No Way Out for Auburn Football
What’s at stake for Auburn football over the next month is bigger than one man. Its outcome threatens to bring down the entire university. On the surface that sounds like a lot of hyperbole, but it’s very real.
A new school president staked his future on a football coach he barely knew last year. He brought on a new athletic director as his first major hire. Now, all three men are joined at the hip and must find a way forward or out.
Saturday’s contest in Oxford may be the biggest game in a generation; not because of the opponent, but what a loss to Ole Miss could mean to the future. A defeat all but guarantees a losing season and brings on Armageddon. A win does nothing but cement a winning season and a bottom-feeder bowl appearance. Birmingham anyone?
The optics for new school president Steven Leath could not be worse. Brought in from lowly Ames, Iowa, surrounded by controversy himself, he was quickly taken to the woodshed by super-agent Jimmy Sexton. Fast forward 10 months, and Gus Malzahn holds all the cards and a $32 million buyout, half of which is owed to him in the first 30 days following termination.
If Leath doesn’t realize it now, his fortunes are tied to Malzahn. If the school is fortunate enough to find enough boosters with more school spirit than sense to pay off Malzahn, you can bet they’ll demand Leath drive the moving truck out of town. All you’ll have left is an athletic director hired by the worst businessman in state history. Do you think Allen Greene will have a target on his back?
To put into prospective what $32 million looks like in real money consider this: Auburn Arena’s total construction cost was $90 million. The proposed football-only facility is expected to run close to $55 million. Boosters will be expected to essentially flush more than half that cost down the toilet before breaking ground. And let’s not forget, they’ll be required to buy out all of the remaining assistant coaches’ contracts plus hire a new head coach.
Now I’m a product of an Alabama public education, but I find it hard to imagine anyone with means willing to chip in to fund the Titanic. Auburn has few options in this saga. There is literally no way to win.
Should this team grab only one more win this season, it’s still very unlikely that Malzahn goes anywhere. The same cannot be said for Leath. Bad decisions have bad consequences. It’s why in the 21st Century it makes no sense to hire educators to run multi-million dollar universities.
Auburn needs a CEO in the worst way. The Jay Gogue era was a catastrophe. He was perhaps the worst school president for athletics in Auburn history and that includes, among others, the late William Walker. Plain and simple, Leath was not up to the task of negotiating such a deal with Sexton and Malzahn. A lot of that blame lies at the feet of the Board of Trustees, which let it happen.
This program is on the brink of falling significantly behind other conference schools because of its lack of facilities, including a football-only building. Paying off Malzahn and his team of coaches will almost certainly delay that construction. Keeping him around another few seasons is hard to imagine.
Either way, Auburn football loses.