Dec 142008

My Alabama fanhood was poured into my ear from an early age.  My grandfather was a friend of Coach Bryant’s.  I was born in 1971, right before he beat USC bloody with the wishbone and proceeded to dominate the decade.

Most of the time I’d hear about the Bear’s emphasis on character and hard work, along with the rah-rah stuff that goes along with any sports fanhood.  Once in a while, though, someone would talk to me about Auburn’s “rightful position” in the state.  Auburn was the cow college downstate, and they sucked hind tit, and this would never change.  I’d get this at a family reunion, or at a restaurant, or even from some guy in a bad coat sitting next to me at the ’80 Iron Bowl.

I toed this line as a tyke, but I’ve not been for “Alabama and whoever’s playing Auburn” since I was a teenager. Though I bleed crimson and white, I pull enthusiastically for Auburn when it’s not contrary to Alabama’s interests to do so, and hell, I’m downright loud about it when they’re out of conference in a bowl game or something.  After all, they’re also ambassadors for my wonderful state, and it’s a lovely town, and well, there are plenty of fine Auburn people, you know?

Yet here, today, in the wake of Auburn hiring Gene Chizik, I’m wondering for the first time in my adult life whether those tongue-clucking old-timers actually knew what they were talking about.

Without abandoning plausibility completely (Simon Cowell?  Carrot Top?  RuPaul?), it’s difficult to imagine a worse hire.  Auburn has shot itself in the foot—oh yes—but it has also dug out the bullet with a rusty butter knife and irrigated the wound in a cesspool.

The Southeastern Conference currently contains four head coaches who have already won national titles.  One of these is Auburn’s bitter cross-state rival.  The Southeastern Conference currently contains at least three ace recruiters.  One of these is Auburn’s bitter cross-state rival.  To these conditions, Auburn has responded thusly:

  • Pay proven winner Tommy Tuberville (85-40 at Auburn; 42-9 from 2004-2007; 7-3 vs. Alabama) more than $5 million to go away, even though he reportedly “resigned” and was therefore owed no buyout.
  • Hire former Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, head coach of Iowa State, where he amassed a 5-19 (.208) record despite playing in the Big 12 North.

This is Auburn’s money-is-no-object, let’s-go-get-our-guy hire.  This is Auburn’s future.

Drink that in.

Don’t tell me there were no star hires available.  This was the time for a massive culture change—the time to hand over the keys and shut down the old way of doing things forever.  I touched on this very thing concerning Alabama’s hire of Nick Saban.  You pile up the money, and you give a guy true control of the football program, and you’ve got your superstar.

Alabama paid dearly and repeatedly while it learned to stop overvaluing connections to Bryant, and stop granting massive influence to questionable characters, and so forth.  Mal Moore shot the moon to get Saban, and succeeded.  He’s thrilled, I’m thrilled, you’re thrilled—but there was a radical power shift in the administration of Alabama football when Saban arrived.  It’s not for nothing that a college football coach makes the cover of Forbes.

I can only guess that Auburn wasn’t willing to change its thinking.  It was redneck, podunk, think small, render unto Lowder Caesar, and come on in here, Coach Chizik, and welcome home, and War Eagle to you, my friend.  The mind games shall commence at the first sign of weakness—I have a private jet, and I’m not afraid to use it—and by the way, here are the board’s criteria for your staff.

If you always do what you’ve always done…and you know the rest.

Alabama football will never have a more sustained down period than the past eight or so years.  Despite a six-year Iron Bowl run, it seems Auburn hasn’t closed the gap much, and it’s definitely too late now.  The restoration of the natural order is complete.  Apparently Auburn is not only resigned to its second fiddle status; in its refusal to grow, it has implicitly embraced it.

Success is such a bitch, you know?  She’ll tell Auburn anything and gosh, Auburn’s such a great friend—pat pat pat—but it’s Alabama for whom she’s dropping her panties and swinging from the chandelier.

It really only ever felt like a fling (even in 2004 or 2006), didn’t it, Tigers?

Phillip Marshall, who covered Auburn sports for The Huntsville Times until this summer, once wrote something about Alabama fans and Auburn fans that has always stuck with me.  He said (paraphrasing; can’t find a link) that no matter how badly things are going, Alabama fans are always absolutely convinced that greatness is just around the corner.  About Auburn fans, he said that no matter how well things are going, they’re always convinced that disaster is imminent.

I think he was onto something.

War Eagle, you defeatist, self-loathing dolts.  Perhaps you’ll get it right in 2012 or 2013.

