Malzahn: Time to Speed Things Up

By Posted on: March 19th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 5 Comments »
Photo by Julie Bennett/al.com

Photo by Julie Bennett/al.com

Can it possibly be the start of spring practice? With the announcement yesterday morning of the hiring of Bruce Pearl as Auburn Head Basketball Coach, it didn’t seem much like opening day of football practice. Besides I still haven’t gotten Rod Bramblett’s voice out of my head and we’re about to start over again. But Auburn did hold its first practice of spring Tuesday.

And things are a little different this go around. For starters, ESPN brought live reports throughout the morning from Auburn. And this year its Gus Malzahn’s guys who’ll get the coveted Saturday afternoon ESPN slot for its A-Day Game – not Alabama.

But don’t expect Malzahn to sit around with Bruce Springsteen playing in the background while he reflects on the glory days.

“We’ve been really up front with our guys. We’re definitely proud of how far they came. That’s in the past. It’s a complete, new season. This is a new team,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got to earn it. All we’re talking about is earning the right to try to get back to a game like that (the national championship).”

In Monday’s pre-spring press conference, Malzahn seemed to poke his finger back into Nick Saban’s eye.

“We think we can be quite a bit faster,” Malzahn said.

Of course, he was referring to his HUNH offense that’s become the kryptonite to Saban’s future in Tuscaloosa. On a day when Malzahn was talking about moving faster, Saban continued to whine, this time to David Pollack of ESPN.

Again, Saban continued to use safety as his excuse for reducing the HUNH offense. He never commented on the dangers of his team facing the likes of Chattanooga, a team Alabama outweighed by more than 40 pounds across the offensive line. If he really cared, seems like that would be a good jumping off point.

If last season was like driving in the left-hand lane, this year should resemble the Autobahn. With eight starters back from last year’s record-breaking offense, including quarterback Nick Marshall, look for Auburn to significantly increase its play count.

Marshall is the first returning quarterback in Malzahn’s nine years as a college coach. Yes, it’s a scary thought.

While Auburn has been the face of the HUNH in the national media, surprisingly, there were five other teams in the SEC last season that ran as many or more plays from scrimmage each game, led by Ole Miss who averaged six more plays per contest than Auburn at 79.8 per game.

In fact, Auburn ranked only 61st nationally in that category last year. Malzahn is out to change that this year. You look at these stats and realize why Saban is so spooked.

And to think, he brought Lane Kiffin in to keep up. Spring has never felt so good.

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?

Happy Birthday Coach Pearl ! – (with videos)

By Posted on: March 18th, 2014 in Basketball, News 2 Comments »

It’s Coach Bruce Pearl’s birthday today and he says coming to The Plains was a great way to celebrate the day. In the following video, watch Rod Bramblett’s (the voice of the Tigers), meeting with the new Head Men’s Basketball Coach. It’s Coach Pearl’s first interview at Auburn.

You can really get a good feel for the man, his philosophy and especially his impression of the Auburn Family. Be sure to see his last words in the first video and in the second video watch the fans greet him at the airport today.

The third video is Coach Pearl’s introductory press conference. Pearl says his reception was  “just beyond my wildest dreams.” The coach opens with a jubilant “War Eagle,” goes into the crowd to welcome Coach Malzahn, and then gives enthusiastic and humorous remarks followed by taking questions from the audience. Afterwards the students again wish their new coach a happy birthday. Watch it, you’ll enjoy it.

There’s no doubt he’s excited to be at Auburn and the fans are just as excited to have him in the Family. Happy Birthday Coach, welcome and …

War Eagle!

                            

In second video, fans sing Happy Birthday to Coach Pearl after greeting him at the Airport.

                             

In the third video, watch Coach Pearl’s unusual introductory press conference in front of fans at the Auburn Arena.

