Monday, December 31, 2007

Game-day thoughts

ATLANTA -- Good morning from the Red Roof Inn Airport.
Hey, it's not as bad as it sounds. This Red Rood is all enclosed, and my biz king room is actually pretty nice. I'm thinking about getting lunch across the way at a Cheers-themed sports bar called Malone's.
As for my reason for being here, it's hard to gauge Auburn's Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup with Clemson tonight.
On the one hand, Clemson has a very balanced offense, and Auburn's defense has struggled against such this season. Then again, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Boston College held Clemson to 89 combined rushing yards, and Clemson lost all three games.
If Clemson does score, Auburn has shown not to a team that can win scoring matches. Then again, Auburn has a new coordinator in Tony Franklin, has apparently installed a fair amount of the new system and can hit Clemson with a lot the Tigers have not seen this season.
Auburn's offensive personnel is the same. Then again, many of them seem rejuvenated by the new system, and Clemson's defensive personnel is different. Off-field issues have cost the Tigers at least two starting linebacker, possible all three.
I expect a lot of surprises tonight. I just don't know what to expect as a final score.
I know that 2007 saw the birth of this blog, and I've enjoyed having this dialog with you. I'm looking forward to 2008 and the first full year of this.
Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

What's in the head, what's said and what's read

ATLANTA -- By now, you've probably heard and reacted to a comment Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville made in a blog posted by the Huntsville Times' Phillip Marshall this week.
In case you've missed it, here was Tuberville's quote about recruiting rankings and the fact that rivals Alabama and Georgia have higher-ranked classes:

"I don't worry about what Alabama does or Georgia or anybody else. I have no clue who they have committed. I can't control what they're doing. We work hard at recruiting. We've got good recruiters. We know who we want to recruit. Some we're going to get and some we're not going to get, but we're going to do it the right way and not end up on probation in a few years.
"We don't recruit at all costs. We recruit players that want to come to our place and get an education. I think it's worked for us so far. We've got one of the best records in college football the last 5-6 years."

The quote has been cheered by Auburn fans and jeered by Alabama fans who interpreted it as negative recruiting. For the record, Marshall posted a later blog that gave the question as asked and the full answer from his tape:

Question: "About recruiting. A lot of fans worry about the perception that Alabama is having a great recruiting year and you are not. They are really highly ranked and you're not so much in the recruiting rankings. Do you feel like recruiting is going well?"
Answer: "Oh, yeah. I don't worry about what Alabama does or Georgia or anybody else. I have no clue who they have committed. I can't control what they're doing. We work hard at recruiting. We've got good recruiters. We know who we want to recruit. Some we're going to get and some we're not going to get, but we're going to do it the right way and not end up on probation in a few years.
"We don't recruit at all costs. We recruit players that want to come to our place and get an education. I think it's worked for us so far. We've got one of the best records in college football the last 5-6 years. Of course, we want to win more championships, but so do 90 percent of the other people. Not many people have won them lately other than LSU, Georgia and Florida."

My take?
Tuberville is a very bright man, thorough communicator and crafty with the media. Most often, he says things for reasons, and recruiting is reason number one.
That said, no one is always on their game, and Tuberville has flubbed a few over the years.
In this case, I read his mentioning of Alabama in the first sentence as parroting the question. After the first sentence -- and I base this on hearing Tuberville talk for nine years -- it seems that he's speaking generally.
It was at least a clumsy statement. If he didn't mean to negative recruit, then he shouldn't have used school names.
And it is interesting that he mentioned Georgia when the question did not. That he did might reflect that he interpreted the question as addressing Auburn's recruiting versus that of its chief rivals, not just Alabama. It might reflect that he thinks in those terms generally.
For the record, those credited with knowing the most about the inexact "science" of recruiting say Alabama and Georgia are ahead of Auburn this year. With just more than a month to go before signing day, ranks Alabama's current commitment class No. 2 nationally. Georgia is No. 3, and Auburn is No. 14.
The same inexact scientists rated Auburn's 2007 class No. 7. Georgia was No. 9 and Alabama No. 10.

At last, play calling fleshed out

ATLANTA -- Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville on Sunday gave the most plausible breakdown of offensive play-calling duties for Monday's Chick-fil-A Bowl that we've heard since the hiring of new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin earlier this month.
The game plan is expected to be a mishmash of Franklin's spread offense and the West Coast system Auburn ran the last four years under previous coordinator Al Borges.
Franklin will call plays Auburn has installed from his spread system. Current assistant coaches will have input on plays that Auburn has used this season, with offensive line coach Hugh Nall specializing in the running plays and tight ends coach Steve Ensminger specializing in the passing game.
Ensminger and Nall will have most of their input between possessions, as the staff decides what to run on the next drive.
Much intrigue has surrounded how much of the new offense Auburn will run and play-calling duties. Between Tuberville, Franklin and players, every member of the offensive staff has been mentioned as a play-calling possibility.
"Tony Franklin’s our offensive coordinator," Tuberville said. "He’s going to call some of the plays. We’ll get together tonight as a staff and kind of decide who he wants to refer to when we’re running some of the other offense. There’s going to be different carryovers.
"We talked about when I hired Tony, he talks to the offensive-line coach a lot about running the football on his headsets: ‘You know we’re going to run the ball the next few plays on the next series quite a bit; come up with the best running plays you think we can run.’ Hugh Nall will be involved in some of that.
"Steve Ensminger will be involved in some of the passing plays and some of the old things that we did that we might stick with. It’ll be a group deal.
"But it’s kind of hard to do that. We’re going to sit down and visit tonight and see how much input we want out of each coach, but I don’t want a lot of guys talking on the phone (headset), because you only have a short amount of time to get the playcall."

SIMILARITIES: Much has been made this week about the similarities between Auburn and Clemson ... from orange on the uniforms to coaches named Tommy to the nickname Tigers.
Sunday, a reporter included another similarity when posing the question to Tuberville and Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. Both coaches were linked to Arkansas' search for a head coach.
Said Tuberville, "We've been reminded several times this week about the similarities. The last part about Arkansas, I don't know about that one."
Bowden interviewed for the job but signed a contract extension.
Television reports out of Arkansas had thd school ready to hire Tuberville. Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs was never contacted for permission to talk to Tuberville, who later signed a contract extension.
Arkansas hired former Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gorgeous ironies regarding Borges

ATLANTA -- Al Borges is no longer with Auburn, but ironies during Saturday's Chick-fil-A Bowl news conference featuring coordinators from Auburn and Clemson conjured the former offensive coordinator.
Anyone seeing video from Auburn's portion of the news conference might have noticed that neither coordinator had a name tag in front of him. That's because one name tag had Borges' name on it.
The bowl's PR folks discovered the mistake while making a last-minute check with Auburn sports information director Kirk Sampson.
Auburn's coordinator change earlier this month was in all of the papers. It happened after the Chick-fil-A Bowl selected Auburn.
Anyhoo, there was also the irony of Clemson offensive coordinator Rob Spence pulling his name from consideration for the same job at Tennessee.
Clemson had the Atlantic Coast Conference's top scoring offense this season, which is why Spence got a look for the Tennessee job. Auburn fans might remember that Spence was a finalist at Auburn in 2004, when Borges was hired.
Borges resigned earlier this month, after Auburn finished the regular season ranked 101st nationally in total offense.
Oh, and while we're jogging memories, Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning should sound familiar to Auburn fans. He was Wyoming's head coach when Auburn played the Cowboys in the 2000 opener.
Clemson's staff has a lot of familiar names, including former South Carolina head coach Brad Scott (associate head coach) and former Alabama assistant Dabo Swinney (wide receivers).
Clemson running backs coach Andre Powell coached wide receivers at Virginia when Auburn played the Cavaliers in 1997 and 1998, and he coached running backs at North Carolina when Auburn played the Tar Heels in this very bowl in 2001.
I think the bowl's name then mentioned something about peaches.
Of course, there's Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden. You'll remember him. He was an assistant at Auburn under former head coaches Doug Barfield (1980), Pat Dye (1991-92) and brother Terry Bowden (1993-96).
More on the Bowden connection in Monday's Star.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ryan's hope

