Barfield Redux?

By Posted on: October 22nd, 2012 in Football 19 Comments »

I started writing this after the Arkansas game, with a plan to finalize it after a week or two would either confirm or evaporate my fears and suspicions–and confirmed they are.

Auburn Coach Doug Barfield was 29-25-1 between 1976 – 1980

First off, I know that myself and others in the Auburn blogosphere often use the phrase “the Barfield era” with a heapin’ helpin’ of disdain and revulsion.  I do not really know much about Coach Barfield, other than he was the guy in charge during my Auburn football coming-of-awareness.  So, I have to make it very clear that I am not passing any judgment on his coaching skills, character, or anything else.  However, I am intimately familiar with what it felt like to be an Auburn fan during the mid-to-late Seventies.  Consequently, I use “the Barfield era” as a handy tag to encapsulate that feeling.

Also, as you have probably noticed, I am not a football expert, and I hope I never appear to claim that I am.  I just love sports, college football, and ALL of Auburn, no matter how well our men in blue are playing in any particular year.

Now that all of that is out of the way: folks, lets be honest—we stink this year.  It’s true; there’s no denying it and no room whatsoever to put a positive spin on the 2012 Auburn Tigers football season.  This doesn’t detract one iota from my standing behind our team.  What I fear, dread, and loathe is that this should become a trend—nay, a status quo—for some time to come.

Since I am not a football expert, I do not know if I’ll ever figure out on my own why the greatest team in the world two SHORT years ago is now, at least as far as the offense goes, the complete and total unmitigated train wreck that we have been seeing on the field each Saturday.  Obviously, Cam isn’t here, but that alone doesn’t explain, to my own satisfaction, the totality of our precipitous plummet.  If, as Coach Chizik says, Auburn was great before any of them got there and will be great after all of them leave, I sure cannot fathom why the AU offense has looked like Cumberland College for the few years pre- and post-Cam.

And it is when things are not known nor appear knowable that paranoia and other manifestations of irrationality set in (at least in me).  We have all seen the “Chizik-minus-Cam” analysis going around.  Although the math is correct, I am not convinced that that “statistic” is the sole indicator of what is going wrong.  But do the math, and the numbers themselves come out “Chizik-minus-Cam-equals-Barfield.”

I remember how things seemed to me as a young boy in the Barfield era:  Auburn was not to be a national player in the college football world, probably not even known by anyone outside the Florida/Georgia/Alabama area in which I lived and moved (I lived in Jacksonville, Florida, with grandparents in Mobile and West Georgia).  All I could hope for was a stray win against the Gators and/or Georgia, with not too many losses against other teams.  Bama, of course, seemed an unapproachable and unstoppable force, an annual Kobayashi Maru scenario with a predetermined ending.

I am just so fearful that tanking the coaches after this season will be such a disruption to our program’s recruiting and our offensive and defensive systems that it won’t recover until a few more unsuccessful coaches’ tenures down the line.  Alternatively, if the “math problem” above provides an accurate calculation, keeping what is here now won’t seem to change the way things are either.

Basically, I am not ready to become the Chicago Cubs of college football—you know, the lovable losers with a fiercely loyal fan base whose fiercest rallying cry is “Wait till next year!”  I am not prepared to become as irrelevant to the national college football scene as the UTEP Miners or to the SEC as Vanderbilt.  I am not content to be “the little engine that could,” merely lying in wait to play spoiler to the BCS-bowl hopes of one of the “first division” teams in our conference.

I realize my reflections above represent a “doomsday scenario” for our beloved Auburn program, and I have no quantified probability for it becoming reality.  I do not think it is LIKELY to happen, but it sure is within the realm of possibility.  Furthermore, my own little Saturday football-watching self sure doesn’t know how to keep it from happening.

However, I think that the entire coterie of folks, whoever they may be, who have the ability to forestall this development should recognize that this is, in fact, a path down which our program could traipse, and should be applying every ounce of their perspicacity and perspiration to PREVENT this scenario from happening.

The Powers That Be (which thankfully no longer include a certain banking mogul with an over-assessment of his own worth) must set a standard of NEVER, NEVER, NEVER accepting mediocrity nor resting on whatever laurels have previously been earned.  But by the same token, wins over rivals, conference and national championships, and all other accolades should not be the sole criteria of evaluation.  The standard should be EXCELLENCE.  The standard should be hard work.  The standard should be a devotion to what makes Auburn Auburn, which IS excellence and hard work (at least that’s how I read the Creed).

We do this, and this year will be a strange bump, rather a dip, in the road.  I leave it to the experts and “experts” (in the comboxes) to figure out how.  When someone does find an answer, please let me know, so I can put the paranoia back into its cage for another time.

Michael Val
(who cannot, cannot, CANNOT go back to the mid-Seventies after standing on the mountain!) 