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 Posted by at 6:26 pm

  23 Responses to “Auburn plays its part”

  1. ‘member that convo we had the other day about how I click away… 🙂

  2. I wish that I had the gift of word-smithing that you do. Good blog.

  3. ‘seester: Oh, now I’m sorry to hear that. Really? Aren’t you bothered that this proud, tradition-steeped football program steps and fetches at the (apparent) whim of a lunatic? The world was Auburn’s oyster. Instead, it retired to its cramped, squalid tenement and opened a can of vienna sausages.

    I want Auburn to be good. Auburn must jettison oldthink for that to happen. As it is, they’re partying on the Plains like it’s 1976.

    Tommy: Thank you much, sir. Good to “see” you.

  4. See, we’ve had that monkey on our backs since (before) I was in grad school down there (1988ish). The one who shall remain nameless wields too much power and is too arrogant to use it for good. Not only does it affect the football program, but it also had something to do with the academic probation period not long ago. Now, THAT’S interfering with something truly important. I chose Auburn grad school for academics, not sports, and that matters to me the most.

    I think we have to wait until his unicorn herd runs out…

  5. Wow, and I felt bad before I read this posting. I really feel shitty now. 🙂 I saw a snippet somewhere from another sportswriter that said Saban will have Chizik for lunch.

  6. I give an Alabama fan’s thoughts on Auburn football about as much weight as I give Al Qaeda’s analysis of George W. Bush presidency. There’s an ingrained irrational bias. The fact that Alabama fans are bleeting about Chizik so loudly speaks volumes.

    Alabama was fortunate and caught the SEC in a down year. Their sole “signature” win came against a UG team that finished 9-3 and #16. LSU finished 7-5, UT finished 5-7, AU finished 5-7. Clemson finished 7-5 and fired their coach. An 8-4 Mississippi is Alabama’s ony other win over an opponent to finish in the top 25. Enjoy the rapidly dying embers of 2008, because 2009, minus JPW, will most likely look like 2007.

  7. Lee: I’m genuinely sorry that Auburn administration hasn’t learned to do this any better. I’m also a little mystified, given the years-long outstanding negative example they’ve had from the boys in Tuscaloosa.

    As I said, good luck next time around.

  8. Chizik would have seemed a bit of a better hire two years ago. I’m thinking that Auburn sees more of that side of him. There are several cases of head coaches who have later had success after a not so good showing at another school. The true sad part of the Auburn situation is that everytime I read anything about who they realy wanted; it was always someone who wouldn’t even give them an interview (Spurrier, Nutt, Muschamp, Fisher, Johnson, Petrino). They seemingly had a C- crop to begin with.

  9. I’m disappointed Bo! I was hoping to get more of a rise out of you. 🙂

    Charles: Thank God they didn’t hire Houston Nutt or Muschamp (who is waaaayyyy over-rated IMO) or Fisher. I’m tired of everybody elses retreads. Petrino would have been good as I still consider him an up and comer. I’ll take Chizik. Kodi Burns will catch his groove next year. If Gene can get the D in order, AU will have a good season.

  10. Charles: Point taken on “two years ago.” Something I don’t want to get lost, however, because it’s central to the absurdity, is that Tuberville was ousted. Chizik wouldn’t be nearly so ridiculous a hire had Tuberville left on his own.

    But for Auburn to create its own need for a head coach and come back with him? Uhh…

    Lee: I wish Auburn the best.

  11. Saw a funny related comment at reddit on a submission titled I’m Guessing My 35-4 Record in EA NCAA 2007 Is Going To Get Me This Job:

    34 fewer wins and you’d be qualified for the Auburn HC position…

  12. I tend to agree with Lee when it comes to rival opinions on a team’s welfare. Problem is, I also find myself in agreement with Bo on this hire. What they hell were they thinking? I guess we all wonder why coaches come and go. Kind of like Bill Curry winning 10 games and getting fired. I am surprised they did not make a play for Spurrier. Maybe LSU will get him in a few years when they fire Les Miles, right Bo? I think he would do much better at somewhere other than USC. Not much football up there.

  13. On rival opinions on a team’s welfare: My support of Auburn (when not contrary to Alabama’s interests) is long and consistent. I would be thrilled to have a good coach there, because 1) Auburn is in, and an ongoing ambassador of, my favorite state; and 2) it’s more fun to win the Iron Bowl when the opposition is worth a damn.

    All of that said, the truth value of “Gene Chizik was a shitty hire” doesn’t change, no matter whose mouth says it. 🙂

    On Curry: No mystery why he was ousted. He was 0-3 vs. Auburn. He was a great coach, and getting rid of him was a mistake. Said it then. Sayin’ it now. That ’89 Tide team was pretty damned good, and the Iron Bowl record would have righted itself. We might still have him today had we been more mature about things, and the unpleasantness we endured from ’00 through ’07 wouldn’t have happened.

