chizik-planted “spy” in defensive meetings now seem more plausible based on recent comments and the coaches’ tone. Losing amplifies all problems, to be sure, but Chizik’s continued inability to allow his employees to do their jobs will turn out to be his undoing.
The vacuum of leadership at Auburn climbs much higher, however. It is now all but inevitable that Auburn will be in the market for at least a new head coach this year. Auburn fans should be very worried about the (lack of) direction this search is taking. As of now, multiple factions exist among Auburn supporters, all the way up to the highest levels among the board of trustees, prominent boosters, and university leadership. Each of these factions have “their man”, whether it be Gus Malzahn, Bobby Petrino, Jimbo Fisher, Jeff Fisher, or the Easter Bunny. Little to no consensus has been built to this point among these groups, and it is clear that no one is willing to step up and lead the charge.
Jay Jacobs was the point man in the search four years ago that brought Chizik to the plains, and understandably he is unlikely to reprise that role this time around, even if he keeps his job (which is now seemingly more likely than a few weeks ago). Jay Gogue is not a forceful university president, instead consistently taking a careful and methodical approach to decision making. This approach is good in certain situations, but it is not what Auburn needs right now.
This all brings us to one of the most polarizing lightning rods in Auburn sports – Bobby Lowder. Many fans shudder to bring up his name after the travesty of Jetgate, but in times of crisis past he was the man capable of bringing all of these factions together. Bobby Lowder is nowhere to be found this time around, having myriad personal financial issues to deal with and likely still quite bitter about his (Tubervillian forced) exit from the board of trustees. Bobby Lowder was a key cog in manipulating the Auburn good ‘old boy network to get results that were actually in the best interest of Auburn (most of the time).
With Lowder out of the picture, Auburn really only has one choice if it wishes to remain competitive – ditch the good ‘old boy mentality and start running the athletic department like a business. For this to happen, Auburn athletics must be gutted from the top down – Jay Jacobs, Tim Jackson, Gene Chizik – all of them must go. Leadership with business sense (and preferably no previous Auburn ties) must be brought in to change the culture. I fear that if this does not happen Auburn fans may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg that this Auburn Titanic is about to impact.
It will be very interesting to see who takes charge over the next several weeks. With the right leadership, Auburn is not far from contending again (yes, even next year). And with the wrong leadership? Well, let’s just say that we might be seeing more of this: