Monday, December 10, 2012

Yoxall's Lasting Legacy

Over a decade of Auburn players have been molded into tougher men by Coach Kevin Yoxall. As he exits the Auburn program having served it in an elite manner for 14 years , there will be a generation of former and current Auburn players who feel a piece of them exit with Coach Yox.

And I was there to see the transformation he ushered in. I was there the night Coach Tuberville told us in a team meeting he was hiring a strength coach that could and would physically throw us out of the weight room if he deemed it necessary. I was there the night we performed our very first conditioning regimen under Coach Yox—a measly three gassers inside the indoor complex. It was the least amount of running we’d ever do for him and we had more players than you could imagine who failed the test. I was there to see many teammates walk out never to return. And, I was there to see us go from a 3-8 team to a SEC Championship game merely two years under a work ethic he instilled.

Before he came to Auburn, we were incredibly weak in mind and body. He blew us away with his structure, intensity, demands, expertise, and his passion. As he walks out the door at Auburn, I believe I can safely speak on behalf of my teammates and all those who’ve followed, Kevin Yoxall positively impacted our lives for the better, forced us to grow up, demanded excellence every single day. He shaped the way we think, work, respond, raise our children.

We hated his guts initially. Cussed him within the confines and anonymity of our locker-room. Would have bet my life he conferred with Satan himself to create daily workouts. Dreaded each day during class, wondering what torturous running he had planned, what awkward lift he would stand and observe me perform. There was no guessing, no cheating, no way to coast through a workout. He, or one of his GAs, watched every rep of every exercise of every individual that entered the weight room. He had even prepopulated the weight to be placed on the bar for each lift along an algorithm to be certain he could track our progress and see who was producing and who wasn’t.

He made us dress exactly the same. Auburn issued orange shorts with Auburn issued gray t-shirt. You wear something different, you wished you hadn’t. You show up late, not five minutes, but one second—you wished you hadn’t.

As we began to see results of our hard work, a work ethic we all thought we epitomized prior to Coach Yox’s arrival—however a work ethic we hadn’t come close to obtaining—we began to buy in. It not only became crystal clear there was no easy path to success, that “work, hard work” was the price to pay to reap rewards, it was also evident and not lost on the players the effort and desire Coach Yox put into his daily grind. He was the hardest working coach on staff, hands down.

Yes, he was building us into leaner, faster, stronger versions of ourselves, but he was laying the foundation for each of us to live successful lives. He was equipping us with mental toughness, with overcoming seemingly insurmountable circumstances, with what it meant to be held accountable, and the understanding that to be and beat the best, no matter what the task, you must outwork, outcompete, outlast the best. He was the catalyst that resurrected a program from the ashes to national preeminence.

The longer we were around him the more we appreciated him. We understood the reasoning behind the hellish routine and grew to expect it, to persevere, and to be better off because of the effort. In the moment, he was a bastard sent straight to Auburn from the pit of hell. In the aftermath, he was a father figure, a mentor, a leader, the master; the best there is or was.

You go ask any football player from 1999 to 2012 and 99.9% of them will tell you Yox was the most instrumental and respected coach they had during their career. More so than the head coach. More so than the coach that recruited them to campus. More so than their position coach. We all spent infinitely more time with Yox than all of the above combined. He coddled no one. He played favorites to no one. He loved us all the same, and we never questioned his commitment to us.

After the 2010 national title victory I wrote the following on my blog:

“My biggest behind the scenes contributors go to the two men that were brought to campus by Coach Tuberville and who have been the most instrumental hires Auburn University has made in its athletic department bar you Coach Yox and Chette're like fathers to us players, you mold us physically and spiritually into men by pushing us beyond our comfort zones, you make us believe in our abilities and in each other by the work ethic you instill, the ear you lend, the encouragement you provide. You are the best in the business at what you both do and Auburn is lucky to have you. You both deserve this more than anyone else associated with Auburn athletics and I for one am grateful for what you meant to not only this team, but what you have meant to my life! Thank you!”

In my mind, Coach Yox leaves a legacy at Auburn University that will live on as long as any of us that played under his tenure are breathing air. We’ll all forever be indebted to Yox for forcing us to push beyond our comfort zones down deep into a core existence we never knew we were capable of achieving. He brought out the best in us. He demanded it every day. I’m a better husband, father, optometrist, person because of the lessons I walked away from Auburn with. Many of those lessons came from Kevin Yoxall.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

AU Brings back Gus Reax

So after all the weeping and gnashing of teeth over who Auburn's next coach will be, Auburn goes with the known commodity and brings Gus Malzahn back to the plains. So we all know what that means...

The no-huddle hurry up offense is back. And we will likely see it even more ludicrous since Gus doesn't have Gene Chizik in his ear begging him to slow it down.

Obvious reasons for excitement:
1. Most of the offensive recruits will likely stick around, including QB Jeremy Johnson.

2. Keihl Frazier might get a reprieve. He knows the system. Is all he's run since the 7th grade.

3. The offense in all likelihood will go back to being its normal point scoring self.

Obvious reasons for concern:
1. Will defensive guys like Rueben Foster stay committed? We need those guys.

2. Who will coach the defense? Will it matter? Arkansas State's D finished 49th in FBS in yards per play allowed, not bad considering the offense they ran and the fact that virtually everyone in the Sunbelt ran the spread.

3. Will the discipline problems under Chizik Continue? This is my big question right now. Will mental toughness improve or will the "mental midgets" Heath Evans talked about earlier this season continue to be a problem.

Only time will tell on all these things. My guess is Guz is the right guy to get the ship turned around. And once again, Auburn fans can say "Wait till next year."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Alabama/Season Review

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, 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 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.