‘The Times They Are A Changing’ – Whether NCAA Likes it or Not

By Posted on: April 16th, 2014 in Baseball, Basketball, Featured Article, Football 2 Comments »
NCAA2.0

When news broke Tuesday of the NCAA’s change in the meal policy for student athletes it hardly registered a blip on the sports media radar screen as a big deal. The governing body’s Legislative Council approved a change that will now allow unlimited meals and snacks to all Division I student-athletes, including walk-ons. That’s big news – not for the immediate impact of the change but as a precursor for things to come.

The NCAA always is a reactionary body and the change is a direct result of what has been blowing in the wind the past year. In general, the Ed O’Bannon law suit and the NLRB’s ruling allowing Northwestern athletes the right to form a union; and more specifically in this case, the comments made last week by  this year’s Final Four MVP Shabazz Napier who said that he often had, “hungry nights when I go to bed and I’m starving.”

On the surface, you would think that the NCAA’s action is a no brainer. Most people probably didn’t even realize that student athletes (all of whom are involved in heavy physical training) were limited to three meals a day with no snacks in between. However, the NCAA if anything is never out in front of a problem. They only react to situations. Such is the m.o. of a bureaucracy.

Shabiz is not the first athlete to complain of not having enough to eat. But make no mistake, this action is of much larger significance than more food for student athletes. This is the NCAA trying to close the barn door after the horse has already escaped. I’m afraid concessions like this may be too little too late.

The NCAA is attempting to say, ‘see there is no need for a union rep because we are responsive to the needs of our student athletes.’ Don’t get me wrong, I fully support providing athletes with all their nutritional needs and other expenses. What I don’t support is the unionization of college athletes.

Like Nero, the NCAA has been fiddling, while a firestorm of discontent has been growing larger around them. It would be easy to point the finger at Mark Emmert and since this has occurred on his watch, he certainly bears some culpability. However, it is far greater problem than one man. Again, it is due to the slow mechanization of a bureaucracy as well as resistance to change.

The larger question here, is what will become of college football as these issues are played out in the courts? I will go on record here and say this is one man that thinks the unionization of scholarship athletes is a bad, bad idea. I know there is an insane amount of money in Division I college football and the ‘full cost’ of the athletes has not been covered. I get that. But college players are either scholarship athletes or they are employees – they can’t be both.

As scholarship athletes they are currently receiving a free college education worth anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 a year depending on the college. In reality, colleges spend more on athletes when you add in their meals, their free weight training, conditioning, nutritional help, books, free medical, and academic tutoring.

On the other hand as an employee, the athletes would share in the profits, be able to sell their likeness and autographs, and have the right (as in the NFL) to player representation as well as collective bargaining. Anyone ready for the loss of a football season because of a labor dispute between management and players?

Also as an employee the employer would have the right of dismissal. In the business world when an employee is not pleasing their employer they are subject to being fired. Imagine coach ‘A’ doesn’t think that player ‘B’ is working out. He/she has an attitude or maybe seems to be injury prone. As an employer, Coach ‘A’ just fires them. How does that help the student get an education?

Because the NCAA has not responded appropriately or in a timely manner to student athlete needs and concerns, we are now faced with this quagmire of an uncertain future. The NCAA’s free food rule change is only a band aid to a much larger issue and a harbinger of bigger changes ahead. To quote that great American musician and song writer, Bob Dylan :

“The wheel’s still in spin, and
There’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the winner now will be later to lose
For the times they are a-changin”

Whether the NCAA likes it or not.

Bruce Pearl’s Open Letter to the Auburn Family

By Posted on: April 15th, 2014 in Basketball 7 Comments »

New Auburn Head Basketball Coach, Bruce Pearl released the following open letter today to the Auburn Family asking for support as he attempts to rebuild the Tiger program.

