My Top 10 Favorite Plays of 2013

By Posted on: April 4th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 7 Comments »

I decided to take one final look back at Malzahn’s first season on the plains and list my favorite moments from one of the best seasons in Auburn football’s history. These are the moments that still stick with me. 

10. Jeremy Johnson touchdown pass to Ricardo  Louis against Western Carolina. The play comes in around the 0:50 second mark and it’s a beautiful deep ball thrown by Johnson. The future is very bright at the quarterback position. 

9. Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates – SEC Championship Game.  Seeing this play develop took years off of my life and added some gray hair to my head, but the end result was a spectacular touchdown pass to Coates in double coverage. It seems especially unfair when you consider just how much success Auburn had at running the football in this game. 
Sammie+Coates+Braylon+Webb+SEC+Championship+anZgx8Ylms6l
8. Goal line stand against Arkansas. Good old-fashioned American football just wasn’t enough to overcome Auburn’s defense in this sequence. Bielema, eat your heart out. Skip to the 3:00 mark to see the stand.

7. Anything Tre Mason did. Technically this may be cheating, but I can’t pick just one highlight to sum up Mason’s final season on The Plains. One of the best running backs to ever suit up, Mason’s contributions will be missed for quite some time. 

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Ratcheting up the Reps.

By Posted on: April 3rd, 2014 in Football 10 Comments »
Building Depth

The Tigers are looking to build depth this spring.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! Spring has sprung in the southeast. The car air conditioner is back in use after a five month hiatus, yellow dust is collecting everywhere, and the pads are popping on the practice fields. We’re about midway through spring drills, and I think I can safely say that there’s a different feel to this year’s preparations. If nothing else, it’s pretty strange not to have an intense quarterback race in progress. Auburn hasn’t had an entrenched returning starter there since Brandon Cox 7 years ago.

     Last spring, Auburn was installing new systems, particularly on defense, trying to assess players, and build a two-deep. There is always a lot of teaching going on in spring drills, but last season was also about expectations and getting the players to buy in. This year, the players already know the expectations, and the coaches are able to do a lot more reps and a lot less explaining.

     It is evident that Auburn players took offseason workouts seriously. A number of players are bigger, stronger and should make more of an impact this season. Of particular note is the throwing and catching. There is a lot more chemistry between Nick Marshall and his receivers this spring than we saw last fall. During the winter, Marshall set up informal throw and catch drills several times a week, and it is paying off. The timing and accuracy are there, this spring.

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Spastic Random Thoughts

By Posted on: April 2nd, 2014 in Featured Article, Football, Memories 14 Comments »
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One of the most important plays for Auburn’s 2013 football season came against Texas A&M. (photo:Julie Bennett,al.com)

We (or at least I) interrupt our usual presentation of quality analysis and rapier wit to provide you just what the title says.  We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get going (numbered for your commenting convenience):

1.  Can anyone explain to me why ESPN and the media in general have their lips permanently implanted (notwithstanding Item 2 below) on the posterior of the Crimson Tide and Coach Saban?  How does that enhance their bottom line?

2.  We might be seeing a sea change with the above situation, after the obscene gambit that Saban, through his de facto lackey Bertie Boy, tried to pull with the 10-second rule proposal.  A lot of his cred seemed to evaporate with that move, at least amongst the coaching community (and, who knows, the media might just follow).

3.  Another question: Why were all the Tide trolls coming over here sincerely wishing us well in the aTm game?  Bama already beat Johnny Football a few weeks before; it would have behooved them and their obsession against AU for the Aggies to take us to the woodshed.  (Someone told me the answer to this is the aphorism “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  However, this analysis works only if UA hates aTm more than AU, and if that is the case, I feel thoroughly insulted to be the object of a lesser hatred.)

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

By Posted on: April 1st, 2014 in Basketball, Featured Article 7 Comments »
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         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.

Saying Good Bye to the Best Grandfather Ever

By Posted on: March 31st, 2014 in News 20 Comments »

This hasn’t been the best weekend. If it’s ok with you, I’m not going to talk Auburn football. I’ll be honest with you, I hurt pretty badly.

I lost my grandfather over the weekend. He was not your ordinary, run-of-the mill grandfather either. He was one of the most incredible men I’ve ever known. I’m not good with sharing my feelings, but Lord I loved that man.

What do you say about a guy who helped raise you, was there at all the important times and most of all, loved you like a son? He taught me to ride a bike and drive a car. And more importantly, he taught me right from wrong.

Along with my father, he passed on his love of Auburn. Some of my most cherished childhood memories were of watching Auburn football games on a small black-and-white television in the meat market of the mom-and-pop grocery store that he ran for more than 30 years.