                            

Video of  Rod Bramblett’s, meeting with Auburn’s new Head Men’s Basketball Coach, Bruce Pearl in his first interview at Auburn. Pearl talks about his philosophy and about his impression of the Auburn Family.  be sure to see his last words in this piece. – See more at: http://trackemtigers.com/?p=25958#sthash.79LpxBbp.dpuf

Auburn Hires the Right Man as Tigers’ New Basketball Coach

By Posted on: March 18th, 2014 in Basketball, News 26 Comments »
BjBOeIkCYAAK7_p-Pearl

Auburn announced the hiring of Bruce Pearl this morning as the Tigers’ new basketball coach. Auburn AD, Jay Jacobs said, “From the moment I met Coach Pearl and heard his vision for our basketball program, it was clear he’s the right man at the right time for Auburn.”

One things for sure, Jacobs has brought a proven winner to The Plains. A three time National Coach of the Year and a two-time SEC Coach of the Year, he is the second fastest coach to amass 300 career wins in NCAA history.

“I’m humbled and blessed to be back in the game that I love,” Pearl said. “I don’t know how long it will take, but it’s time to rebuild the Auburn basketball program, and bring it to a level of excellence so many of the other teams on campus enjoy.”

Currently an ESPN analysts, he  took six teams to the SEC Tournament while coaching at Tennessee from 2005 – 2011. We are looking forward to seeing Coach Pearl bring his winning ways to The Plains. Basketball just got fun again.

Welcome Coach Pearl and War Eagle!

Writing On Wall For NCAA Amateur Status

By Posted on: March 18th, 2014 in Basketball, Featured Article, Football 15 Comments »
emmert

Yesterday, a lawsuit was filed in US federal court in yet another attempt to tear down the amateur distinction of big time college athletes at big time college institutions in an ultimate attempt to get fair compensation for student athletes in the respective multi-billion dollar industries in which they toil. This new suit, against the NCAA and the five largest conferences, challenges the lawfulness of the “wage” assigned to football and basketball players to being capped at the value of an academic scholarship, presumably under existing anti-trust legislation. With recent suits also pursuing the NCAA on similar grounds, could it finally be 3rd and 25 for college football? Watch for the pooch kick here soon.

While no reasonable person can defend hundreds of millions in value added to major programs’ bottom lines by a countless parade of high-profile athletes with little more than tuition and board as the carrot, no sane college football fan can discount the negative effect of direct money payments to players on the integrity of the sport. While this type of compensation and resulting corruption have gone on ever since we’ve had the game of football, the modern age brings the spotlight full on the big money sport it truly is. With major programs generating billions in revenue, the lavish amounts of money heaped on from ticket sales, television, and merchandising is too much to ignore anymore.

It’s un-American to think that  players’ images on TV and in video games can earn these types of dollars cumulatively but can provide no more than books, lodging,  and two semesters a year for the individual himself. It’s also unreasonable to think that the schools themselves, who have been building their brands for in excess of one hundred years in most cases, have no intrinsic value other than a revolving cast of semi-employees who filter in and out of their ranks every year. Why must it always be 3rd and long?

How did football and basketball end up like this, with the colleges serving as de facto farm systems for the sports, unlike baseball, which does provide a real alternative for those who wish to become semi-pro and those who want to remain amateurs until they get their education? We’ve so bastardized the systems and they’ve grown unchecked for so long that it may well now be impossible to separate those two distinctions again.

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It’s Time for Auburn to Roll the Dice on Bruce Pearl

By Posted on: March 17th, 2014 in Basketball 8 Comments »

pearlEverywhere you turn these days, it’s all about Bruce Pearl. Can Auburn get him? Will Auburn take a chance on him? But what’s the real story behind the colorful former Tennessee coach? What do we really know about him?

Most importantly, he led a down-and-out Tennessee program to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Auburn has been to eight total in its history. He’s the second fastest coach to 300 wins in NCAA history.

Prior to Tennessee, he won a Division II national title at Southern Indiana and then followed that up with two NCAA Tournament appearances while at Milwaukee.

But more than a winning record, Pearl brings excitement. The only thing worse than Tony Barbee on the court, was talking to him off it. He never connected with the students or alumni. There’s little evidence he even tried. He likely will be remembered as the worst Auburn basketball coach in the modern era.

Auburn needs excitement.

That won’t be a problem with Pearl who was almost always the most popular guy on campus. Whether it was painting himself orange or mugging for pictures with fans during football season. Hiring Bruce Pearl would guarantee a full Auburn Arena.