Pearl says he plans for his Tigers to play for championships and he needs the Family to help in the quest by filling the Arena. “There are some who believe it (championship basketball)  can’t be done …  at Auburn.”  But Pearl says he is hoping to prove the naysayers wrong with the Family’s help.
                                       
Bruce-Pearl-letter

Return of the The Rifleman – “A Very Special Day for Auburn Basketball”

By Posted on: April 8th, 2014 in Basketball 7 Comments »
Chuck Person, Auburn's all-time leading scorer, was a 1st Round Draft pick and NBA Rookie of the year in 1986.

Chuck Person, Auburn’s all-time leading scorer, was a 1st Round Draft pick and NBA Rookie of the year in 1986.

The greatest basketball player in Auburn history is coming home to coach at his alma mater.

Chuck Person, known as the Rifleman during his All-American career at Auburn has been hired by Head Coach Bruce Pearl as an assistant coach. He helped lead the Tigers to an SEC Tournament Championship and three NCAA Tournaments  including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1985 and the Elite Eight in 1986.

Since Pearl’s hiring, Chuck has made no secret of his desire to return to The Plains. He said last night that’s it’s a very special day for him.

The NBA legend said, “This is the only college I would have taken a job at. My heart and my path took me to the NBA but this, Auburn University, my school, is the only job, the only school that I would come back to, to be a coach, whether it’s as a head coach or assistant coach to be a part of. This is my life. This is where I want to be. I’m home. Short of a catastrophe, nothing can take me from being here at this school.”

It’s a homerun hire for Bruce Pearl. Not only is he getting a great coach, but the Rifleman being from Alabama and having 14 years of experience in the NBA will mean a big boost to recruiting.

Pearl said, ” I don’t know if I could have made a stronger statement. This is a very special day for Auburn basketball.” We agree Coach. A very special day indeed.

Editor’s Note:
Be sure to check out Coach Person’s press conference interview below this article.

Chuck Person Says AU Basketball Will be Fast Paced Like Malzahn’s No Huddle Offense

By Posted on: April 8th, 2014 in Basketball 3 Comments »

Chuck Person says he’s on the same page with Head Coach, Bruce Pearl. Flanked by his high school coach Earl Henderson and his Auburn coach Sonny Smith, the New Auburn Basketball Assistant promised at his hiring press conference to work hard to bring success to the Auburn program.

Chuck talks in the following video about his decision and about his desire to return Auburn Basketball to prominence. He sounds like a man who is already on the recruiting trail. “We’re going to run a no-huddle offense like Coach Malzahn does with the football team.”

“We’re going to get after it,” said Person. “We’re going to play fast, play smart, play tough. We’re going to rebound and defend. It’s going to be a fun game.We’re going to shoot three’s, we’re going to have fun. We may miss some of them, but we’re going to shoot them. So if any kids out there want to come to have fun, they need to come to Auburn (because) Auburn University is the place to be.”

                             

Bruce Pearl Could Hit a Homerun in Basketball With a “Rifleman” Hire

By Posted on: April 1st, 2014 in Basketball, Featured Article 7 Comments »
chuck-person-sonny-smithjpg-d448d64c6f7405f1 - julie bennett

         Former Auburn great Chuck Person with legendary Coach Sonny Smith. (photo:Julie Bennett, al.com)

Even though Auburn is not a part of this year’s March Madness, there has been a lot of excitement about Auburn Basketball the past two weeks. The hiring of Bruce Pearl on March 18th has fired up the fan base and he hasn’t even coached his first game or signed his first recruit.

The new round ball skipper has given the Tigers positive exposure across the country during the time of year that the nation’s interest is at a peak for college basketball. In addition he has popped up all over campus; whether it’s attending the Auburn women’s WNIT game or throwing out the first pitch of the Baseball’s game against Missouri – he’s been busy selling the program.

However, creating goodwill is not all that’s on his agenda. He has to complete his staff in order to get the program rolling with recruiting and coaching up the players. With his son Steven hired as the strength coach and Tony Jones on board as an assistant, Pearl now needs to fill three more assistant positions.

You can bet he has been contacted by a bevy of applicants and there’s one name that stands out above the rest … of course we’re talking about Auburn legend, Chuck “the Rifleman” Person.

