The middle of May typically marks the beginning of the dog days of Auburn Athletics – there’s just not a whole lot of news coming out of the Plains – or anywhere else for that matter. Football coaches begin preparing to take what little vacation they have each year and writers scramble to find good material.
Luckily, there are some good stories taking place beyond football that we are not typically accustomed to enjoying this time of year. It starts with baseball and even spills over into basketball.
I spent Sunday afternoon at Plainsman Park watching the hottest baseball team in the SEC. I know I’ve been saying it a lot these past few months, but Auburn Baseball is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Sunday was no different. In front of a crowd of nearly 2,800, Auburn took care of business again, grabbing a 9-2 win over Tennessee.
It marked the fourth straight conference series win for John Pawlowski’s bunch. Taking two of three from the Vols coupled with South Carolina’s weekend sweep of Arkansas in Fayetteville leaves Auburn sitting one game ahead of the Razorbacks in the SEC West. The Tigers now stand 35-17 overall and 17-10 in SEC play.
Meanwhile in Tuscaloosa, Alabama held off Ole Miss 6-3, pushing the Rebels a game back of Auburn after losing the weekend series to the Tide. The Rebels sit 16-11 in conference play heading into the final weekend. It’s fitting that the West will be decided head-to-head next weekend when Auburn travels to Oxford.
“You look at it and this team has gone through a lot,” Pawlowski said. “We’re just trying to find a way into the SEC Tournament. We’ve played well over an extended period of time and won some series. Now we have a chance to win the West and play for a championship. That’s what it’s all about.”
Perception is a funny thing. Even the most astute person can fall victim to it. Many of us did just that during the reign of Jeff Lebo. His lack of success on the recruiting trail had many of us believing it had more do with circumstances than his ability to recruit. It was easy to blame the NCAA sanctions of many years back and the labeling of AAU coach Mark Komara as an Auburn booster for the reasons Lebo couldn’t recruit in-state. You hear it enough and you start believing it.
Enter new coach Tony Barbee and just like that he’s signed arguably the top two players in Alabama within two months of his arrival. The signing of Huntsville natives Luke Cothron (who last season played prep ball in North Carolina) and Josh Langford signal a departure from past recruiting classes.
Like Gene Chizik in football, Barbee has decreed that every player in the country is on the table and attainable. Sure it’s a lofty assertion, but it’s hard to argue with the early success. It all comes back to perception. It’s not only how others see you, but more importantly how you see yourself.
“The expectations that I’m going to have for myself and this program are going to be higher than anybody can put on me,” Barbee said recently. “I look at the schedule every year and say, ‘‘I don’t see a game on that schedule that we’re not winning.” I’m the eternal optimist.”
Kudos to Barbee for getting it.
Count me among those who’ve been skeptical of the coach in waiting position in college football. When you look at its short history in coaching circles, you see a position that’s been riddled with controversy. Outside of Joker Phillips at Kentucky, there’s rarely been a smooth transition to the top job.
Jimbo Fisher takes over at Florida State this year with a divided fan base – hardly the ideal situation for following a legend. Many Seminole fans are still outraged over the school’s decision to deny Bobby Bowden a final season in 2010. Many believed he was owed it. Finances and competition on the field said otherwise. Either way, the big loser is Fisher.
Now comes news out of Austin that Will Muschamp’s coach in waiting gig at Texas may not be all it’s cracked up to be. After spurning offers from Auburn, Tennessee and others in recent years, it now looks like Muschamp may be in his vice president role for a while.
According to published reports this past week, Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds is said to be reconsidering his plan to retire in 2011. Why does that matter? Well, as part of a plan put in place a few years back, Dodds was to step down next year and current Longhorn coach Mack Brown was set to step in as athletic director, with Muschamp finally getting the head coaching position.
Reneging on his pledge could leave Muschamp looking like a fool. Making approximately $1 million annually as defensive coordinator/coach in waiting is well south of the more than $3 million annually that Auburn and Tennessee supposedly offered for his services.
Loyalty is not what it used to be both in business and athletics. Right now, Muschamp is saying all the right things, telling The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’sTony Barnhart last week that, ”I’m very happy at Texas. I think I have the best job in college football.”
Whether he still believes that is anyone’s guess. Then again, things could be setting up perfectly for Muschamp to make a return to Athens should Mark Richt have another sub-par season. This saga will be fun to watch.