What are the risks?

How ironic that Dave Didion, the NCAA investigator who spearheaded the Pearl case at Tennessee, is now Auburn’s associate athletic director for compliance. Auburn’s pursuit of Pearl will likely come down to Didion’s recommendation.

In a column last week, Birmingham News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky wrote that there may be “more to that story that makes hiring Pearl less objectionable than many people might think.” He didn’t provide more detail.

Pearl was found guilty by the NCAA of inviting a high school recruit and his family to a cookout at his Knoxville home while the player was on an un-official visit. According to reports, Pearl acknowledged that the recruit should not be there, but rather than ask him to leave, encouraged those present to keep silent.

When questioned by the NCAA, Pearl reportedly lied about the gathering and it all went downhill from there. Ultimately, Pearl was fired by Tennessee and given a three-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA that remains in effect until August 23rd.

Auburn is known for having one of the top compliance departments in the country. This should ease any fears it has about giving Pearl a second chance. Besides, what does the program have to lose?

Auburn has arguably the worst program in the SEC and among the worst in major college basketball. Its new arena has done nothing to boast its stature.

Speaking with athletic director Jay Jacobs before the BCS National Championship, ESPN radio personality Colin Cowherd jokingly told Jacobs that he had no clue who the Auburn basketball coach was and couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.

That sums up the program now. Auburn’s not bringing in a top notch coach without some warts. Its only option is to take a chance on Pearl or give another up and comer a shot and hope he doesn’t turn out like Barbee.

I’m tired of being irrelevant. I have no illusions of being Kentucky, but one appearance in the tournament since 2003 is not going to cut it.

Roll the dice. Give Bruce Pearl a second chance.

What do we have to lose?

Nostalgia Friday: Auburn vs. Alabama 1993

By Posted on: March 14th, 2014 in Football 6 Comments »

It was one of Auburn’s most unlikely seasons. While they were not the long shots we saw in 2013, the 1993 Auburn football team was nowhere to be found on the college football radar as the season started.

Taking over following the Pat Dye era, Terry Bowden was the surprise pick of the Auburn search committee and expectations couldn’t be lower heading into his first campaign.

Following a nasty, months long investigation by the NCAA involving former player Eric Ramsey, Auburn was not only on probation and ineligible for bowl play, they were also banned from television. In fact, they were the last major program to be subjected to this penalty – one that likely will never be implemented again.

Bowden’s bunch captured the hearts of Auburn people across the country, but only a select few ever saw them on the field.

Auburn ran through its 11- game schedule unscathed and perfect. The crowning moment came on November 20, 1993 at Jordan-Hare Stadium when Auburn defeated Alabama 22-14. It’s remembered as one of the greatest wins in Auburn football history.

The above video is from the coaches cameras because no broadcast cameras were allowed. Auburn would go on to finish fourth nationally in 1993 and while they didn’t win the SEC in the record books, they were clearly champions of the SEC.

Tigers Will Be Tough Again in 2014!

By Posted on: March 13th, 2014 in Football 6 Comments »
Linemen

Titles are won on the line of scrimmage.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! We are just five days away from spring drills, although you’d hardly know it by looking at the thick layers of frost on the windshield this morning. After a grueling winter of tough workouts, the Auburn Tiger football team is ready to hit the practice fields, and work towards a terrific season. What’s been impressive this offseason has been a unity of purpose displayed in the comments of these fine young men. To a man, the team seems determined to do everything they can to take another step forward, and win another national championship. That they came so close last January, and came up 13 seconds short has left them hungry for more.

     Auburn has a plethora of skill players on offense returning this season, including Coach Gus Malzhan’s first ever returning starter at quarterback in Nick Marshall. The situation has us all dreaming of scoring 50 points per game and setting new offensive records. But, it’s important to remember how titles are won. We’ve seen teams win the SEC with average quarterbacks, average linebackers, and even average running backs. What you won’t see is a team win the league with mediocre play along the line of scrimmage.