I’ve been to literally hundreds of Auburn games in-person since, but none of them have been more enjoyable than those watched in the back of that grocery store in the 1970’s. I can still see it like it was yesterday.

I’d give anything to go back there now.

He was part of the Greatest Generation. As many of you know, they don’t make’em that way anymore. He was tough (and loving) as they come and had a work ethic that few can fathom today.

He joined the Navy to fight in World War II at just 17 years-old. He was a war hero, but never told anyone. I was married with children before I found the old newspaper clipping documenting his shooting down of two Japanese aircrafts headed directly for his ship.

He returned home from the war, started his family and his grocery business. For more than a quarter of a century, he opened the doors each morning at 7 a.m. and locked them each evening at 7 p.m. He did this six days a week, allowing himself to close early only on Wednesdays and all-day on Sunday.

By my calculations, that’s 65 hours a week for all of his working life. The few precious hours away from work were not spent resting, but rather with his children and grandchildren. I never once heard him complain.

What I’ll remember most is how much he cared for people. He gave away as many groceries as he sold in that little store. He gave store credit to customers he knew would never re-pay him. He couldn’t stand to see people go without.

As he lay in his hospital bed last week, barely able to eat his lunch, he was more concerned with the young nurse taking care of him and whether or not she’d had a lunch break. He insisted that she go eat before coming back to check on him.

His funeral won’t make front page news. His obituary will be among many others in the newspaper today. But rest assured his life was not ordinary. Even with 93 long years of life, there are a lot of people hurting today, still wishing for more.

I’ve been one lucky guy.

I love you Daddy Joe.

Say Goodbye to College Football As You Know It

By Posted on: March 28th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 12 Comments »
Photo Courtesy of Nikeblog.com

Photo Courtesy of Nikeblog.com

This year’s crop of players leaving behind college football’s ever-evolving landscape for the NFL does so under as much or more media scrutiny than is reserved for the regular season. A college football career resembles a calculated business decision more and more with each passing day and a growing number of players are looking for ways to cash in. 

Departing players like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel sign endorsement contracts and begin to officially start promoting themselves as a brand, and there may be a shorter wait for others to begin reaping the benefits.  A recent decision that will presumably allow Northwestern University football players to unionize has the potential to unlock a plethora of avenues through which college athletes can pursue compensation.

The 2014 season will see in the introduction of the most radical post-season change to college football since the introduction of the BCS bowl system by way of the College Football Playoff. While it will be limited to four teams competing in two semi-final and then an eventual championship game, the very introduction of a playoff conquers a hurdle long thought to be a far-fetched concept.

In addition to dedicated network media coverage, college athletes are exposed more than ever now through social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. This is one element that has served to blur the line between professional and amateur athletes competing in the same sports because they have come to share equal portions of the public spotlight.  As this trend has become more prevalent so has the contrast between which news regarding professional and amateur athletes is reported.

For example – an NFL lineman may get arrested for a DUI and the story receive an initial surge of coverage before it is ‘yesterday’s news so to speak, but an incident of equal or often times lesser severity will garner a whirlwind of media coverage surrounding the event that lasts for several days or even weeks.

The days of only being able to see Notre Dame play on television seem like ancient relics to a sport that has grown to unbelievable heights. There is no reason to hold out hope for a return to anything resembling college football from over two decades ago, and for some that may be disappointing news. Just make sure you don’t pause too long to reminisce or you may get left behind.

Lifting Off!

By Posted on: March 27th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 17 Comments »
Spring Week Two Craig

Auburn is loaded with talented receivers this spring.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! Week two of spring drills is well underway, with another practice early this morning, and the first scrimmage of the spring is scheduled for Saturday. Positive energy continues to flow from the practice fields, and the Auburn Tigers appear to be making the most of their time this year. Watching various practice videos, the all-business approach by both the coaching staff and the players is evident. This team will make some noise this fall!

     I’ve had fun watching Auburn’s receiving corps, this spring. This is a very different unit from the guys on the field last September. Coach Dameyune Craig deserves a lot of credit for how his men have developed. It’s a lot of fun watching Coach Craig throw that ball at his guys in practice. Almost two decades after Craig was a record-setting quarterback at Auburn, the man can still sling that rock!

     Sammie Coates developed into Auburn’s go-to receiver last season, after some early-season butterfingers. While dropped balls tend to hang in my memory, it’s important to note that Coates really did not drop anything the last 7 games of the season, and made a lot of big plays. He’s catching even better this spring. I think that we’ll see JUCO transfer D’haquille Williams make a big impact this fall, as well. Williams seems to have that knack for positioning himself for the ball, and has great hands.

