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Bear with me, Got a story to tell…

By on December 17th, 2012 in Football 15 Comments »

We walked along the wooded trail to a clearing. He motioned ahead, “There’s a picnic table over there. Let’s take a seat and talk for a spell.”After a moment he began, his voice resonating in his chest like distant thunder.

“In the fourth year of his tenure leading a storied SEC West team, an embattled coach watched his team disintegrate before his eyes. Narrow early season losses to rival teams following a disturbing opening day loss against a non-conference team gave way to crushing blowouts by SEC power teams as the season progressed. Even mid-tier SEC squads seem to have little difficulty defeating this team.  The season wound down without a single conference win.”

“There was little to energize the fan base, and few bright spots for the team on either side of the ball. Worse, there was no apparent improvement on the field or the sidelines throughout the season. In fact, the performance of the team followed a distinct troubling pattern:  Repeated mistakes, costly turnovers, a porous defense and a seemingly complete inability to move the ball in the second half. After the last humiliating blowout loss to their instate rival, the head coach was gone.

A brief coaching search ensued with input from a revered quarterback from the late 1960s who helped on the search committee during the interview process. The University quickly hired a former coordinator from his current head coaching at Arkansas State, denying that school its coach in the upcoming GoDaddy.com bowl.”


“There was hope again, mainly due to a talented mobile sophomore quarterback named Wallace who the fans thought could make a difference under this new coach and his staff running a spread offense with lots of read option plays.”

“They felt that maybe this would all turn out well.  After all, the quarterback’s nickname was ‘Bo’.”

“Wow” I said, “I never took you for an Auburn fan.”

 

“Auburn?” he snorted “I was talking about Ole Miss!”

“But I admit, the resemblance is remarkable. Hugh Freeze was a surprise hire in late 2011 after the firing of Houston Nutt. He had limited head coaching experience, but had led Arkansas State to a Sun Belt conference championship that year after implementing a read option game plan with multiple sets.”

“By any measure, Ole Miss football in 2011 was a disaster. After a narrow first game loss to BYU and an uninspiring out of conference win, they dropped games to Vanderbilt and Georgia, ending their first month at 1-3. A promising young sophomore, Barry Brunetti, was highly touted throughout the spring and summer as a smart, mobile, big arm quarterback. Numerous news articles mentioned his leadership and skill running Houston Nutt’s offense.”

He sighed, a deep rumbling exhale.

“He ended up being sacked so often in the first game that he was benched and replaced by a more experienced QB that he had beaten out of the job that fall. The remainder of the season witnessed a collapse of epic proportions, with Ole Miss joining Kentucky as the only SEC teams to average less than 20 points per game.”

“I know” I said, “Auburn and Kentucky were the only two SEC teams to average less than 20 points per game this year.”

He nodded.  “Know what ESPN’s Chris Low said after Ole Miss lost to Vanderbilt?”

“To be fair, the Rebels’ defense has not played that poorly, and it’s certainly been an upgrade from last season. But when you lose 30-7 to Vanderbilt – the Commodores’ most lopsided victory over an SEC team in 40 years – it’s a team thing. It’s not just one phase, one group of players or one coach. It’s everybody, and the simple fact is that Ole Miss is reeling right now. The offense, in particular the offensive line, has been a huge disappointment.”

“Does that sound familiar?”

I hung my head.  “Yes”

He continued “Do you remember the 2011 Auburn Ole Miss game?”

“Sure!” I said, brightening “We were tied at 17 by halftime, but in the second half the Ole Miss offense went into hibernation, going three and out for most of their remaining drives and only managing to score once while Auburn piled up 24 points to win 41-23!”

He grunted, “And this year?”

I was stunned.  My tail twitched.  I heard my own voice say in a ghostly echo, “We were tied at 17 by halftime, but in the second half Auburn’s offense went into hibernation, going three and out for most of their remaining drives and only managing to score once while Ole Miss piled up 24 points to win 41-20.”

“Do you know what that means?” He asked.

I looked sharply at him.

“W-we,…. we,…”

He nodded.  “That’s right.  You became Ole Miss for a season.”

“Oh my God!” I said.  “You’re right!  How horrible!”

He growled.

“Um, sorry.  I didn’t mean it that way.”

He shrugged and sniffed glumly.  “It’s OK, I get that a lot.”

“But you guys are going to a bowl game this year! Your program is looking up. You took LSU to the wire and spanked your in-state rival! You’ve got to see that Hugh Freeze was a great hire!”