ATLANTA -- Josh Niblett's leaving Oxford High School to become Hoover's head football coach created disappointment at Oxford, but at least one Auburn University player sees it as good news.
Ryan Pugh, a true freshman and Auburn's starting left offensive tackle, played for Hoover under Ohatchee native Rush Propst. Pugh's dad was on Propst's staff.
Propst resigned amid scandals this season, and Pugh said he likes his alma mater's new coach.
"I've met Coach Niblett," Pugh said. "He's a good guy. I think he'll do a good job there."
On the field, Niblett's Oxford teams went 21-11 in three seasons. The Yellow Jackets won all 10 of their games this season, but the AHSAA ruled they had to forfeit seven because of an ineligible player.
Hoover has been one of the state's Class 6A powerhouses and was on Pugh's watch.
"I wish the players there the best of luck, the community," he said. "I hope they continue to win because I think they still have the ability to. They still have kids that can win.
"It's a program that you hate to see fall off. They did a good job of establishing where it's at, and just to keep it going like that."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

This and that ... and a Christmas wish

Some observations amid a holiday break for Auburn sports:

AT LINE LINE: Did you notice that Auburn's men's basketball team made 11 of 15 free throws in a victory over Alabama A&M on Saturday? The Tigers entered last week ranked last among 328 Division I teams in free-throw shooting. Amazingly, Auburn is 10th in the country in shooting from the field. Auburn coach Jeff Lebo has joked that maybe he should find a way to guard his players at the free-throw line.

GAME-CHANGING PERFORMANCE: Wes Byrum's game-winning field goals at Florida is one of four finalists for the Pontiac Game Changing Performance of the Year. Voting continues at and will conclude Jan. 7.
The winner will be announced at halftime of the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 7.
The winning school will receive $100,000 to the school's general scholarship fund. Auburn received $5,000 for winning the weekly contest following the victory over Florida.
The other finalists are: Appalachian State's blocked field goal on the final play of its win at Michigan; Alabama's touchdown pass in the final seconds to beat Arkansas; and Trinity's 15-lateral touchdown on the game's final play against Millsaps.
Auburn is the defending winner. The Tigers won last season's voting thanks to a blocked punt that resulted in a touchdown in an upset of eventual national champion Florida.

SPEAKING OF VOTING: I've been monitoring voting on the poll associated with this blog, and folks have pegged Auburn's season about the way I would. My choice would be, "started rough, but things came together." Thanks to all who visit this blog and take the time to read and vote.

T-ZAC: As I mentioned in a couple of blogs, I'm working on a feature story on Auburn wide receiver Terrell Zachery, the redshirt freshman from Wadley who could make his first college game appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31. Space and other news breaking have postponed the story. Also, thorough reporting has prompted me to rework the original draft. I expect the story to run sometime after Auburn resumes practice Wednesday.

TOTALLY TONY: New offensive coordinator Tony Franklin made quite an impression in his first week on the job, mainly for his public comments. Paraphrasing, he said he doesn't view Auburn's offense as needing to rebuild. He says the talent exists to make his spread offense work. I'm not sure how much game film he's watched from this season, but I'll be impressed with Franklin and his offense if he makes it happen with the current receivers, tight ends and a new quarterback.

AND FINALLY: I'm writing this after assembling a tricycle for my 20-month-old son, Hayden. Seeing his little red tricycle and ringing the bell a couple of times put me in the Christmas mood, so Merry Christmas to all. See you after Auburn resumes practice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

FYI, FWIW ... and stuff

For anyone still deciding what to think about Tommy Tuberville's recent contract negotiation with Auburn --- and reports that linked him with head-coaching vacancies at other schools --- here's something else to consider. It's a letter written by Tuberville attorney Jere Beasley. It was published in the Birmingham News, in response to a column by Ray Melick.

Ray Melick,

I read your column last Saturday and was a little surprised at some of your observations. As you know, I have represented Coach Tuberville since 2004 and still do. The contract that was agreed to is a good one for Auburn and for Tommy. I gather you haven't read the entire contract.
I also want to clear up what appears to be the impression that Tommy was considering a move to another school. That is totally incorrect. At no time to my knowledge was there any contact with another school directly or indirectly. Tommy and his family are Auburn residents and I expect that to be the case until Tommy retires from coaching. I fully expect Auburn to be his last stop in coaching.
Tommy is the type of person that any school would want as its head football coach. He is an outstanding coach, runs a clean program, will never do anything to bring discredit to either Auburn or himself, and is a good family man who has his priorities in order. I wouldn't swap him for anybody in the business. This may not have anything to do with football in the opinion of some people, but the fact that Tommy has a relationship with his lord and savior is another reason I am very happy that he is the Auburn head football coach and will be for years to come.
Finally, I want to say something in defense of Jay Jacobs, who negotiated the amendment to the prior contract and did it in the right way. Jay kept the negotiations quiet and dealt with Tommy in a confidential and professional manner. There was never any reason to believe that an extension wouldn't be worked out.
I can say the same thing about Jay that I said about Tommy. It's my opinion that Auburn's athletics programs are in good hands. I have read some of the comments concerning Jay and even heard some of the stuff on the talk shows - and all I can say is that Auburn folks should consider themselves extremely fortunate to have Jay.
It's time for all Auburn folks to get on the same page and start pulling together. Once that happens - and I believe it will now - Auburn's future will overshadow anything done in the past.

Jere Beasley,

My take?
Auburn people --- and those of us who cover these matters for a living --- are to be forgiven for cynicism. Me thinks there's plenty of culpability among powers that be at Auburn, Tuberville agent Jimmy Sexton et al.
Cynicism could very well be justified in this case, too. Could be that no one but those directly involved will ever know for sure, unless more facts surface.
There's a funny thing about ubercynicism, however. It can fly to the right of reality, sometimes way to the right. Tuberville, Jacobs and all could be telling the truth in this case, and highly cynical minds would never hear it.
High cynicism can be a bias all its own, wearing the clothes of objectivity, and the truth-seeking mind can defeat itself. I think it's best to keep minds open until verifiable facts close them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Done in Auburn

AUBURN -- The team completed the Auburn portion of its preparations for its Chick-fil-A Bowl clash with Clemson on Wednesday, and here are some notes:

PHYSICAL PRACTICES: Auburn's coaching staff treated its bowl practices here like two-a-days ... very physical.
"A lot of contact in a short period of time," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "It's pretty much like two-a-days. These guys are burnt out. It's been good, though.
"... There are certain ways to do. I think Clemson is going right until Friday. We did it like this last year. We played a lot better. We feel like there's a lot of pressure when they get to a bowl site. It gives them a lot more time with their families. It should be fun. It shouldn't be something that they don't look forward to."
Auburn will report to Atlanta on Christmas night and resume practice the next day.

INJURIES: Tuberville said a few players have been held out of practice, but no one is expected to miss the bowl game. Linebacker Tray Blackmon, offensive tackle King Dunlap and safety Aairon Savage have missed practice time.

COMINGS: Auburn has added linebacker DeShaun Barnes and defensive end Raven Gray have joined the team. Barnes, from Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln High School, sat out a year working out his eligibility. Gray signed with Auburn out of Enterprise High School and re-signed after a junior-college detour.

GOING: Reserve offensive tackle Oscar Gonzalez has received his release to transfer. The oft-injured Gonzalez hasn't been with the team since early November. Tuberville cited academic issues at the time.

STAYING: Tuberville said he anticipates no underclassmen going pro, despite internet rumors that indicate junior defensive tackle Pat Sims might.
"He and I sat down and talked," Tuberville said. "He wants to come back and finish up."
Tuberville said he's not aware of anyone filing paperwork for NFL evaluations.

Slight change in plans

As sometimes happens in the news biz, a heavy-news day can push less urgent items back. That happened to the Terrell Zachery story I planned (and promised in the blog below) for Tuesday's paper. It's written and will appear in The Star later this week. Still planning on the Brandon Cox piece for Wednesday's paper.