     Another thing that’s impressive by the receiving corps this spring is that they are a lot crisper on the receiver quick screens, this spring. That play is a staple of the Malzhan offense, and clearly it has been worked on a lot. Last season, we’d see the ball blooped out there late, the receiver would have to go get it, a block might be missed, and the receiver might not get past the line of scrimmage. This spring, the ball comes out there hot, the blocker locks up the corner, and the receiver is going forward in quick succession. That’s really going to help keep defenses honest this fall.

     Another fascinating aspect of the practice videos is watching the pace on the 11 vs. 11 segments. Most of the time, the offense is snapping the ball at ten seconds or less after the whistle from the previous play. Watch the little Youtube clock, and see. I don’t know if SEC officials will let ‘em rip plays off quite that quickly this season, but it’s clear that this offense hopes to go a lot faster.

Unit updates, after the jump!

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Like Gus Malzahn With Football – Clint Meyers Has Brought a ‘New Day’ to Auburn Softball

By Posted on: March 26th, 2014 in Featured Article, Other Sports 7 Comments »
Teammates congratulate Auburn player Jade Rhodes (8) after a sixth inning home run against Miss State Mar. 22, 2014, at the Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn, Ala. (Julie Bennett/jbennet/al.com)

Teammates congratulate Auburn player Jade Rhodes (8) after jer sixth inning home run against Miss State March 22, 2014, at the Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn. (photo:Julie Bennett/al.com)

“When we began our search for a new softball coach, the goal was to find a proven winner.” Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs on the hiring of Clint Meyers as Auburn’s Head softball Coach. That was June 14th, 2013. Fast forward a few months and it’s easy to see, Meyers is already delivering.

With 34 games in the book, Auburn (28-5-1) is off to the best start in program history. And after last weekend’s series win over Mississippi State the Tigers are ranked No.21 for the third consecutive week.

Auburn Head Softball Coach Clent Meyers has won nine national titles in his career. (photo:Julie Bennett/al.com)

Auburn Head Softball Coach Clint Meyers has won nine national titles in his career. (photo:Julie Bennett/al.com)

Coach Meyers modestly attributes the Tigers’ success to his team playing sound softball. “It kind of goes back to our formula,” Myers said. “It’s not so much about how many hits you get, it’s about when you get them. Good defense, good pitching and timely hitting.”

While playing fundamentally sound ball has to be the key to success for any sport, the Tigers remarkable streak is really more about a new direction, a new philosophy, in deed a “New Day” as it were for Auburn Softball.

Like his colleague Gus Mallzahn has done for football, Meyers has reinvigorated the softball program, almost willing them to be winners.

This team is much different from last year’s version. Like AU’s 2013 football season many of the Softball Team’s wins have come as a result of big innings late in the game. And like the 2013 Football Team, the Softball Team has a “Never to Yield” attitude and believes it can win even when things look bleak late in the game.

That confidence, that belief that your going to win the game is an intangible that often marks the difference in a mediocre team and a perennial winning program. I know a lot of coaches with consistent winners say their teams just have some kind of ‘it’ factor. It’s easy to understand what a coach means when he says that; however, the real  reason teams have that attitude is because of coaching. It’s the coaches who instill that confidence in their players. That’s why a team with less talent can often beat a more talented group.

In the formula for winning, there’s nothing like self belief. And Auburn Softball has one of the masters for instilling winning confidence. Much like that popular figure of speech, “the proof is in the pudding” meaning the truth of something can only be judged by putting it into action.” Meyers can be judged by his resume as a winner. In 28 seasons, his all time college record as a college softball and baseball coach is 1342 wins, 342 losses, and one tie for a .796 average.

He took his previous team to eight straight Super Regionals and seven appearances in the College World Series, winning two National Championships in 2008 and 2011. His Sun Devil teams averaged 53 wins per season and he has never coached a team with a losing record.

From 1996-2005, he was the head baseball coach at Central Arizona College where he took CAC to the Junior College World Series twice, winning the National Championship in 2002. As the head softball coach from 1987-1995, he won six national championships and was named National Coach of the Year six times.

Whether coaching college softball or baseball, Meyers has taught his teams how to win. And after just 34 games at Auburn, it’s easy to see he’s at it again. It may be too early to crown his Tigers as champions just yet but, make no mistake about it, they will be champions – the proof is in the pudding.

Editor’s Note:
Auburn begins a three week – seven game road trip today starting in Atlanta with a 4 p.m. CT game against Georgia State. The game can be heard locally on WEGL 91.1 or online at AuburnTigers.com.