    On Miles: Decent coach–certainly a personable and entertaining guy–but LSU feels like they deserve 10 wins every year now, and he’s not good enough to deliver that. So, one of these two things: Narrative A: His ’09 will be similar to ’08–somewhere between 7-6 and 9-4 inclusive. There’ll be some rumblings. In early ’10, he’ll drop one he definitely shouldn’t have, and the rumblings will get loud. He’ll finish the regular season 6-6 or 7-5, and they’ll can him. OR Narrative B: He takes another job at the end of ’09, before his stock falls too far.

    On Spurrier: I think he’ll retire at South Carolina. He’s quite finished with sky-high expectations.

  14. “Support” of a rival team doesn’t make one’s opinion or analysis valid. In-depth knowledge of the subject does. I would wager I’ve watched or listened to 95% of all AU football games since I was 10 years old. I pull for ‘Bama when they’re not playing Auburn, but I rarely watch their games.

  15. Lee: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you’d watched a lot of television. Maybe it really is you, Kirk Herbstreit, Jay Jacobs, and ten million idiots after all. 🙂

  16. Greg: Carefully considered, given my longstanding respect for you. Thank you.

    Lee: I apologize.

    I don’t, however, think it’s useful to get off in the weeds about who’s paid more attention, and what constitutes “support” or “knowledge” or “expertise.” If we’re going there, let’s just drop our trousers and swing our dicks and get it over with. I’m going to assure you that I’m a knowledgeable college football fan, and accept the premise that you are, and hopefully that will be sufficient.

    I was a little snarky in my main post. I intentionally pitched it with a little red meat in it.

    The bottom line is that I think Auburn has severely underachieved with this hire. I think it’s really, really bad. I think there is no legitimate case to be made that this is an upgrade from Tommy Tuberville.

    I would love to be proven wrong. If Coach Chizik gets in there and lights it up, that’d be fantastic for everyone. I will be pulling for him, because I will be pulling for Auburn.

  17. Can’t say as I understand his remark. 13 games X 4 hrs (max) doesn’t quite qualify as “a lot of television” and I certainly have no idea what the “ten million idiots” refers to.

    I guess I could be operating from a bad premise though. How many Auburn games have you watched or listened to over the last 6 years Bo? How much do you *really* know about Gene Chizik? What were his defensive stats at Auburn? Texas? Why was he offered a 2 year extension after finishing 5 – 19 at Iowa St? How well did he recruit in-state during his tenure at AU? What do high school coaches think of him? Former Auburn/Texas players?

    If he’s the wrong man for the position, so fucking what? It’s a game played by 20 year olds. Less scrutiny and hand wringing went into the selection of General Petraeus to command US Forces in Iraq than in this exercise. In 2 years, AU will have a “great opportunity” all over again.

    I’m thinking about giving up college sports as a whole. I just don’t have the tolerance for the extraneous BS anymore. It’s kind of like Usenet.

  18. Lee: Generally, I’ve seen a substantial portion, if not all, of any televised Auburn game for the past 20 years. If they’re on opposite some other game in which I’m interested, I flip between the two. If nothing opposes it, I’ll sit down and watch the entire Auburn game.

    My seven-year-old doesn’t get it at all that I can love Alabama and still be excited about Auburn too.

    Now I can’t swear I’ve followed Auburn on the radio vs. every single East Central North Dakota State A&M, but I did take my pocket receiver to Nathan’s soccer game this fall when it opposed the Auburn-Southern Miss game.

    Odds are absolutely excellent that of the Alabama fans you know, I’m the biggest Auburn fan.

    I knew exactly who Gene Chizik was as soon as the announcement was made.

    And of course it’s a game played by kids, and none of this really matters, though I generally make this point when holding up the absurdity of rivalries in the first place. Speaking of Usenet, put my name and “tremendous pile of nothing” into Google Groups and see what you get.

    Roll Tide. War Eagle. Please don’t be pissed.

  19. LOL!

  20. Gene Chizik sounds like some itchy, inherited disease.

  21. Lee: Mike Shula got a six-year extension at Alabama!

    If that makes him three times the coach that Chizik is, the war e^H^H^H^H^Htig^H^H^Hy’all are in bad shape.

  22. […] listen:  you don’t have your guy.  The sooner you believe that, the better off you’ll be.  Gene Chizik seems like a nice […]

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