Monday, December 17, 2007

From BC to TZ

A little shameless tantalizing here, but I had interesting chats with Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox and wide receiver Terrell Zachery on Sunday. I'll be writing about them in the next couple of days in The Star.
Cox, as one might expect, was most affected by the effective firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges. Borges was Cox's position coach for four years, and the move hit Cox hard.
In a career of highs and lows and personal struggles, Cox sees it as just one more thing before he plays his last game for Auburn. He also says he views his overall experience as positive.
As for Zachery, the Wadley product is back in good graces after spending the 2007 regular season in Coach Tommy Tuberville's "dog house." Tuberville never specified, and it turns out that Zachery was just short some credit hours.
Tuberville kept Zachery off limits to media during the season, but that changed Sunday. Zachery said he's glad to finally get to tell everyone that his season-long stay in the "dog house" was about a an academic hiccup, not a behavior problem.
He's also glad to finally be kickstarting his playing career in time to play in new coordinator Tony Franklin's spread offense, which is a perfect fit for Zachery.
Check out Tuesday's and Wednesday's editions of ye ole Star for more.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Speaking of recruiting, Auburn could be once bitten, twice fried over the now famous Iron Bowl dog bite.
So says cornerback Jerraud Powers, who has become a YouTube star since a police dog bit him during the fourth quarter of Auburn’s 17-10 victory over rival Alabama on Nov. 24.
Apparently, there’s a lot of interest in video of the incident, and not just from ESPN, CNN, MSNBC et al.
“One of my friends that goes to Alabama said it was an official visit, and they were playing highlights, and they played the clip of me getting bit,” Powers said. “They thought it was funny also. I’m pretty sure I’ll be on a lot of highlight videos for that.”
Powers was bitten after running to the back of the end zone to defend Alabama wide receiver DJ Hall. Powers swung his arms to make an official’s incomplete-pass signal, and one of two German shepherds under police control bit his left hand.

PAW PRINTS: Tuberville said Franklin is still negotiating his contract with the compensation committee, but that he will get a two-year deal like the rest of the staff. … Senior quarterback Brandon Cox did not participate in Friday’s practice. He attended a friend’s funeral, Tuberville said. … Linebacker Chris Evans, a part-time starter this season, is out with a groin injury and likely won’t practice until Auburn reports to Atlanta. … Auburn will practice at home through Tuesday, running a two-a-day-like schedule with main practices early and walk-throughs late. … Tuberville said he wants to have the game plan in by the time Auburn breaks for the holiday. … The team will report to Atlanta on Christmas night. … Between Auburn and Atlanta, Tuberville wants to get in 10-12 practices.

— Joe Medley

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What Franklin said

Here’s a transcript of new Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s Wednesday teleconference with beat writers:

—Opening comment:
"I want to thank Coach Tuberville for having confidence in what we've done over the past two years to bring me to Auburn to take this style of offense into the Southeastern Conference. I'm looking forward to it."

—When first contacted?
"Sunday, I was coming back from Kentucky and Eddie called me. I've known Eddie for about nine years – since I was at Kentucky. We have stayed friends and stayed in contact with each other. That was the first time."

—When did you have an interview?
"That day. I was on my way back from Kentucky. I had been up to watch a quarterback. I came down that day and sat down and talked with the guys that day."

—Install offense now?
"No. Basically, I just want to be there and watch and get a head start on evaluating the talent for this spring. If I've got a suggestion, maybe a wrinkle or two, that would be good. I just want to try to see what the players are like and get around them and let them get to know me. If I can give them some advice that can help, that would be good."

—Talk to the players?
"No. I haven't. I haven't talked to anybody yet. It's been a whirlwind wince Sunday. I just basically found out today that it was going to happen for sure. I look forward to doing that during the next couple of days."

—Cliff notes version of your system?
"The biggest thing is that we want to try to get the ball to the people who deserve to have it in their hands. At Troy this year, we had 14 different receivers catch touchdown passes. … We had a lot of good players but nobody that was spectacular that was great that we had to feed the ball to all the time. Basically, we spread the field. We can use the same personnel in every formation imaginable without having to change personnel. We also can change personnel in and out.
"We're no-huddle all the time. We haven't been in a huddle in two years at Troy. Our players wouldn't know how to get in one if we wanted to. We play fast. We practice fast. We led the nation in the number of snaps per game – 81.5 per game.
"It's gives you a huge advantage as far as trying to control the tempo of the ballgame. When you're on offense, you should control the tempo. The defense should never control anything. They should be defending and you should be attacking.
"We're constantly attacking and trying to attack every area of the field. Every week, it's different. Every team, it's different. You take the strengths somebody has and you build from those strengths. That's what we'll do at Auburn. We'll find out what people are really good at and we'll build from there. Then we'll recruit for the other things we're not real good at."

—Tommy has expressed in the past he wins with defense, the run game and a strong punting game. Were you surprised he'd hire a spread-offense guy?
"Yeah, I did. I was basically a little taken aback when Eddie called me. It was not something I ever thought would happen. But they've won a lot of ballgames, and won championships, doing what they do. I think it's just a sign there are some good things out there besides sometimes lining up in power things.
"We'll still do that stuff — I did it at Troy the first year I was there. We didn't do it as much this year because we couldn't. It's just that everybody's got a different way of doing things. But No. 1 is — I still believe this, I say it everywhere — in order to win a championship, you have to be able to play great defense and you have to be able to run the football.
"If you look at our stats this year, we finished I believe No. 35 in the nation in rushing, and that was with the idea of always throwing the ball first and running second. But we averaged around 180-something yards per game rushing."

—How important is a mobile quarterback?
"It depends. If you've got a special guy that can sling it all over the place and he's perfect on throws, like Couch was at Kentucky, then he doesn't have to be incredibly mobile. Couch was a 4.9 or 5-flat guy, but he could really move well in the pocket. He just didn't run, but he didn't have to. He could flick his wrist and put in on the back shoulder of somebody.
"But if you've got a really good athlete that can run and he can throw with accuracy, all of a sudden he becomes a very dynamic player. The kid we had at Troy was a special kid, because No. 1 he was a great competitor, but he was a guy who could run and throw. When you have that, you really cause people problems.
"We're going to continue to hopefully have a quarterback who can do both, who can run the football and can throw it. That doesn't mean he has to be a 4.4, it just means he has to be an athlete and a competitor and willing to stick his nose in there and get dirty a little every now and then."

—Talk about the acceptance of your once-gimmicky offense since your days at Kentucky?
"If you look at what we did at Kentucky to what I'm doing now, there are some similarities. But we didn't run the ball a tremendous amount at Kentucky. There were times where we did. There were times where we would be in the off-set I.
"I remember against Georgia in 1998. We were running the clock at the end, lining up and pounding the ball. There were times when we did that, but there wasn't a commitment to it. What we've done is, we've used some of the base stuff they did, and we still throw a lot of screens to the wide receivers, stuff like that, but we also have tried to incorporate the zone option scheme, similar to what West Virginia does.
"We've always believed if you can do both, it's a pretty dynamic thing. We've accomplished that by being able to do some of that stuff this year, and it made us so much better and so much more difficult to defend. When the quarterback can run the football, it just makes a huge difference, just from the simple fact that it gives you an extra guy all the time, an extra blocker. It makes your offense much more dynamic.
"I've become a convert the last season and a half. In the beginning, when I was at Troy, we didn't try to run the quarterback very much. That was just something that kind of developed and developed. It made us better by being able to do it."

—Plan on staff changes?
"I don't perceive that at all. He's got a great coaching staff – guys who have been with a long time, guys who are loyal to him and are well respected throughout the nation. I look forward to learning from them, just like I did from my last staff."

—Calling the plays in the bowl game?
"I'm not really sure. I've got to figure out what they're doing first. I might suggest a run or a pass or something."

—Coach quarterbacks?
"Absolutely. That's something that I believe as the coordinator is important to do. I will definitely be coaching quarterbacks."

—You plan to recruit soon?
"The very second I'm cleared to go from Auburn, which I'm sure whatever paper work that I have to do, that I'll be able to do it. The very second they allow me to do that … hopefully, it will be before they go dead. Recruiting is the life blood of any program, and it's something that I've been fortunate I've been successful with, so I'm looking forward to recruiting for Auburn."

—Personnel in the system. Auburn has lots of running backs and tight ends. Do they fit in the system?
"Having a good tight end at Kentucky was something we were able to use because we were able to recruit tight ends. I hope that we do.
"You can do all kinds of stuff. Missouri has used the spread and 6-5 tight ends to play out in the slot. We'll do that, we'll have them in tight, we'll have them in the slot, they'll be in the backfield, they'll be all over the place.
"I coached running backs three years at Kentucky and for those three seasons, we had two running backs together had more yards from scrimmage than any running back combination in the SEC – that's rushing and receiving combined."

