It Will Take More Than a Coach to Fix Auburn
Debating the future of Gene Chizik is futile at this point. Agree or not, he’s done following the Iron Bowl on November 24th. But then what?
Do Auburn officials really believe they can land a coach capable of competing with Nick Saban under the present leadership structure in the athletic department?
Noted leadership expert John Maxwell often talks about the Law of the Lid. It basically says that if your leadership effectiveness is an “8” on a scale of 1-10, then you’ll never attract employees who rate higher than “6” or “7” on the same scale.
In other words, it’s silly to assume that Auburn can attract a Jon Gruden type candidate, one who can readily compete with Saban, without first cleaning house in the athletic department.
A proven coach is not going to put up with a splintered, dysfunctional organization that is perceived to still exist on Donahue Drive. Fair or not, that means Jay Jacobs’s tenure as athletic director may have to end for Auburn to have any chance of long-term success.
Whether you like him or hate him, Jacobs’s tenure has not been a complete bust. The modest renovations to Jordan-Hare Stadium have been welcomed and the construction of Auburn Arena was a much needed addition to campus, even if the payoff hasn’t come yet. And let’s not forget, Auburn won its long awaited title on his watch.
Unfortunately for Jacobs, perception and reality are hitting him between the eyes all at once.
The reality is that during Jacobs’s tenure, the football program has been embroiled in controversy and under-achievement with the exception of 2010, which shouldn’t be discounted.
Many Auburn people have never forgiven him for his perceived mistreatment of Tommy Tuberville following the 2008 season. Still beloved by some today, many believed Auburn owed him another year after finishing 5-7 his last season. The 2010 national title brushed those feelings under the rug for awhile, but now are resurfacing.
For two years, the hiring of Chizik made Jacobs into a genius. Maybe he did know what he was doing. Now with a 1-6 start, fans are taking another look at his track record and beginning to question his ability to lead.
Since taking over the athletic department in 2004, the men’s basketball team has a 40-74 record against SEC opponents. On the women’s side, they are 48-56 in conference play. In baseball, Auburn sits at 101-139 in the SEC during Jacobs’s tenure.
As damaging as those numbers are, it’s the perception that Jacobs is nothing more than a puppet that makes him so unlikeable among Auburn people. True or not, it’s been widely assumed that Jacobs was Bobby Lowder’s inside man until the former banking executive came off Auburn’s board in April.
It’s a claim that Jacobs has long rejected.
A former player under Pat Dye, he has welcomed the legendary coach back to the athletic department after Dye was exiled by Tuberville following JetGate in 2003. With Dye’s long-time ties to Lowder, many in the community believe that through Jacobs, both still have a say in football matters.
With the question coming up daily in light of this season’s disaster, Auburn president Jay Gogue insists that only he and Jacobs call the shots at Auburn. With the lines of authority so unclear, Auburn’s ability to attract a top coach will be limited at best.
The million dollar question is who does run Auburn Athletics now? With his recent publicized financial problems and departure from the board of trustees, Lowder’s influence has at best been minimized.
At this point, no one person has emerged as the driving force behind Auburn football. That can be both good and bad.
With a changing of the guard in the Auburn hierarchy now possible, many are calling for a complete washing of the old regime and Jacobs is the face of that group. Whether there’s enough new blood to make this happen will be the storyline of the coming months.
In the meantime, any chance of Auburn bringing in a proven winner will be hard. Putting your love of the university aside, you have to ask yourself who’d want to step into this Peyton Place.
The tradition, facilities and money at Auburn are top notch; but the same can be said for a lot of other places. Top coaches can demand these things anywhere, and they can do it without the baggage of Auburn’s internal fighting.
I’ll tell you right now, no proven coach is going to let Tim Jackson stick his nose in the football program. It was all fine and cool when Auburn was winning, now it’s just plain disgusting. His interference in football matters is a prime example of why the job will be unappealing to some.
All is not lost.
Just a few years ago, Alabama was in worse shape than Auburn. It hired a coach with a penchant for strippers and replaced him with a guy that had a big name and limited coaching skills.
More important than hiring Nick Saban, Alabama decided to get their house in order starting from the inside first. Unfortunately, what’s transpired has been nothing short of magnificent. The product on the field has been second to none and the fundraising and expansion of athletic properties have been even more impressive.
There’s no reason Auburn can’t do the same. Accomplishing it will take more than hiring a new football coach. It will take a leader in the athletic department and believers among the alumni willing to put aside petty differences to make Auburn better.
Auburn is at a crossroads, much like it was in 1981, when it hired that young coach from Wyoming. It needs a leader like him now, someone who believes in the future of Auburn. To get him, changes must come to Donahue Drive first.
Does Auburn have the stomach and will to make it happen?
Time will tell.