Most Auburn people know that Person has been called the Rifleman for a couple of reasons. First his mother named him for two sport professional ball player and actor Chuck Conners who starred in the 1960′s TV western “The Rifleman “. The second reason was the Rifleman shot a rapid fire riffle with pin point accuracy. Well Person is ranked 17th in the NBA for 3point shooting and is the all time leader in points scored at Auburn with 2,311 points (a record set before there was a 3 point shot). He also holds the Auburn record for most points scored (747) in a single season.

Yes the case for “The Rifleman ” is a good one. He led the Tigers to their first ever SEC Tournament Championship in 1985. In 1986 the two time All American provided the leadership that led the Tigers back to the NCAA and an Elite Eight appearance before falling to eventual National Champion Louisville. He went on to be the NBA Rookie of The Year and has spent his life working at all levels of professional basketball.

He is arguably the best player in Auburn history and he understands Auburn’s situation. He has said “Basketball is important to me at Auburn … Auburn can win at Basketball as well as football, you just need to get the right players to do it with.” He is an Auburn and NBA Legend, he knows the game, he loves Auburn, he has honed his coaching skills under legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson of the Bulls and LA Lakers, and he has been endorsed by legendary Auburn Coach Sonny Smith.

Hiring the Rifleman would make sense for both Pearl and Person.

For Pearl, the hire would be similar to what the Dameyune Craig and Rodney Garner hires meant to the football program. Like those two men, Person is a former Tiger and a proven coach with a strong knowledge of Auburn University. And like Rodney Garner, Chuck has the added incentive for recruiting players who aspire to get into the pro’s sense Person was an NBA star and a coach for 25 years.

For Chuck it would be a chance to not only return to his alma mater but provide him with an opporyunity to complete his degree (something that is seen as almost necessary for landing a college head coaching job some day himself).

He told Al.com yesterday that he has interviewed with coach Pearl. Chuck said, “I would love to be on coach Pearl’s staff, but I know there are other qualified candidates that he’s talking to. The main thing is to get Auburn basketball back to where it should be.”

This is one writer that believes that one way to get the Tigers back (to where they should be) would be to hire the man who was instrumental in getting the Tigers to the top of the sport when he played on The Plains.

Pearl will probably complete his staff in the next week, with at least one hire possibly coming by Friday. If that hire is Chuck Person … Bruce Pearl will have hit a homerun in basketball.

Auburn Women Wearing Down Opponents in NIT (updated)

By Posted on: March 25th, 2014 in Basketball 3 Comments »
Tyrese Tanner leads the Tigers in scoring in the NIT. (photo:Lauren Barnad, Auburn Media)

Tyrese Tanner leads the Tigers in scoring in the NIT. (photo:Lauren Barnard, Auburn Media)

“You’ve got to give Auburn credit because they wear you down.” That sounds like a quote from one of Auburn’s football opponents. But this time it came from the Old Dominion University Women’s Basketball Coach, Karen Barefoot. She was referring to her team’s loss to Auburn in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament on Monday night.

The Tigers wore down the Monarchs 82-59. It was the second dominating performance by the Tigers in the last week. With the victory coupled with Auburn’s convincing victory over Furman Thursday, it appears Coach Terri Williams- Flournoy has her team playing with the high pressure defense and explosive offense that has brought her over 400 wins in her career.

This  NIT Tournament marks Coach Flo’s sixth postseason appearance in ten seasons as a head coach including having led Georgetown to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011.

Old Dominion fought hard and kept the game close in the first half but couldn’t withstand Auburn’s attacking style. The Tigers really poured on their inside game outscoring the Monarchs 44-14 in the paint including 30 -4 in the second half. Senior guard Tyrese Tanner led the way once again with 24 points, four rebounds and five assists.

The Monarchs’coach said. “I thought we had a great game plan, and we only had seven turnovers in the first half – really being patient. (But) they wear you down.” Barefoot continued, “It got away from us in the second half where they sped us up and either they got turnovers or we had quick shots. They got out in transition and really attacked the basket.”

Yes, Gus Malzahn is not the only Auburn Coach to have an attacking style of offense designed to wear down opponents; when Coach Flo’s teams are clicking, they are hard to stop.