He nodded.  “We do and he is. But so is Gus. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you”

He looked away with that thousand yard stare.  “Things will improve with your new coach, maybe not as fast as you would like, but they will improve and give you hope this coming year. You’ll just have to be patient.”

 

“But we were SO bad this year, it’s hard to believe we’ll turn it around quickly.”

He shook his head, “It’s a trap.  Don’t fall for it.”

“You’re always saying,…”

“Stop that, I’m being serious. You’ve got to let the last season go. Start the new year fresh.”

I considered this for a moment, and concluded he was right.

“Thanks, Ack. I really appreciate the talk, but I’ve got to find a bathroom. You coming?”

He gave me a look. “Is the Pope Catholic? ”

“Sorry, I forgot. Well, I’ll see you at Jordan-Hare next year. Later.”

“Later, Aub.”  He yawned.  “I’ll be in the Grove if you need to talk in the Spring.  Just not too early.”

15 Comments

  1. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    Gus and Auburn should be a step or two ahead of what Freeze inherited at Ole Miss but your friend is right, we need to be patient. There is a lot of talent for the new staff to work with but we are sorely lacking at a couple of key positions.

  2. wde1988 wde1988 says:

    Things are about at rock bottom when we start to compare ourselves to Ole Miss.

    Enough said.

    Right now we are STILL waiting on Gus to fill in his staff. And there has been no news to report except that Craig decided to stay in Tallehasse with FSU and his mentor, Jimbo Fisher.

    Meanwhile, the recruiting class that AU had has steadily dropped from #9 to #21. Yesterday we lost another linebacker who decomitted.

    Paitence? We have tons. Admittedly Gus started fast getting his coordinators named. But its like he has hit a wall since. And its obvious that recruits are watching to see who we get.

    Git’R Done Gus!

    WDE

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      I think Gus put all of his effort into coaxing Craig back home. At the end of the day I don’t think the position Craig was offered lined up with his career goals. Hopefully we will see more staff hires this week.

  3. audude audude says:

    Well put Sully. Let us not micro manage. Let us step back and let Gus do his thing while keeping an ever watchful eye on the program.

  4. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    Great read! Thoroughly enjoyed… I was thinking, “where is he going with this” until I turned the page and saw the picture… Kind of eerie in similarity.

    I agree as well, I have no problem admitting we were like Ole Miss this past year. I just do not want to get accustomed to sitting at the kids table at the SEC family reunion. We will return, it’s all cyclical and if you’ve been a fan for any length of time…we’ve been here before.

    Apparently, it seems as though AU couldn’t afford (or didn’t desire) to attempt to hire away a big name coach but rather wanted to hire the next big coach. That being said, Gus was a great hire. I believe Gene made some ill-advised hires and lost his edge with the players and let apathy creep into the locker room. I hope Gus will not make the same mistakes as future success visits the Plains. A great coach knows how to manage the failures AND successes.

    I see Gus as a methodical and deliberate surgeon who doesn’t waste time or energy with processes that don’t produce results. I see others around the SEC as southern pastors, used car salesmen, road-side attorneys and my uncle Billy Ray.

  5. mgizmo2005 says:

    LOVE THIS. “It’s a trap!” – Admiral Ackbar

  6. Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

    I am on board.
    I will be patient. I can live on the fat of 2010 for a long time.
    BUT
    I am not convinced Gus is THE guy.
    I DO think Gus will get us back to a respectable 8-5, give or take, next year. I think he has the talent on that team to make a quick turnaround. 20 year olds are fickle and their efforts will change with the breeze. I believe Gus will get this group responding quickly and they will be a mildly successful bunch…as far as our line and Wallace/Frazier, takes them.
    I DO NOT think though that Gus is the guy who is going to come in and rearrange the power structure in the SEC West. We should be good enough to compete against anybody but we will still lose most of our Marquee matchups, this year and for the years ahead.
    Why?
    I don’t believe in Malzahns system….not in the SEC….not without an ELITE QB to run it. The bottom line is that his HUNH only works if you control the ball and run 80+ plays a game. That is VERY hard to do against SEC caliber defenses….consistently. Yes its exciting and we will put up big numbers against less than great competition. But against Bama? LSU? UGA? Arky? Florida? USC? Tenn? MSU? Those teams will grind us and wear down our defense. If the offense doesn’t put up big numbers in those games, we will lose them. I know we don’t aspire to be 8-5. We are a top 10 revenue program and should play like it. 2-3 losses per year should be the dissappointment, not the goal. I just don’t see us getting there with Malzahn.