Franklin hired

This from Auburn University at 5:20 p.m. today:


AUBURN—Tony Franklin, who served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the past two seasons at Troy, has been named offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Auburn, announced head coach Tommy Tuberville Wednesday.
Franklin, who also spent four years at the University of Kentucky, helped both programs achieve a high level of offensive success.
“Tony has had a tremendous amount of success offensively in the Southeastern Conference and during his most recent position at Troy,” Tuberville said. “He teaches an exciting brand of offense that has posted some very impressive numbers, statistically. We’re excited to have him on staff and look forward to having him get started with us during preparations for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.”
During his tenure at Troy, Franklin helped lead the Trojans to back-to-back eight-win seasons, consecutive Sun Belt Conference Co-Championships and a New Orleans Bowl victory in 2006. Troy’s offense, which was last in the conference in total offense prior to his arrival, was second in the Sun Belt in 2006 and was first in the league in total offense (452.8 ypg) and scoring offense (34.0 ppg) this season. Nationally in 2007, his offense was 17th in total offense and 25th inscoring offense.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to return to the Southeastern Conference and work with an outstanding program at Auburn,” Franklin said. “I’m very appreciative of Coach Tuberville for giving me the chance to serve as Auburn’s offensive coordinator, and I’m excited about getting started and working with the coaching staff and players. I’d also like to thank (Troy) Coach Larry Blakeney and the Troy family for the opportunity they provided me during the last two years.”
Under Franklin’s direction, Troy quarterback Omar Haugabook was the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year in 2006. Haugabook repeated as the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year in 2007.
Franklin, 50, coached four years at the University of Kentucky from 1997-2000, where he was the Wildcats’ running backs coach from 1997-99 before serving as the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach during the 2000 season. While at Kentucky, Franklin helped lead the Wildcats to consecutive bowl appearances (1998-99) for the first time in 15 years and their first New Year’s Day bowl game (1999 Outback Bowl) in 50 seasons.
Named one of the top 10 recruiters in the South during his tenure in Lexington, Franklin’s offense in 2000 finished second nationally in passing offense and 11th in the country in total offense.
In 2003, Franklin was the general manager and head coach of the expansion franchise Lexington Horsemen football team in their inaugural season in the National Indoor Football League.
Prior to his stint at Kentucky, he coached 16 years on the high school level for seven schools. Franklin was a two-year letterman at Murray State, from 1976-77, where he played running back. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Murray State in 1979 and 1989, respectively.
A native of Princeton, Ky., Franklin and his wife, Laura, have three daughters, Chelsea (22), Caroline (20), and Caitlin (18).

More in Thursday's Star.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Borges resigns

The following from Auburn University on Tuesday:


AUBURN --- Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges has resigned, announced Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville.
Borges served as Auburn’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach since February 13, 2004.
“Al did a good job for us during his tenure and we appreciate everything that he did for Auburn,” Tuberville said. “We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.”
A 1981 California State University, Chico graduate, Borges’ offense led the Southeastern Conference in scoring in 2004 and 2005. This season, Auburn was ninth in the SEC in scoring offense and10th in total offense, averaging 24.3 points per game and 327.8 yards per contest.
“Al and I discussed this during the last week, and, after a decision was made, I began looking for a new offensive coordinator,” Tuberville said. “We hope to have someone on board in the near future.”

The school also released this statement from Borges: "After speaking with Coach Tuberville for the better part of 20 minutes, it became increasingly clear that Auburn needed a new offensive coordinator."

It looks like Auburn will hire Troy's Tony Franklin to replace Borges, signaling a move to the spread offense. An announcement is expected by Friday.
Also, Bobby Petrino reportedly resigned as the Atlanta Falcons head coach Tuesday, and reports have him headed to Arkansas. That means Auburn likely keeps defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
More in Wednesday's Star.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

ET ... The Extra Terrain quarterback

OK, so this really isn't an Auburn blog, but it's a tale of one of the most amazing individual performances I've witnessed in college football.
It comes to mind in the wake of Appy State quarterback Armanti Edwards' record-breaking performance Friday in an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision semifinal game (this from the people who feed us terms like "student-athlete"; can't we just call it Division I-AA?)
Edwards rushed for 313 yards, the most ever by a quarterback in Division I-AA. I haven't been able to confirm the previous record-holder, but I know someone who was awfully close.
And yes, I'm bragging on my alma mater here.
In the early 1990s, Western Kentucky had a 5-foot-8 fireplug of an option quarterback named Eddie Thompson. The Fort Knox product wore number 8, the same number worn by Jeff Cesarone, one of the school's great passers who finished his career just five years previous.
Thompson made the option offense just as exciting as the pro-style game Cesarone ran under a different coach. ET had flare.
In fact, Eddie would sacrifice his body to make a pitch. If necessary, he would jump into the arms of a tackler and make a two-handed pitch over the defender's helmet. I can't ever remember one of his jump pitches resulting in a fumble.
Little Eddie also had quick feet. I saw many an occasion where his fake pitch froze an end or linebacker on the corner, and Eddie would scoot into the secondary. It was Eddie's play action.
Which makes it so hard to explain Southern Illinois' strategy ... and stubbornness about it ... when the Salukis came to L.T. Smith Stadium for a Thursday game on Oct. 29, 1992. They were determined to deny Western the pitch. They had one, sometimes more players meeting the tailback on the corner, but usually no one challenged Eddie Thompson.
Eddie would dutifully execute his fake pitch as the Salukis ignored him, then take off. He would go 20, 30 yards before anyone got close enough to make contact.
It was the craziest thing I ever saw, and I wasn't alone. I bounced this off of then-Western SID Paul Just today, and he relayed the following insight from Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer sports writer Mark Mathis, my first boss in the biz and one of the press corps that night.
Said Just, "I remember Mark Mathis getting up from his seat, turning around and asking me -- with a amused smirk on his face: 'Does SIU have any coaches in the press box who can see what we see?'"
Apparently not.
Eddie ran and ran and ran. Western ran for 554 yards that night, a school record that stood until 1997. That's when Western had a taller, rangier option quarterback named Willie Taggart, known at Florida's Manatee High School as Tommy Frazier's successor.
Even with Eddie's steady running that night in 1992, Western had to block a close-range field goal in the game's final minute to preserve a 41-39 victory.
And the kick of it all?
As I recall, the game came just hours after Western's Board of Regents ended a tense, months-long examination of the school's football program by voting 6-4 to keep it ... albeit, with half the university subsidy.
Had the vote been 5-5, then an original resolution to kill the program ... which passed in the spring of 1992 and was tabled to consider a counter proposal ... would have stood. The sixth "yea" vote was the very last vote cast.
Now, Western stands five years removed from a I-AA national title. The Hilltoppers just completed a transition year in the move up to college football's top division.
L.T. Smith Stadium is no longer the one-sided, two-decker that Jacksonville State fans might remember from a playoff game a few years back. It's a two-sider with amenities.
In 1992, Eddie Thompson had the ball at the program's crossroads. He and Western's program carried the ball quite a ways after that.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

New poll for the blog

The Auburn Beat blog now has a poll running about AU's 2007 football season. It's over on the right side of the screen a few inches below Joe's lovely mug.
Be sure to vote.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What Tubs said

Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville met with beat writers and other media Wednesday regarding his contract extension. He agreed to a two-year extension Tuesday night, after meeting with athletics director Jay Jacobs in New York. What follows is raw transcription of what he said:

--Opening statement

"I’m glad this is behind us. I think there was a lot of misunderstanding in terms of what this was all about. Being a head football coach in major college football, obviously, you’re always looking to improve and make things better for you coaches, for the people around you, for your football team and for your university, and that’s basically what this has been about. As we all know, in the last few years, we’ve changed leadership here on the campus, Jay taking over as athletics director and Dr. Gogue taking over as president, and they offered an extension. There was never any doubt I was coming back. It was in terms of whether I wanted to add to more years onto my contract, so we sat down. We had discussions. They were a little bit drawn out. You can’t do them all in one day. Of course, I had some things to do, and they had some things to do, but, in the long run, we wanted to do what was best for Auburn and for Auburn’s football program and athletics department, and we come to a conclusion that some things that could be worked out, and my family and I and our coaches decided to add to years onto the contract. It’s a very generous contract in terms of what we’re given, but it’s also some things that we’ll obviously earn over the next years, six years. I’m looking forward to it. You can get a new energy inside of you when you feel like people are behind you. I want to thank the thousands of people who sent me letters, emails, phone calls, put things on my porch at home. It was just mind boggling, but it makes you feel good to know that people really want you to be around and that they feel like you’ve done a good job, which we’ve been here nine years. We’ve worked awfully hard to make it better, and we think it’s better, but we think it can be a lot better, and I just wanted to be on the same page with our leaders in terms of what they wanted to accomplish and how I felt we could get better, and so that’s what we’ve done. So Jay and I talked yesterday for about two or three hours, and we were both on the same page, as Dr. Gogue was a week earlier, so looking forward to it, putting that behind us knowing now that everybody can go back to business and get on with getting ready for the bowl game coming up."