And now Auburn advances to play Mississippi State in Starkville at 7 p.m. Thursday in the third round of the Tournament. Hopefully the Tigers will continue this level of play all the way and bring Coach Flo her first championship on The Plains. Good luck ladies and …

War Eagle!

Update:
The game was tied at 54 with 1:43 to go but All-SEC senior Tyrese Tanner and post players Tra’Cee Tanner and Peyton Davis  fouled out and could only watch from the bench as Miss. State scored the last five points to end Auburn’s season with a 59-54 win.  Still proud of our Tigers – War Eagle!

 

Spring Drills Begin!

By Posted on: March 20th, 2014 in Basketball, Football 12 Comments »
Spring Drills Begin

We have to earn it.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! It was an incredible day in Auburn Tuesday, as Auburn University announced the hiring of Bruce Pearl as the new men’s basketball head coach, and a wild all-day celebration followed. Lost in the euphoria and welcoming of Pearl was the beginning of spring football drills. Head coach Gus Malzhan had the right message with the above quote. The Tiger football team must earn it. Starting now, the SEC Tittle and improbable comeback of 2013 means little. A new slate of games awaits, and it’s a very tough schedule this fall.

     At the crack of dawn Tuesday, Auburn began a new grueling regimen. What was evident quickly on a day in shorts is that the off-season hasn’t been wasted. The team looks bigger and faster, and a quick look at reported weights on the roster bears that out. There are guys out there like Shon Coleman and Shane Callahan who’ve added more than 10 pounds of muscle. Likewise, a few guys who were overweight last season have trimmed down. Of particular note is that starting Star position senior Robensen Therezie has put on 8 pounds. In a defense without a true strong-side linebacker, the star has to sometimes make that tough tackle. At 212 pounds, Therezie should be even better this spring.

Position by position breakdown, after the jump!

     Auburn defensive line was the strength of the defense last season, and it returns a good number of players this season, although finding a few more ends is crucial this spring. Missing from yesterday’s practice was senior starter LaDarius Owens. Don’t know if that was a class conflict, or something more serious. Carl Lawson was running first team, in Dee Ford’s former spot.

     Auburn appears set in stone as to the starting linebackers, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost. Building quality depth behind them will be a priority. There are plans to play junior Justin Garrett, who missed last season with injuries at both linebacker and star. Yesterday, he was working at linebacker.

     On the back end, Auburn will be missing starting safety Joshua Holsey, who’s recovering from a knee injury last season. While Holsey won’t be cleared till fall, he was taking part in non-contact drills, which was a good thing to see. While Auburn begins spring with 19 defensive backs on the official roster, a notable one who is not there is Trent Fisher, who has been a valuable special teams guy the past 3 seasons. Jermaine Whitehead and Jonathan Mincy likely have starting spots locked down, but Auburn will look at a lot of new faces this spring. At least on the first day, the most impressive-looking of the bunch was JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief. At 6′ 2” and 218, he gives Auburn more size than we’re used to seeing at safety. Trovon Reed worked at corner for the first time, and looked like a natural. He has switched to number 25.

     On the offensive line, Patrick Miller appears to be getting first crack at replacing Greg Robinson at left tackle. Miller took first-team reps on that side, with Avery Young on the right side. Coaches have said that they’ll look at Miller, Shon Coleman and Robert Leff as possible replacements.

     Most years, I worry about Auburn’s numbers at tight end and h-back. This year, things look as good as ever. C. J. Uzomah has added another 6 pounds, and looks the part of a tight end at 264 pounds. He and fellow senior Brandon Fulse should give Auburn the best pair of blocking tight ends in the SEC this fall, and we also know Uzomah has a knack for making the tough touchdown catch in traffic. Ricky Parks has returned to the team at H-back, and looks to again be in the playing rotation like he was last spring. Gage Batten returns after backing up Jay Prosch last season to compete for a starting job.