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  1. Todd92 Todd92 says:

    Good article, don’t agree with all of it but I understand the sentiment. One of the biggest things that I remember about the Barfield era is the fragmenting of the AU fanbase, Boosters, and alumni, that had started at the end of Shug’s tenure, began to reach ridiculous levels and resulted in Lowder seizing control of the BOT. We are still dealing with the repercussions of this era today and until the last of Lowder’s people are out of the building we still will be.

  2. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    I like the statement, “And it is when things are not known nor appear knowable that paranoia and other manifestations of irrationality set in (at least in me).”

    I think many are feeling this paranoia but I would like to offer an honest opinion that such “mountain top winning” comes with a price… I would love to know from all of our readers what their view of a successful program is. I mean what should we expect… How many wins should we expect each year? Graduation rates? BCS/SEC title frequency? Split winnings with bama, lsu and uga?

    • wde1988 wde1988 says:

      I like this so I will take a shot:

      To me, a successful program means -

      Being competitive in recruiting and garnering a top ten performance 6-8 times every decade. The rest of the finishes would have to be in the top 20.

      It means being “competitve” to win a SEC Divisional Championship every year and competeing and winning a SEC championship between 2-3 times a decade.

      It means having a winning record every year.

      It means going to a bowl game every year.

      It means being a leader in the SEC on graduation rates.

      On the winning versus our main rivals… I don’t want to sound ridiculous… but I could live with maintaining at least a .better than 500 average with each school during the tenure of the coach. But I think if you do the job in recruiting and coaching, this will take care of itself.

      How is that?

      WDE

      • uglyjoe says:

        I agree, bu I think for an established coach (a pat dye, a vince dooley type), every now and then they get to have a bad year without penalty.

        • Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

          Yeah, thanks for the input. If we want to have a “successful” program, I think it’s important to define what “successful” is. My next curiosity is at what price will that kind of success cost… IE will we be pressured internally or externally to dip our colors to make it happen? cover ups? back door negotiations? Shady recruiting practices? It just seems that football is the dirtiest of all the sports probably because of the $$$ at stake and the amount of payroll it provides for other programs. And better yet does an individual still exist with the character to make “success” happen the right way; the way Auburn would expect. Because, we may have had that coach in TT.

          • uglyjoe says:

            I think this is an interesting conversation, but I think you need to be more precise in your definition of terms. Is success just performance based? Some people may include things that could be less than desireable to others as success (questionable recruiting tactics, for instance, if they result in the best recruits). Terms like “cost” and “price” are incredibly subjective…..I’ll bet there are more than a few folks at Arkansas that would accept the “cost” to which their reputation would be subjected if Petrino was retained, if they continued to win. While I heard alot of good things about TT, I heard some questionable things as well…..who knows what was true?

            I’m not trying to beat you down…I do think it’s a good conversation. But, for instance, I thought Joe Paterno was a model of the perfect coach about a year ago. Look where we are now. I really liked Bobby Bowden, but he couldn’t see his own shortcomings in staying too long, and maybe didn’t show quite as much class as I would like to see after he left. I think Tom Osborne is a pretty good example of successful…..for that matter, I thought Bill Curry was a pretty good coach.

            Good debate to have….

          • uglyjoe says:

            And just to muddy the water, I’d put my high school cross country coach up against any of them. I probably have been more favorably influenced by him than any other person in my life with the exception of my father. He coached us to be state runner up, probably got a $500 stipend from the school (in 1982). Success, cost, price.

          • wde1988 wde1988 says:

            As much as I know it gripes people – have to say bama did it right. They got out their check book… and I think if we want quality talent and experience… it’s going to cost us.

            I think whoever decides can be prudent. Because what ever we pay is going to come back to us as fans. Heck, with what we got now our ticket prices have gone up. But that also happens when the school is investing in the infrastructure for the program.

            I don’t think we can be an economical shopper this time without having a long term effect on our program and the stigma that comes with it.

            Whomever we hire needs to be fitted for success.

            WDE

      • challenger10 says:

        WDE1988

        I would be happy with your definition of a successful program. It goes without saying winning a conference championship three times a decade should result in an opportunity to compete for a national championship at least twice a decade.

        I believe your definition of a successful program could and should apply to all sports not just football.

        As for the Barfield era I was at Auburn for Shug’s last two years and the start of the Barfield era and it was bad.

    • mikeautiger says:

      I like the statement “And it is when things are not known nor appear knowable that paranoia and other manifestations of irrationality set in (at least in me).”

      Some times there are things that we as fans do not know and we have questions about things that are happening that do not make sense. I.e. Lutzy being hurt all year, that may be the reason we have not used the tight end as much as we were told we were going to do this year, as we saw him do the 1st game.

      I like the standards WDE stated for success. I want to add success is also working hard, playing hard so that the other teams know they are in for a scrap. Leaving it on the field, earning the respect of the other team so that they say they don’t want any more. We leave it on the field so even when we come up short we can say we gave it our all and can walk off the field with our head held high knowing we competed and earned respect for our program.

      An example of this was when we played a great GA team in Dye’s 1st year, the team lost on the final play of the game and when the team walked to the bench and off the field the cored chanted for the 1st time I remember, “It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger.”