--When will you sign?

"What I’ll do, you get a contract, and I, of course, we’ve agreed on the things that are in the contract. What I do, I have a lawyer I send it to. They look at the wording. I don’t know when you sign. It took a month to sign it the last time, but we’ve agreed on it, the terms. Then what you do is you work out wording, words and if-ands and all of those things. That’s very easy to do, but you just want to make sure for both sides everything is the way you want it."

--Did you get answers about facility upgrades?

"In terms of upgraded for six years. That's what I was talking about. I wasn't talking about…..(interruption!!!)
"There's going to be some things that need to be done in the next six years. If you're going to make a commitment, you want to know what kind of commitment your leaders have. The commitment's there. This year, we're redoing all our bottom floor for our players. I think that's very important. We're redoing dressing rooms, showers, all the lockers, equipment room, training room. It's going to start immediately after bowl practice. Once we leave, sometime after Christmas, we will not be able to use the bottom floor through the spring semester. It's going to go through the spring semester. We're going to move the football team and basically their lockers into the weight room, I mean the indoor. All that downstairs is going to be completely redone. That's been on the burner anyway. That's not anything we just talked about. That's been bid out, planned, designed, all those things. The next thing Jay talked about is a stadium expansion. That's in the future, that's in the master plan. You'll have to ask him. There's some other things on the master plan. The major thing I've been talking about and so is Jay and Dr. Richardson before he left and the trustees, the one thing we had to get was different housing for our players. That's already in the mix. I think they're doing a lot of the groundwork. It's going to be over near the new coliseum they're going to build. They will be done in about a year and a half. That's an excellent addition. All I wanted to do was sit down, in terms of facilities, and get my ideas and their feedback on what they thought was feasible for the next five or six years. There's no doubt everyone's on the same page. Jay's done a good job since he's been here. We've redone this room. He's done a lot of things I haven't even asked him to do. He's been very proactive. We're redoing all the coaches offices as we speak – painting, floors, furniture. It's been what 15-16 years since we've moved into this building. He understands the need for redoing things. We're moving the museum and redoing offices. A lot of things are going on. The only thing I was concerned of was the time span and what we were going to do. We have a master plan. It's been talked about with the trustees. We've looked at in the future over at the old track in terms of an indoor. That's not on the front burner. That's on the backburner, but it's something in the future we're going to have to do in terms of upgrading facilities. We're going to need more well."

--How did you address security for assistants?

"Security? Well, most of them have two-year contracts. What we talked about were raises, incentive things. Most of the guys have been with me for nine years. Give them the opportunity, they're not looking for huge raises, they're looking for an opportunity to have incentives such as head coaches have or athletic directors. Once you've paid your dues at one school and been around for a while, and people know you and you've done a good job, you have to look for ways to help them out. Next year, as most of you have written, it will be our 10th year here. Most will be vested in the retirement system because of 10 years. That's a big incentive for them. Everything I do is for this football program and our assistants because they're the ones who go out and do the hard work and have done a great job."

--Are there any hard feelings involved?

"No. There are no hard feelings. It's a business. You don't want to let anything go by. If we weren't doing the contract, there wouldn't have been any discussion about it. If you're adding years, you want to make sure everybody is on the same page. Six years is a long time. For us to have the opportunity to compete in the conference week in and week and … also get to another level.
"We've taken several steps up the ladder since we've been here. The facilities have improved. The players have improved. Our academics have improved. Everything's improved. We all agree that it can be better. We want it to be better. We're looking for the same answers about moving it to the next step. It's hard. This conference is very hard. There's more parity out there every day. "We want to continue like we've been winning – and even more. It's going to be very hard to keep up the pace year in and year out. Everybody's looking for the golden key, so to speak, in terms of finding the right answers to: How can you be as successful as we've been? "We won eight games this year. That's not what we're looking for at Auburn by any means. We know where we want to get. We know how to get there. We want to make sure everybody is on the same page.This was a great time for all of us to get together, look each other in the eye and say: This is what we want to do, this is where we want to get to, this is hope we're going to do it. We all agreed, so we said: Let's go and get it done."

--Will you coach here for six years (term of the contract)?

"Do I look old? I look old and tired?"I feel better than I felt five years ago. I talk to some of my elders like Steve Spurrier. I watch them. I watch how they coach. They still have a lot in them. I'm going to coach as long as I can get the job done. I'm not going to be one just standing around. As long as I feel good about it, I'm going to give it all I've got. I feel like I've got many more years left."

--Buyout? Why reduce it?

"The buyout was a lot of talk. Jay and I probably spent 5 minutes in the entire discussion about the buyout, about what they expected. You want to make sure everybody's fair. When I agreed to this (initially), we felt like it was best for both sides to have the same buyout. I'm not going anywhere. I'm not looking to go anywhere. "It protects me as much as it protects them. You know how it goes. Sometimes, people lose patience. They've made a big commitment to me, re-stated that commitment during the past couple of weeks. I feel great about it and I hope they do."

--You weren't talkative lately. Might it have been a good idea to address rumors about you and coaching vacancies at other schools?

"Rumors are rumors. There wasn't anything to talk about. I wasn't contacted by anybody else. I felt like I needed to give you all something to write about. There's not much going on this time of year. There's no need to go out and address something that's really not happening. "The only thing that was happening was our negotiation in terms of a two-year extension. I could very easily have said I just want four more years and nothing would have really changed.There wasn't anything out there that I could have intelligently addressed because there wasn't anything to it."

--What was your reaction when an Arkansas TV station reported that you took the Arkansas job?

"I happened to be in Arkansas that night. We were at a deer camp. We go every year. It's not that I just happened to go this year. I usually go the week of Thanksgiving. They moved the game back. One of my best friends is a farmer in Arkansas. He always picks me up and some of the coaches. We hunt one afternoon, hunt the next morning and come back. "We were sitting around the fire. We'd just got through eating. It came on the news that I'd accepted the job. We all turned around and looked at each other very slowly and started laughing about it. That's how things start. "It really had nothing to do with Arkansas officials. This is just rumors. It's rumors that get started, internet, talk and everybody thought I was probably over there interviewing for the job. It was a little different. My wife even called me and wanted to know what in the world was going on. "There was no basis to it on either side. It was strictly bad reporting."

--Did anyone leave a for-sale sign on your porch?

"No. I didn't get one of those. If somebody wants to buy it I'll sure sell it to them. I've got a lot of money in it. I just got through building that thing, a year-and-a-half, takes forever to build that thing.
The fans have been great. We didn't want to put anybody out or anything. It was the best thing for Auburn to go through this slowly and do it the right way and not make any quick decisions, not in terms of me being here but in terms of whether to make a two-year more commitment instead of sticking with four years.
"I’m real appreciative of Jay and Dr. Gogue because we did go 8-4. We didn't get to Atlanta and we didn't do anything spectacular. I thought we played pretty good at times but we could have done better. We're going to do better. We're going to start next week, I think practice starts Wednesday or Thursday. We're going to use this for another spring ball and try to make these young guys better."

--Could you talk about planned housing for the team?