     Even with Trovon Reed moving to cornerback, Auburn returns a deep and talented receiving corps this spring. In drills yesterday, newcomer D’haquille Williams looked impressive. He’s got size, moves, speed and hands, and might be a threat to take a starting job. Another guy who’s evidently taken a jump forward is Tony Stevens, who played sparingly last season. Stevens is Auburn’s tallest wide receiver at 6′ 4”, and he’s added about 8 pounds of muscle. Auburn has really increased the size of its receiver corps in recent years. Auburn can rotate through Coates, Williams, Stevens, Ricardo Louis, and Jaylon Denson and not have a guy shorter than 6′ 2”. Add in slot guys Quan Bray and Marcus Davis, and it’s a deep and talented group. On the injury front, Jaylon Denson was at practice, but did not do any drills.

     One of the bigger questions on most folks’ minds is who will replace Heisman Finalist Tre Mason? Taking first team reps was Cameron Artis-Payne, with Corey Grant on the second unit. Auburn only has 7 running backs listed on the roster, but more big-name talent will arrive in the fall. For spring, I think the big names will be Artis-Payne, Grant and redshirt freshman Peyton Barber. On A-Day, I’d look for CAP and Grant to be sat down early, and the majority of carries given to the younger guys. That’s the way it usually is. I’ll be looking to see if junior transfer Lawyer Tillman gets a few carries. Yes, we have a Lawyer Tillman on the roster again! He’s the son of former Tiger wide receiver who scored the winning touchdown in the 1986 Iron Bowl.

     At quarterback, Gus Malzhan has his first returning starting quarterback since Mitch Mustaine in 2005. Nick Marshall will go through his first spring at Auburn, and I think everyone is looking forward to seeing what he can do with a greater command of the offense. As Jay Coulter wrote yesterday, I think the offense will run much faster this season. Rounding out the spring depth chart are sophomore Jeremy Johnson, junior Jonathan Wallace, junior Ben Durand, and sophomore Tucker Tuberville.

     The Tigers return to the practice field this morning, and will have a full-pads practice Saturday.

Bruce Almighty!

By Posted on: March 18th, 2014 in Basketball 24 Comments »
photo by julia bennett/al.com

Photo by Julie Bennett/al.com

Who would have dreamed that the most prominent coach ever hired by Auburn University would be its basketball coach? In a span of little more than a year, the athletic department has gone from employing Gene Chizik and Tony Barbee to Gus Malzahn and Bruce Pearl as its two marquee coaches.

George Jefferson would be proud.

It’s a shame Jay Jacobs won’t allow himself a few stiff drinks because if anyone has earned it, it’s the reinvigorated athletic director. Hell, I’d be running around tonight in my boxers with my tie around my head. Mike Tyson wouldn’t be able to knock the smile off my face.

Has anyone grown into a job better than Jacobs? Less than 18 months ago, Las Vegas wouldn’t have given you a line on his job security. Now you have to wonder whether there’s another one better.

One thing is certain. If Bruce Pearl can’t succeed at Auburn with a still new arena and an energized fan base, then it can’t be done. We’ll know soon enough. Past success never guarantees the future, but it’s hard to imagine this program not competing for championships soon.

When the wheels of Auburn’s plane touched down today, Tiger basketball became relevant again. There couldn’t be more of a contrast in Tuscaloosa. It’s hard to explain how an athletic department with its recent football national championships now suddenly looks worn and tired.

Trophies have been replaced by a whining football coach who suddenly looks and acts old; and its basketball program has officially been tossed out as just another athletic department expense that sucks away profits.

While Alabama fans spent early Tuesday talking about how cool it was that Vince Vaughn bought Lane Kiffin’s home in California, Jacobs punched Tide boss Bill Battle in the nose with the Pearl hire. Once Battle was on the ground, it was Bama fans that were kicking him while he was down.

Paul Finebaum said Pearl’s hiring was Battle’s worst nightmare. I may argue that Kiffin is, but why split hairs?

And who said Auburn basketball couldn’t upstage football on the first day of spring practice?

With March Madness barely underway, the most asked question in these parts is when does basketball season start? Something tells me a seat at Auburn Arena may be a tougher buy than one in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Who would have guessed it?