What, Really, Has Changed?
What are the colors of your stripes as a Auburn fan?
What has changed at Auburn? Personally, I think we as fans have.
Let me explain.
Imagine, if you will, just one year after a remarkable 10-win season with unlooked for and miraculous wins over both Georgia and nationally ranked Alabama in the Iron Bowl you turn your attention to the following scenario: An Auburn football team struggles mightily both offensively and defensively under its long-standing head coach the very next year. The team starts the year ranked in the top ten but then falls to no fewer than five SEC opponents, including an unranked, low spirited team from the East, and is blown off the field by five touchdowns by a number-one ranked Alabama team under an all-time winning coach with a new and revolutionary juggernaut of an offense. Attendance at home games drops as the season progresses, media pundits outside the state openly question whether the Auburn coach will stay, and are aghast at what the Auburn administration chooses to offer its head coach after this catastrophic season, especially in light of how the team underachieved in every measurable category on the field of play.
What about the Auburn faithful? What is the response by both students and alumni? What sort of articles were published in the Plainsman about this now beleaguered coach who is the only link to a national title in recent memory but has suffered twenty something losses in the last five years? What is the highly questionable action the school administration chooses to do in light of this turmoil?
They added his name to the stadium.
“We love you Shug, God Bless you and War Eagle!” Alabama governor George Wallace, October 6, 1973.
Ralph “Shug” Jordan and his team were in a world of hurt in 1973. Just one year after the famous 10–1 “Amazins” of 1972 that culminated in the celebrated “Punt Bama Punt” Iron Bowl win, the Auburn team was embarrassed both at home and around the SEC with punishing losses to Tennessee, LSU, Florida, a woefully inept Georgia team, and was shut out in the Iron Bowl by Bear Bryant’s team who won 35–0 with the aid of Bama’s new wishbone offense that shattered the Auburn defense.
What sort of articles in were in the Plainsman during all of this?
Read that article in full here.. Alabama was a 24-point favorite and STILL beat the spread, winning by five touchdowns.
Were there any disparaging comments about Shug Jordan and his coaching ability? Any questions about getting a new coach, paying Shug off or openly questioning his commitment, ability or opining how much of a mistake it was to hire him?
I don’t see a single one. Instead I see advertisements like this.
Auburn Plainsman, Volume 80, Issue number 9, Thursday, November 29th, 1973.
Coach Jordan lost 21 games in the six years prior to 1973, didn’t have a season since 1958 with fewer than two losses prior to the 1972 Amazins, and had only three Iron Bowl victories in the previous ten years against Bear Bryant. In 1973, his team finished 6–6 after losing in the Sun Bowl against Missouri, his third bowl loss in five years.
Additionally, just prior to 1967, Coach Jordan had a four year stretch (1963–1966) in which the Auburn team lost 21 games, including its single bowl appearance against a 6–4 Mississippi team (1965 Liberty Bowl).
Gus Malzahn has had two Iron Bowl victories in six years against Nick Saban (equaled only by Les Miles and Hugh Freeze since Saban came to Tuscaloosa, I might add), lost five games this season just one year after a ten-win season and November victories over both Alabama and Georgia.
And what has been the response by the public and the media? A sharp contrast to what was published and expressed way back then. Even if you include articles in the Plainsman by a star football player on the team who would join his fellow teammates on a protest walkout just three months later (legendary Thom Gossom and the short-lived 1974 Mustache protest ).
We thought differently about our team and coaches back then and treated them remarkably differently, too, even though the usual political and social aspects of living in our country were much the same: at the tail end of a lengthy and controversial overseas war, turmoil and open warfare in a troubled Middle East, foreign opposition centered in Moscow and Beijing (known at Peking at the time) with a slight softening due to economic realities, troubled Presidential administrations from both major political parties, and even some opposition from our NATO allies. Women’s rights, social divides due to race, ethnicity, age, voting turmoil, embargoes, pollution, oil prices, etc. You name just about any social, political, or economic issue other than access to the Internet, they were likely present then too in some form or fashion.
At least we’re not having to deal with all the Bicentennial hoopla, but even that smarmy smiley face is still with us as an emoticon.
Nevertheless, we still extended a level of trust and understanding to our coaches, tendered with a respect for their efforts for us. Sometimes I wish we could return to that type of loyalty to the team, the institution it represents and to a head coach that just recently helped us contend for shots at a national title.
I don’t know about anyone else, but my navy and burnt orange stripes say let’s give Gus another chance to improve as we did for Shug 1974. He fundamentally changed his offense to the veer and had another glorious 10-win season before retiring in 1975, earning the deep respect of his longtime friend and adversary.
Bear Bryant tips his hat to his rival on the eve of their last Iron Bowl together in 1975.
“Thank you all, and I will forever be very grateful” said Auburn Head Coach Shug Jordan at the 1973 ceremony announcing the name change for Auburn’s stadium