"It's going to be apartment-type housing here on campus, which is going to be great. It's going to have eating establishments, different types of fast food places, kind of line a mini-mall within the building. I think somewhere around 1,500 apartments.
"It will be an apartment-type setting for the players. They'll have their own rooms and have a common area of studying and T.V. It's going to be first-class, state-of-the-art, something Auburn people can be proud of, not just the athletes. Only a small portion of the athletes will be there. It will be regular students also.
The great thing is it's going to be on campus. It will be within walking distance of this building and walking distance of all the classrooms and buildings on this campus.
"Sewell Hall has been a great place. I've had a lot of conversations with Bill Sewell who's the son of the dad who built it. They've got a lot of memories. It's to the point now where these guys are getting bigger and they don't fit in the beds. You can imagine King Dunlap sleeping in a regular bed that was built 35-40 years ago."

--Do you turn your focus to recruiting?

"There's been a lot of talk about how come I'm not on the recruiting trail. I don't go very early. I use all mine in January. My deal is we've got three-fourths of our class committed and I do go out in the fall. I see a lot of players in the fall. I'm one of the few head coaches that goes on Friday nights and watches games. I'm going today to see three players.
"I try to let a lot of guys do their first home visits. I only get one shot and I don't like to use mine early. If you go in early then you don't get to see them for the rest of recruiting. I kind of hold mine back until January where I can answer any questions that come up during the holidays or anytime like that. I try to stay out of the assistants' way mostly in December. I'll go out a few, probably hit 10 or 12 guys out of 50 and then in January I'll hit around 35 players. That's always been my philosophy. I just feel like a head coach needs to be in there late. If you go to early then they forget about who you are and what you look like. I want to one of the last head coaches in the home."

Don't take me seriously; I'm only buggin'

I'm sitting here in Auburn's athletics complex, awaiting a Chick-fil-A Bowl press conference and thinking just how nice it is to have things getting back to normal. We'll have some questions today related to Tommy Tuberville's now concluded contract negotiations with Auburn, but the 10-day chase of Tuberville news is over.
Since we're getting back to the mundane, I thought I'd share a funny story from the mundane.
I'm sitting at my kitchen table Tuesday, staring into my laptop and awaiting word on Tuberville's meeting with athletics director Jay Jacobs in New York. I hear a knock at the front door. It's the bug man, and he's here for our termite inspection.
He goes down in the basement, and I return to the kitchen table. A few minutes later, I hear the basement door open. I get up to meet the bug man and get the word on our humble home.
As I approach him, I see a ladybug crawling on his left cheek. Just as I start to say something, he says, "Well, I didn't see anything."
File this one under, "Life of a beat writer." Actually, it's life of a beat writer's wife.
The last 10 days of chasing has claimed casualties, starting with at least four scheduled off days. My wife and I had to cut a planned shopping day in Birmingham short. We postponed our annual trip to see the lights at Noccalula Falls. The Christmas tree remains in its box.
Oh, and I'm getting those icy stares.
The stares started Friday in the Riverchase Galleria. I listened to sports talk radio all the way there, and my cell phone just magically stayed in my ear.
Just when we had a few uninterrupted minutes of shopping, none other than Auburn running back Brad Lester walked by. He said hey. We talked casually for a minute, and he had my 20-month-old son, Hayden, give him five.
It was a pretty neat little moment, but it just added to Rhonda's growing frustration. We just couldn't get away from Auburn.
Perhaps I should her get revenge. I could leave my cell phone on through today's press conference. Rhonda could call and interrupt to her heart's content.
Nah. Wouldn't want the Eat Mor Chikin cow to charge me.
To Shirley, who emailed me to complain about 10 days of all-Tuberville, all-the-time, I say it's nice to know readers feel like I do.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tubs drama over

Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville agreed to a two-year contract extension Tuesday, after a meeting with athletics director Jay Jacobs in New York. Here's the Auburn news release, received at 8:16 p.m.:


Auburn has extended Coach Tommy Tuberville’s contract for an additional two years, and added an increase of $200,000 annually, though the 2013 season announced Athletics Director Jay Jacobs Tuesday.
The extension of the contract makes it a six-year agreement, worth anaverage of 3.3 million annually.
“We’re very pleased with the success, hard work and efforts of Coach Tuberville and his staff,” Jacobs said. “Tommy and I worked patiently though this process and did what was best for Auburn. He has not only achieved success with a winning program, but has student-athletes that graduate and represent Auburn in the finest manner.”
In nine years at Auburn, Tuberville has led the program to a 79-33 mark, including an 8-4 record in 2007. Under Tuberville, Auburn has made eight consecutive bowl appearances and posted a 41-9 mark since 2004, which is the seventh-best record among Football Bowl Subdivision teams during that span.
“I’m very appreciative for this extension and look forward to continuing the success that we’ve established at Auburn,” Tuberville said. “Auburn University is a great institution, and we have an outstanding athletics department. We look forward to being at Auburn for a long time.
“I’d like to thank the best college football fans in the country, the Auburn fans and the Auburn family for their support and patience over the last few weeks. Myself and the entire coaching staff are excited about the past, present and especiallythe future of Auburn football.”
Since 2000, Auburn is tied for the best league record in the Southeastern Conference with a 48-17 mark. Tuberville led Auburn to a 17-10 victory over Alabama in its last game, extending the Tigers' winning streak in the series to a school-record six games.
Auburn faces Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

More in Wednesday's Star

Meet the new boss ... same as the old boss?

All indications are that the drama that has been Tommy Tuberville's contract negotiation with Auburn --- and the side drama of erroneous reports linking him to other jobs --- are near an end.
It looks like Tuberville is about to sign his contract extension offer with Auburn, and we can now begin to color in the events of the last nine days.
I've said it on this blog and on radio, and I've always thought that Tuberville was exploiting the linking of his name to other head-coaching vacancies in order to accomplish something at Auburn.
There never was much chance that he was going to Texas A&M, Arkansas or LSU. If not his own desires, then his buyout almost assured that he would stay put.
I'm not even sure that I buy that Tuberville's agent, Jimmy Sexton, got involved in linking his client to other schools. He didn't have to. Any time head-coaching jobs open at Miami, A&M, Arkansas or LSU, Tuberville's connection to those schools or their past coaching searches lands him in the rumor mill.
Sexton need not even touch his cell phone for those rumors to start.
Once strongly worded media reports linked Tuberville to those jobs --- regardless of who sourced those reports --- he had a negotiating tool.
Tuberville got an audience with Auburn's first-year president, Jay Gogue. Tuberville made his point with the guy who replaced Ed Richardson, with whom Tuberville had a good rapport.
The plain-spoken Richardson, after all, was president when Tuberville negotiated his current contract. At signing time, the deal made Tuberville one of the highest-paid coaches in the nation and gave him unprecedented security with the aforementioned buyout.
Assuming that Tuberville does sign his new deal, the question becomes how to move forward.
The media drama that surrounded Tuberville's negotiation left some Auburn fans bruised. One only needs to read message boards to sense it.
Those who seem to feel so also seem to believe that Tuberville tapped his evil-genius agent to do what agents do. They believe Tuberville didn't express his loyalty enough, or express it forcefully enough, while all of this was going on.
In short, some fans believe they got played, or put in the middle.
Auburn fans can be a jaded lot. Their cynicism is hard-earned, with the history of trustee shenanigans and Sexton's previous brushstrokes.
When things happen, Auburn fans tend to assume things. It's hard to blame them, but perception is not always fact.
I believe, however, that Tuberville must treat perception as fact here. If he signs his new deal, then the news should be announced in a news conference. A simple news release might have passed last week, but not now.
Tuberville doesn't need to choke up like he did after "Jetgate" in December of 2003, but he needs to give that forceful statement of loyalty.
He needs to make the case that issues he raised were about Auburn, not about him. If, in fact, he wanted to eliminate his buyout, then he must convince fans that he wanted greater bargaining power as steward of Auburn's football program ... not the initiative to leave first chance he gets.
Even now, Auburn fans will believe Tuberville if he so much as infers that he needs such bargaining power against the school's PTBs (message board acronym for Powers That Be, which Auburn fans will forever assume to mean trustees).
Also, if media reports linking Tuberville to other schools came from sources other than Tubeville's camp, then he needs to make that case.
Tuberville's greatest bargaining chip has always been the fan base. They invested in him emotionally after Jetgate, and they need more from him now than a crafted statement in a news release. They need video and audio, and they need something sincere to resonate from what they see and hear.
And just for good measure, Auburn fans could stand to go awhile without hearing the name Jimmy Sexton. Fair or not, that's how they seem to feel.

