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.