What a horrific season. Really a complete joke, a total disaster. A season in which expectations were high with a roster filled with players primed for "break-out" seasons, a new defensive coordinator for which everyone approved, an athletic quarterback we thought ready to lead this team, a schedule of only having to travel to Starkville, Oxford, Nashville, and Tuscaloosa. It had promising written all over it. It was a failure in every sense of the word.
So few players lived up to their potential. So many players were stagnant or went in reverse. So many players with high expectations rarely even stepped foot on the field. So many games got out of hand, effort was questionable, technique was atrocious, game plans were futile, adjustments were minimal as coaches had no answers. The word embarrassing was accurately tossed around following far too many football games.
Not just Alabama, or Georgia, or Texas A&M--but Ole Miss, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, State all showed us just how far we had fallen as a program, just how lifeless we were as a team, just how hungry these teams were to improve compared to our ambivalence and lack of leadership. Position by position, player by player, coach by coach, administrator by administrator...we were void of improvement, void of motivation, void of a response to adversity, void of a clue. We were the single worst team I've ever followed. Why?
Obviously, there are more answers to this question than Internet space available to mankind. And much of the following I said on my radio show last week. We could all go on for days, down different paths, point fingers at various players/coaches/factions/influences, yet end up at the same place. That change was inevitable, change should be expedited, and change should be bold!
But what is bold? Is bold giving Bobby Petrino a chance to rectify his poor judgement-riddled past? Is it bringing back Gus Malzahn and giving him the keys to the program after one season at Arkansas State? Is bold keeping Jay Jacobs in place to spearhead another coaching search, even under the auspices of a committee? Is bold going after someone currently at an SEC school? Depends on your viewpoint.
Bobby Petrino would be bold. But, I don't believe Bobby Petrino would mesh well at Auburn. Why? Because I'm not sure Bobby Petrino is a guy you can turn over the keys to the program and give full reign...which is exactly what Auburn needs...a single, solitary, lone voice. A guy calling all the shots. A guy free from outside influences and demands. His only demand should be to produce a winner. A coach that answers to but one person, the president of the University. Are you comfortable giving that freedom to a guy who's made as many poor decisions as a head coach as Bobby Petrino? Some are...and I respect that. Some aren't...and I respect that as well.
But, Petrino is also in a remarkably weak bargaining position, which is good for Auburn monetarily, but bad for Auburn and the way Auburn typically handles this process in the long run. The new coach should be given everything he deems necessary to run a championship program. Nothing held back. I have to believe however, Auburn officials would be dictating their terms to Petrino with regards to a litany of issues in a way a non-compromised Petrino would scoff at and completely reject. Whether that be staffing, control, decision making, power...it would be shared under Petrino...a problem Auburn can't seem to shake. The problem with Alabama football for 25 years post Bear Bryant.
I would support a Petrino hire and would stand behind him from day one. I'm in no position to judge Petrino for his moral failings just as I'd hope others would refrain from judging my actions. That day will come for us all. I do however have serious reservations about the manner in which he has left several programs/organizations. Because of that and because of Auburn officials/boosters/power brokers always needing to be "involved"...I'd have reservations.
Malzahn? Like him as a coach. Not sure he has the required backbone to be a disciplinarian. In fact, when he took back Mike Dyer at Arkansas State, knowing full well who Mike Dyer had become, I lost confidence in Coach Malzahn's ability to lead. Not saying guys don't deserved a second chance. But Mike Dyer had four hundred second chances...many coming at the request of Gus Malzahn.
I do hope we run an up-tempo offense like Malzahn would run. It's a system kids want to play in, coaches hate defending it, and fans enjoy watching...when it's run unimpeded and led with fantastic QB play.
Again, I would stand behind a Malzahn hire. I would also understand the frustration many would have just as I would understand the allure his offense offers.
Jacobs I would not retain. This is tough for me because I like Jay and he has been kind to me in the past, but Jay fired himself when he fired Chizik. That was his hire. He gets the credit for hiring Gene and taking Auburn to the top. He also carries the baggage of overseeing Auburn's cataclysmic fall from the heights he ascended the program to. In his own words, this is a results oriented business...and as much as he'd like to hang his hat on equestrian and swimming national titles, the direction of the revenue sports at Auburn, the sports we identify with and rally around, is far from upper echelon. When your previous position within the administration is coddling donors, many of whom want to wield power, those same people expect to be coddled when you become AD. We need an AD that doesn't know Bobby Lowder from Bobby from Homewood. A relentless salesman. A savvy businessman. A media superstar. A guy that gives the head coach everything he needs to be successful...no questions asked. Who is that? I don't know? Perhaps it's Mac Crawford?
My bold selection would be Chris Petersen. No one has won more big football games with inferior talent than Chris Petersen's Boise teams over the years. I understand he's not from the South. I understand he competes in a weak league. But, he's creative, his teams play with a chip on their shoulder, and he develops talent. He makes $1.5 million in Boise. Make him turn down twice his salary to come compete for national titles in the toughest division in college football. Some say he's not leaving Boise. You may be correct. At least make him an offer that would be hard to refuse.
Next up...James Franklin. He's a winner. He's a salesman. He's a motivator. His overachieving clubs have made many more highly sought after coaches and players look foolish, undisciplined, poorly prepared. He recruits to a school no one has been able to recruit to. He uses the schools greatest disadvantage (it's academic reputation) as it's greatest attribute to future players (a degree from Vanderbilt). He's passionate, he's energetic, he's been a success in this league when no one thought it was possible. (Side Note: Franklin even called into Eyes on Auburn twice! Completely unprompted. Since our shows inception we've asked for Coach Chizik every week for two years. We never got him.)
Right behind him, I'd be calling Coach Hugh Freeze for all the same reasons. An added bonus with Freeze would be his offensive philosophy...the one Nick Saban wants banned. He's building Ole Miss into a team again and I believe he'd turn Auburn around quickly.
Maybe those names aren't as bold as some would like. Maybe you downright disagree with my sentiments. That's perfectly fine...I accept that and welcome the difference of opinion. Regardless, we're going to end up in a better situation soon whether your guy is selected, my guy is picked, or none of us identified the correct coach. Whenever and whoever it is, we need to fervently unite behind the coach and give him everything he needs to be successful...and that means us being the greatest fans a program could hope to have. Not yes-men. Not blindly devoted. Not no-questions asked. But accepting, loyal, passionate, and enthusiastic. We have a role to play and it's just the opposite of division. It's uniting. It's rallying. It's being family. Families have differing opinions. But families respect and value those differences.
Challenging times brings out true character. I'm interested to see just what that will look like.