    That being said, I haven’t seen a Malzahn offense without Chiziks influence, so I will withhold judgement until I am proven correct….or wrong. I know Malzahns approach is “the future”, but the SEC is a league of blunt force trauma and you can only dance around so long before you take a club to the head. I am hoping we will become the Muhamad Ali of the SEC, dazzling with speed and endurance…..and not Michael Spinks, good, until you run into somebody tough. Regardless of our style of play it will be imperative that we get mentally and physically tough….and that may take a little time.

    • War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

      One thought to consider is the player safety movement. As the NFL, NCAA, and SEC move towards protecting defenseless players the spread offenses that utilize mobile QB’s and lots of receivers will only see more success at both the collegiate and professional levels. Gus’s offense is probably going to be more what football looks like in the future. It just won’t make sense to play a super conservative running game on offense when all the rules will favor QB’s and receivers. Conversely the days of the bloody em’ defenses are numbered as well. I’m not saying that I like how football is changing, but there is no doubt that at a fundamental level it IS changing, so why not take advantage of the rules? Gus the Guru will win more than not, especially as the rules change in his favor.

  7. War Eagle Girl War Eagle Girl says:

    ^^THIS^^

    I, too, believe the landscape is changing. The Pros are also using the HU. Gus does not run a spread. I believe that has been mentioned ad nauseum but people don’t seem to believe it. He has to be excited to finally be able to run the offense that he wrote about in his book. This is his chance to show what he thinks the possibility of football can be according to Gus. This will be the first time since HS that he can put together his own staff. He will sink or swim and he seems pretty determined to swim. I ,for one, am ready to give him a chance and see the exciting possibilities. But as of right now, one month in, there doesn’t seem to be much hope that the fan base will even let him get that far. ;)

  8. ATL_AU_FAN says:

    I’m definitely on board and will be until I have reasons against — I understand the Col’s point above and the fact is he may be right on point but I sincerely hope he is proven wrong… :)

    What does worry me are the recruits who are switching from AU to elsewhere — I’m not sure if this is really a concern or if these are players with whom we are better off without. I honestly don’t care that the recruiting class has been downgraded from #9 to #21 or whatever provided we recruit the players we “NEED” —
    Along with others, I’ve seen Top 5 and Top 10 classes underperform too often.

    • Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

      I do hope I’m wrong but there is a reason why Alabama, LSU, and UGA have done so well the past decade and that is that they recruit to control the line of scrimmage and to run the ball. To control the clock. Ron Jaworski said it best over the weekend, “you pass to score….you run, to win” By that he meant, you control the clock by running the ball and imposing your will on the opponent.
      While Malzahn does figure to be a run first coach, you don’t do yourself any favors by running three plays in a minute and twenty seconds.

      And Malzahn and anybody else can bristle at his offense being called a “Spread” offense..but if it quacks like a duck, its a duck. His offense is predicated on spreading the defense and finding gaps in it….it is the very definition of the “spread offense”. Just because he doesn’t throw the ball 50 times a game doesn’t mean its not a spread offense. The reason he doens’t want it called the a “spread” is because he knows that the scheme has been figured out in the SEC and that if you don’t have a bruising QB who can run, throw AND convert short yardage situations on third down, you have to survive on trickery for it to be successful. And one can pull so many rabbis out of their hat before its empty. I’m sorry, but its the truth.

  9. wpleagle says:

    Great article, probably the cleverest and best written one I’ve ever seen on Track’em Tigers! Points made are well taken.

  10. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ……That was a great read! Picture looked a lot like territory up around Lookout Mountain, or maybe even further up in the Smokies. That’s some of my favorite country!

    ……I think Gus did want to get his coordinators hired quickly, so he’d have something tangible system-wise to recruit to. We’re now in a recruiting dead period, so filling more slots isn’t as urgent for the next couple of weeks.

    ……I’ve always believed that a spread can’t work unless you have an accurate quarterback. However in this day and age in the SEC, I think I’ll expand that to read: ANY offense can’t work in the SEC without an accurate quarterback. Not even Alabama was able to run over everyone week to week. They had to be able to throw it well to win their big games, too.

  11. Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

    Excellent read! Thoroughly enjoyable…..being compared to Ole Miss, sobering…..

  12. plains74 says:

    I am not worried about the six hundred pound bear but rather the 800 pound gorilla in the stadium! His name is probation and possible NCAA sanctions. That is where the similarites end and why we may be losing recruits so fast!