     Make no mistake. Auburn had the second most prolific scoring team in school history last season because Greg Robinson, Alex Kozan, Reese Dismukes, Chad Slade, Avery Young and Patrick Miller absolutely road-graded SEC defensive lines on a weekly basis. Likewise, Auburn made timely plays on defense because of a 12 man defensive line rotation that ensured fresh, talented defenders on the field throughout the game.

     Most of the offensive line returns, with only Robinson headed for the NFL. There is talent and depth there, and coach J. B. Grimes did an outstanding job tweaking Auburn technique last season. There is reason to be optimistic that this year’s bunch will be even better. It should be one of the highlights of spring to watch Avery Young, Patrick Miller and Shon Coleman battle to avoid being the odd man out. It’s going to be fun to watch three offensive tackles of this caliber!

     On the defensive line, Auburn returns a lot of good tackles, but might have a numbers issue at defensive end. With the talented Dee Ford, along with reserves Kenneth Carter and Craig Stevens leaving, some new faces must step up on the outside. I think senior LaDarius Owens is a proven product on the run-side of the line, as he held onto the starting job all last season. Who’ll be that “rush end” is a whole different story. Will sophomores Carl Lawson or Elijah Daniel grab that spot and hold on? Or will it be a committee approach, with room for newcomers to shine immediately?

     Even with Nosa Eguae graduating, Auburn is as deep at defensive tackle as any team in college football. Gabe Wright grabbed a starting job and held on down the stretch last season. Montravius Adams, Ben Bradley, Angelo Blackson and others made plays in the middle. Adams may have the most upside of any tackle. And Jeffery Whitaker returns for a 5th season with his knees as healthy as they’ve been while he’s been at Auburn.

     Another interesting spot to watch will be in the secondary. Safety Jermaine Whitehead and corner Jonathan Mincy are proven SEC players. Auburn will be trying to find some answers behind them. Last season’s safety starter Joshua Holsey will still be rehabbing a knee this spring. A starting corner opposite Mincy must be found. Auburn has some talent here, but much of it is unproven. Jonathan Jones played in spots at corner last season. Converted running back Jonathan Ford is said to be a natural at corner. Finally, Trovon Reed will try his hand at defensive back, something he was recruited for by many schools five years ago.

     There won’t be a lot of live kicks and punts on A-Day, so we won’t learn anything much about the return teams, although I do count dropped balls and cringe on a yearly basis. The best time to watch kickers on A-Day is during the pre-game warmups. I’ll be really interested in who has the big legs, and who nails most of their field goal attempts. Auburn is likely to field a team in 2014 with a pair of redshirt freshman kicking legs, as Daniel Carlson and Jimmy Hutchinson are expected to win the kicking and punting battles, respectively.

     The running back battle is going to be interesting to watch, too. Seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are the heirs apparent, after both rushed for over 600 yards each last season, off the bench. Artis-Payne has gone on record as saying that his goal this season is to be the SEC’s first ever 2000 yard rusher. The two experienced guys may be pushed by redshirt freshman Peyton Barber, who was said to be a scout team monster last fall. Barber is around 230 pounds, and dangerously shifty and fast. My guess is that he’ll find a way to contribute.

     One of the biggest obstacles to an Auburn repeat SEC title this fall is the schedule. On paper it’s much tougher than 2013. There are land mines early, and a particularly brutal November. Auburn has Arkansas for an opener, then travels to Manhattan, Kansas for a Thursday prime-timer against K-State in week three. Louisiana Tech makes for a high-powered homecoming, then LSU comes to town a week later. The rest of October is on the road at Starkville, an off-week, then Auburn hosts South Carolina. November begins at Ole Miss, Texas A&M at Jordan Hare, Georgia in Athens, Samford, then Bama in T-Town. That’s road trips to Oxford, Athens and Tuscaloosa in November. Gone from the schedule are the likes of Western Carolina, Florida Atlantic and Tennessee.

     I’ll go ahead and go on record now stating that I’ll likely be attending Auburn’s A-Day game on April 19th. I’ve been to three of the last five, I always have a great time, and it’s been a good way over the years to load my camera up with tons and tons of clearer shots during ever-increasingly rare daylight football at Auburn. I dig into those A-Day archives regularly!