Friday, November 30, 2007

More untrue reports

That Tommy Tuberville's talks with his bosses at Auburn go on without resolution ... and seemingly without urgency ... has caused plenty of anxiety around the Auburn fan base. Then again, so have media that have gotten things terribly wrong.
Since the first rumors started linking Tuberville, Auburn's coach, to an anticipated opening at Texas A&M, Auburn fans were told it's "time to panic" by The Sporting News.'s Andre Ware (what's his journalism background?) told them that Tuberville was the No. 1 candidate, and there was no No. 2.
Two of this state's major papers told Auburn fans this week that Tuberville had agreed to a contract extension. They were told, via Arkansas TV stations and internet sources Thursday night, that Tuberville had all but signed on the dotted line at Arkansas.
As of Monday, Texas A&M hired Mike Sherman ... three days after Dennis Franchione resigned. As of today, Tuberville is returning early from his annual hunting trip to Arkansas, presumably to resume talks with his boss ... at Auburn. No, there has not yet been agreement. And, as of this writing, no one at Arkansas has even sought permission to talk to Tuberville.
Tuberville could have avoided this weeks go, with strong statements about his commitment to Auburn. He and athletics director Jay Jacobs could have avoided this by not avoiding the myriad beat writers that cover Auburn since contract negotiations started Monday.
Tuberville made very thoughtful, would-be-calming statements on his radio show Thursday night (see my blog below), but they came too late. Many Auburn fans heard about the reports out of Arkansas before hearing his words.
If Tuberville and Jacobs were going to pause negotiations after Tuesday, then why couldn't they have had an impromptu sitdown with beat writers then, at which time Tuberville could have said everything he said on radio Thursday night? It might have spared Auburn fans a lot of anxiety, say nothing of beat writers.
Then again, sports journalism in the jumpy new media environment sure has sunk to shameful levels on this. It seems to me that journalistic skepticism, caution and responsibility should be timeless, even as new media manned by people without journalism backgrounds comes on line.
It's simple really. Never know better than what you tell the public. And if there's doubt, then don't publish or air it.

Tuberville speaks

This from Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, who has made his first public comments about ongoing negotiations with Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs and president Jay Gogue. Tuberville made these comments during Thursday's Tiger Talk show. Tuberville is on a hunting trip in Stuttgart, Ark. His comments:

"There always seems to be a sense of urgency in the public eye, but contracts take forever. What you want to try to do is agree on individual things. There are obviously things in the program that I think need to be looked at very hard for us to not only be able to continue to win but also continue to get better.
"That's the reason I talked to Dr. Gogue and Jay Jacobs. What we've done and will continue to do for probably another week is sit down and look at the best circumstances for this team and this program. There's a lot of variables there that you have to look at. When you redo it, that's for a few years.
"I want everybody, not just our administration but also the fans and everybody, to understand we are at a point, and if we are going to get to another point we can't keep on as is. You have to make changes in facilities. You have to have a plan. I've been here nine years and think I'm pretty experienced in what I feel and our staff feels needs to happen for us to go to another level, get back to Atlanta and win in Atlanta. We are always working toward that. If there's anything out there physical that we can do to make sure that happens, we need to do that.
"We're not going to run and jump through this. I'm not looking to go anywhere. I'm looking to make sure people understand what we need to do to get better. This program needs to take steps in some areas to improve, and it's something we need to talk about.
"I read a little bit about this job and that job. I'm worried about this one. We are going to take our time. We are going to look to do the best we possibly can for the program, and whatever happens, can happen. It's not about the money. It's about making sure we get this thing right for everybody.
"We have a lot of competition in this league. I feel like I know what we need to do to take steps further. I'll try to get that over to the people in charge, see what they feel about it. As I said earlier, as long as they want us here, we'll be here. We are going to continue to work in that direction. People don't need to panic or anything. This is for the betterment of Auburn.
"Obviously, I always look out for my family which is our coaches and our families. I want to make sure everybody is happy and healthy, but also has a chance to have success. We've had great success in nine years. We want the success to improve in nine years. I think everybody wants that."

Tuberville, Jacobs and Gogue met Monday, and Tuberville met with Jacobs on Tuesday. They did not meet as scheduled Wednesday, but all parties have indicated that meetings have gone well.
Jacobs has also said that Arkansas has not contacted him for permission to talk to Tuberville.
Tuberville is expected to be back in Auburn today or Saturday before leaving Sunday for College Hall of Fame activities in New York.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Statement from Jacobs

The following is a statement from Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs, as released by the school's athletics media relations department, following his Monday meeting with head football coach Tommy Tuberville and school president Jay Gogue:

"President Gogue, Tommy, and I visited today and had a great meeting. As I’ve previously stated, Tommy’s our coach and we’re proud of his accomplishments. Tommy and I will sit down and meet in the near future as we do at the end of every season. We’ll discuss what we can do to make the program better and build upon the success that we’ve sustained. Once we’ve met, I will make a recommendation to President Gogue."

Aggies, Arkansas and Borges

AUBURN -- I'm sitting here in the athletics complex on this rainy November Monday morning, awaiting whatever news is to come from Tommy Tuberville's meeting with Auburn president Jay Gogue and athletics director Jay Jacobs. I'll be glad to spill when it comes, but I must spill my mind first.
Before it bursts.
If you read a few blogs down, you'll see that my gut feeling on the whole Tommy Tuberville-to-Texas A&M thing was this: A&M and Tuberville used each other. A&M got a diversionary name to float out to the public, and Tuberville got negotiating leverage at Auburn for himself, his assistants and facilities.
I thought that from the first chatter linking Tuberville and A&M.
As I sit here, A&M is three days removed from Dennis Franchione's resignation ... and less than an hour from a news conference to announce Mike Sherman as its new coach. Tuberville is meeting with his bosses, as scheduled.
There's been much written and said in other places about Tuberville to Texas A&M, more by state and national columnists than beat writers. Weeks ago, we read that he was the No. 1 candidate, and there was no No. 2. We read that it was time for Auburn fans to "panic." As late as last Friday, we read that "it's still possible" could end up at A&M.
It's Monday, and Auburn fans know where their coach is. A&M fans know who their coach is.
Ah, but there's still negotiating underway, and Tuberville still needs for leverage. Funny how Arkansas talk picked up as the A&M door shut.
Arkansas was expected to annouce Houston Nutt's buyout Monday night, and published speculation lists Tuberville as a possible candidate.
Then again, Arkansas would have to pay Nutt's $3.5 million buyout, plus Tuberville's $6 million buyout at Auburn and whatever salary Tuberville would command.
I've been in this business 20 years, too long to say that anything is impossible. Tuberville is from Arkansas, after all, but the timing of all of this makes it sound like another leverage grab.
So much for the front-burner coaching speculation. Now, on to Auburn assistants, particularly Al Borges.
My daily case of message-board fatigue comes after reading so many threads debating whether Borges has a future at Auburn beyond this season, and whether he should.
There's talk that he might be the mix for the head-coaching job at Colorado State. There's talk that Borges leaving might be what Tuberville wants.
May be. Auburn's offense ranks 106th in the NCAA Bowl Sub-Division.
Me thinks fans clamoring for Borges' ouster/departure might be forgetting a lot of facts, however. Borges had the SEC's top offenses in 2004 and 2005. He did it with two different quarterbacks. He did it despite replacing three first-round draft picks from his backfield in 2005.
Auburn's offense began to falloff in 2006, in part because of season-long nagging injuries that slowed quarterback Brandon Cox and running back Kenny Irons, the 2005 SEC rushing champion.
Auburn's offense became little more than a clock eater for Auburn's defense this season, largely because a celebrated corps of four wide receivers finished their eligibility in 2005 and 2006. Auburn had trouble recruiting that position until Devin Aromashodu, Anthony Mix and Ben Obomanu were seniors in 2005, and what's left after Courtney Taylor graduated in 2006 is either young or mediocre.
Factor in three true freshmen on the offensive line, and Auburn didn't have the personnel to be a more aggressive and more effective offense this season. The Tigers had to be conservative to keep the clock moving. Tuberville said as much last week, citing personnel and his own defense-first style for the failings of Auburn's offense this season.
So why does Borges catch heat from some fans? They're dissatisfied, he happens to have a title and memories can be short on details.
I don't think a coach forgets how to coach. We saw during Saturday's Iron Bowl that Borges still knows how to use formation shifts to confuse a defenses. He also showed misdirection, hitting Alabama with runs right and play-action, rollout passes left. Those tactics combined to buy Auburn a touchdown on its first drive.
That Borges can coach showed in the fact that Auburn scored on its first drive in six of its last eight games. Defenses adjust, and, again, he had limited personnel to work with, but I don't see that as Borges' fault.
Just my two cents.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Just Plain tight?