      Barfield years were inept. Dye restored the program. And at the end of Dye’s years he had 2 bad years with young players, he retired under fire, but the next year the team went undefeated. I think this can happen again next year if given the chance under Chizik.

      The Auburn Creed should always be a standard of success for our Auburn programs.

      War Eagle!

      • GreenvilleAUfan GreenvilleAUfan says:

        Well put Mike

      • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

        …..That first Dye year we lost to UGA 24-13 in Athens, with Herschel running over us. You’re probably remembering the Mississippi State game, where we fumbled late, and they drove down and beat us 21-17.

        …..Barfield’s first year was pretty awful except for beating Tennessee in Birmingham, and Ole Miss the next week. The second year was pretty moribund, too, but we were winning SEC games close, except for getting squashed by Mississippi State 27-13. Auburn seemingly turned a corner in Athens, as Fast Freddie Smith had something like 50 tackles (exaggeration, of course) and was all over the field as Auburn dumped Georgia 33-14. Auburn went into the Iron Bowl at 5-5, but 4-1 in the SEC. We were fired up! Beat bama, and we’d share an SEC title! Of course, it was the Barfield era, and we lost 48-21.

        …..1978 was the year we were all dressed up with nowhere to go, 6-4-1 and snubbed by the bowls. 1979 was Probation time, and we lost early in Knoxville, and had an inexplicable meltdown in the 2nd half against Wake Forest and Jay Venuto, blowing a 38-21 halftime lead and losing 42-38. Barfield entered the Iron Bowl at 8-2, and Auburn played Bama down to the wire, taking a late 18-17 lead. Bama drove the length of the field for a last-minute touchdown and two pointer, and won one of the best Iron Bowls I’ve ever seen, 25-18. Then the wheels came off in 1980, and Auburn went 0-6 in the SEC in the 2nd year of Probation.

    • theoldguard says:

      This is the amazing thing about bama. I am sure they are paying a price, but really I don’t think it is the price you are alluding to. They really appear to be doing things the right way- top to bottom. On the field, off the field, in the classroom, in the community, they don’t appear to have sacrificed any noble pursuit at all costs or even a cost most are unwilling to pay.

      Regardless of whether its bama, tOSU, or some PAC-whatever that should be the standard.

  3. wde1988 wde1988 says:

    About the article: I am with you Mike! I think you are on target. I personally hated those years. It made growing up in Alabama very, very difficult.

    Great story!

    WDE

  4. KoolBell KoolBell says:

    Very good read, and some great subjects to debate thrown in by y’all.

    Success is relative to which school and conference, what your traditions are, and so forth. I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect a competitive group on the football field each year. We don’t have to win it all, all the time, but it shouldn’t take another decade to be in the running for the MNC late into the season either.

    The playoff system that is being instituted next season, is a goal that should be achievable 3 or 4 times in a decade for our program. Our program should be squeaky clean, and be kept well away from NCAA problems. Having higher graduation rates have to be a priority of the school, and the student as well.

  5. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    Thanks for the article Michael. I also grew up during the 70′s. I am also old enough to remember Auburn’s outstanding teams of the late 60′s. Doug Barfield was a good man and a good coach who was cast into a no win situation for any coach. Probation, no local media support, and worst of all BOT members who didn’t have the best interest of Auburn in their hearts…..period.

    Excluding media support, this time we have no excuse. Since Dye resigned, our coaching choices have been failures or mediocre at best.

    Bowden – My Wiemeraner could have coached those players to a better record AND navigated his way through probation. I won’t even go into his lack of self control.

    Tuberville – Mediocre coach that won because Alabama was on probation. He had the chance to seize control of the state of Alabama and by extension the SEC, for decades. But what did he do? He made poor OC hires and pursued waterfowl.

    Chizik – Nice guy with no real head coaching experience = bad choice for an SEC head coach, ESPECIALLY in the state of Alabama.

    So where do we go from here? There are several outstanding coaching candidates out there but history tells me that the powers that be will “fowl” it up again.

  6. AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

    Good read Michael,

    In all my years attending games on The Plains, my experience in the stands during Barfield’s last year was the most unpleasant. The fans around me were very vocally upset at every game as the Tigers failed to win a single SEC game. Prior to that year, he did Ok , finishing third in the conference 3 out of four years with his best year being 8-3 in ’79.

    I hated it for him because I believe he was a good man just like I believe Coach Chizik is a good man. I am conflicted over the Chizik situation. Part of me wants to say 2010 earns him another year (minus Loeffler) and then part of me says that other Auburn coaches were cut loose after disastrous years, so why not make a change here? I don’t know which is the right course. I don’t have the answer to that either – its far above my pay grade.

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      My opinion is that he needs to go. He has failed to assemble a competent staff on both sides of the ball from day one. Without Cam Newton Chizik (and all indications are that Chizik did not even want him) what would his conference record be? I like the guy but he would be better off as an announcer rather than a coach.

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