Thursday, December 18, 2008

dead horse, line 1

I'm probably the last person in the blogosphere to comment fully on Auburn's hire of Gene Chizik. But still, if you'll allow me a few thoughts that have been swirling about, I'll thank you.

-- The prevailing thought among most folks who follow football in this state is this: Bobby Lowder, along with Pat Dye and his booster cronies, made a power play to circumvent Jay Jacobs and the AU administration to bring in a guy they could control. It's fun to think about, but it's probably not true.
For one thing, Lowder isn't nearly as powerful anymore as people think: not only is he extraordinarily old, but he lost a good bit of his power after the famed 2004 Jet excursion (I absolutely will not refer to it as "JetGate"). People still think of him as the monster of the Auburn trustees, but he really is not.
The version of the story I've seen that's more likely is this: what powerful trustees there are on the board (including Lowder) had started burning up the phones late last week in an attempt to bring Will Muschamp back into the picture. But Muschamp didn't want to come back to work for Jacobs, which meant they were likely going to have to fire the AD to get the guy that would excite the fan base. And so Jacobs -- with the support of the president and probably Dye (who's also old and in failing health and has no business doing anything besides making public appearances) -- panicked a little and brought in a guy who had impressed them during his interview (it helped that Jimmy Sexton, who represents Saban, Tuberville, Fulmer, Houston Nutt and most of the rest of the SEC, was pulling the strings for Chizik).
If that sounds like dysfunction, well, that's because it is. But that seems like how it went down.

-- As for Chizik, it's hard to blame him for taking a job most in the coaching profession would jump at. And that two-year record at Iowa St. (5-19) wouldn't concern me a great deal, were I an Auburn fan.
What is cause for concern is this: at nearly every well-coached football program, there's a significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 -- Saban at 'Bama, Meyer at Florida, Richt at UGA, Tuberville at AU, etc, etc, etc. But Chizik's ISU team actually regressed in Year 2 in every significant statistical category, particularly on defense, which is supposed to be this cat's specialty. Further, of the best teams in the Big XII -- Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma St. and Missouri -- ISU played only two of them in '08 (OSU and Mizzou) and surrendered 50 points both times.
That's ... um, hard to spin.

-- I had the same question most people had when I heard the story of how Chizik came to Auburn the other day: if AU was going to make a panic hire, why not Turner Gill, someone who could energize the fan base, generate some positive press (because of his race and temperament) and possibly boost recruiting (though, as we learned with Sly Croom, recruits aren't just going to flock to a place with a black coach because he's a black coach).
Naturally, Charles Barkley was there to point out the festering racial issue. He has a point, but only in this respect: Gill's interracial marriage probably wouldn't have played particularly well in the Deep South. I love the state of Alabama and grew up in Opelika, and I do believe folks have come a long, long way in terms of race relations in a relatively short time period.
But you can't tell me the first time coach Gill and his family went to eat at Saugahatchee that it wouldn't have been an uncomfortable moment. Hey, maybe it's got nothing to do with anything. But it probably didn't help.

-- Naturally, after the outpouring of vitriol from around the Auburn fan base and the media at large, there's been a wave of opinion the other way, mostly from former players and coaches talking about how much they admire Chizik and how great he'll do there.
Here's the problem with taking the word of former players and coaches: they never criticize anyone, except "the national media." People like Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Lou Holtz and the rest of their group -- ESPN almost exclusively employs these guys as TV personalities -- are almost never willing to go after anyone in their coaching fraternity for any reason. Anyone who dares to do so is just being negative, and can't possibly understand anything about football because they've never played/coached.
And that, in a nutshell, describes why you can't ever get objective analysis from people within the fraternity, because they're almost invariably going to forsake objective analysis for the sake of personal analysis. It happened at Alabama with Mike Shula -- national analysts relentlessly made excuses for him from the time he showed up on campus until he left -- and it's happening now with Chizik.
Auburn made a lousy hire. Auburn ousted a coach with 10 years experience and a track record of success, then replaced him with someone who is appreciably worse in every respect. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong. Sorry, but that's just the way it is.

Back with some bowl-game lines later.


bart-at-camp said...

"People still think of him (Lowder) as the monster of the Auburn trustees, but he really is not."

One question: when did Bobby Lowder buy you?!

--:: Eric St. Clair::-- said...

good stuff here.

And I also detest the usage of adding the word that describes the movable barrier in a fence or wall to the end of every scandal.

Sometimes your objectivity is enviable.

-D. said...

I too appreciate your refusal to call "the 2004 Jet excursion" by that name. I loathe the practice of calling every scandal a "-gate." It's stupid! The word "gate" is not a suffix; Watergate was a building. It's almost as stupid as calling people "_____oholics." To paraphrase Homer Simpson, I guess those people can't live without workohol, shopohol or rageohol.

That is all.