AUBURN -- Maybe things aren't tight in Auburn right now. Maybe Auburn's assistant coaches are simply getting a media vacation.
For those used to reading and hearing comments from Auburn's assistant coaches, get ready for deprivation. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has made his assistants off limits to media until after the Alabama game.
This after Auburn lost 45-20 at Georgia on Saturday. The Tigers do not have a game this week before playing rival Alabama on Nov. 24.
One gets the sense there were tense staff meetings after the Georgia game. Tuberville all but called defensive coordinator Will Muschamp out in the postgame news conference, saying Auburn's defenders were "out of position" and "confused." Tuberville wasn't much kinder to the offense, which turned in a season-low 216 yards.
One thing is certain; Tuberville's media blackout on assistants marks the greatest access restriction of his ninth and most restrictive season at Auburn. It started with denial of access to injured players or players under discipline.
Reporters were not allowed to talk to running back Brad Lester until after the Vanderbilt game, his first game off suspension. His imminent return to action was announced the week before the Vandy game.
Wide receiver Terrell Zachery, the Wadley product who is in what Tuberville termed the coach's "doghouse," has also been kept away from media. The Star has made numerous interview requests, all denied.
Sources close to the Zachery situation have said the redshirt freshman is academically ineligible this season because of a shortage of credit hours. They say he is on schedule to rejoin the team in spring.
Restrictions have also tightened around players and coaches in contoversy. Offenisve linemen Chaz Ramsey and Lee Ziemba were off limits the week following the LSU game, in which they were involved in a controversial chop block on LSU's Glenn Dorsey. Offensive line coach Hugh Nall was also unavailable that week.
It's been tough getting answers this season, and it's been weird around here. Media covering Auburn are used to liberal access policies. I've never encountered or heard of another school as coorperative as Auburn had been until this season.
The tightening of things this season makes one wonder what kind of tensions lie behind the scenes.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Twists and turns of coaching speculation

About an hour before Auburn's game with Tennessee Tech on Saturday, the Sporting News writer who has fueled speculation about Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville leaving for Texas A&M seemed to back off his previous writings.
Tom Dienhart, speaking by telephone during the Tiger Tailgate Show, acknowledged that the odds of Tuberville leaving Auburn are probably long.
He went on to say that the case for Texas A&M is better than some Auburn fans might acknowledge. He made good points, though I think he overestimates drop-off at rival Texas.
I also think he and others overestimate the Saban Factor as it pertains to Auburn, and the notion that Auburn's coaching staff wants to get out of town before Nick Saban gets Alabama reloaded.
Yes, Nick Saban is an excellent coach who will have Alabama at a high level. Based on improvement Alabama has shown this season, he has the Crimson Tide ahead of schedule.
But Saban had SEC- and national-championship teams at LSU, and Tuberville went 3-2 against him during Saban's LSU stay. I doubt Tuberville and his staff are ready to pick up their families and move just because Saban works at Alabama now.
I've said it on podcasts and on radio, and here's what I think in blog form.
I just don't see the sense in Tuberville leaving Auburn at this stage of his life and career, especially for what essentially is a lateral move.
Never mind what he or anyone says. Just match words against common sense and probable motivations. It made a lot more sense for Tuberville to leave Ole Miss for Auburn nine years ago than it makes for him to leave Auburn for Texas A&M now.
I've heard the rationales to the contrary.
One, Tuberville is not on speaking terms with Auburn's Board of Trustees. May be, but he's supposed to be on speaking terms with the athletics director and president. Wasn't that what SACs was all about?
Two, Tuberville wants revenge for the Jetgate debacle of 2003. Well, four years have passed. Every year Tuberville continues to work at Auburn and take more than $2 million off its hands, he's getting revenge.
Three, A&M has deep pockets; the school can pay any buyout and come at Tuberville with a Saban-like contract offer. Perhaps, and that's what keeps me from totalling dismissing Tuberville-to-Texas A&M talk.
My theory on what's happening here is that Tuberville is helping Texas A&M, and vice versa, whether intentionally or not.
My guess is that published speculation about Tuberville and Texas A&M is based on at least one of two sources: Jimmy Sexton, Tuberville's agent, and A&M insiders. The talk helps Sexton position Tuberville for possible tweaking and/or sweetening of the coach's contract at Auburn after this season. The talk also helps Texas A&M, if it really has other coaches in mind.
I've covered college sports for 20 years with many searches. I've learned all about what I call the "diversionary candidate," a coach who looks like a viable candidate, usually because of connections to a school. Search insiders leak that coach's name to throw media and the public off the scent.
Because of that coach's connection to the school, perhaps he doesn't mind the school leaking his name. He can help old friends.
Assuming he's secure with his current school ... and Tuberville is at Auburn ... having his name leaked doesn't hurt him. It could help him with possible contract renegotiations.
It's a win-win on both sides.
I could be wrong about all of this. I might be covering a coaching search in a month or so.
My experience and the pragmatics I see for Tuberville right now tell me otherwise. We shall see.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

At last, it's Football Lite

AUBURN -- Ahhh, homecoming. It's a light week leading up to a light game with a chance to write about players down the depth chart.
Problem is, so many of Auburn's freshmen have played this season and been written about.
As Auburn gets set to play OVC opponent Tennessee Tech this week, it'll be interesting to see what Auburn does with quarterback Kodi Burns. The coaches had to burn his redshirt earlier this season, so perhaps he'll get extended action against TTU.
If so, it'll be interesting to see if Al Borges et al let Burns do more than the limited game package he has shown so far this season. Seems like it would help Kodi Burns and help Auburn.
If they need him to play later this season, he will have shown a few more things on film. He has an arm, arguably the strongest arm on the team. Might as well make Georgia and Alabama respect it.
In other notes, it's interesting that Auburn jumped to No. 19 in the AP poll and No. 16 in the coaches' poll with a not-so-impressive showing against Ole Miss. Other teams lost, of course, and maybe this wacky season has taught poll voters to appreciate the value of a win ... style points optional.
Oh, and suspended wide receiver Robert Dunn will be back this week. He's expected to play against TTU.
More details in Monday's Star. Enjoy a beautiful Sunday.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Beat but on the beat

AUBURN -- Greetings from a tired beat writer.
Auburn has played three road games in four weeks, and the one home game fell on the same weekend as the races at Talladega. Lots of travel. Lots of short nights of sleep.
To give you an idea of the life of a beat writer, I covered an 8 p.m. game Saturday at LSU. I got back to my hotel room about 1:30 a.m., got to bed at 2, got up at 6:15 and hit the road by about 7:30 so that I could reach Auburn in time for a 3 p.m. session with Tommy Tuberville.
More interviews followed, then writing, then driving back to Oxford.
Needless to say, once I got home at about 11 p.m., I was not long for Sunday night. After a month's worth of weekends similar to that one, I could sure use an open date.
I'm sure the players and coaches I cover, not to mention my fellow beat-writer chums, feel the same or worse.
I guess the real question for Auburn's players would be, can they get over an emotional loss as well as fatigue in time to avoid a real letdown against Ole Miss on Saturday.
Auburn's 30-24 loss at LSU on Saturday was, to use the word of one of Auburn's players today, "devastating." Auburn had a one-point lead with just more than three minutes to play and lost on the last play from scrimmage.
Auburn was that close ... and that far ... from beating a legitimate top-five team in one of the more difficult places to play.
There's been lots of talk this week about a penalty that was waved off, a questionable spot on a key play in LSU's last drive, Auburn's offensive woes in the third quarter and Auburn's defensive woes in the second half. In the end, it was a great team against a very good team. The great team had the ball last at home and made the plays.
Just talking to Auburn's players this week, most seem to see it that way. They don't see the loss as a reason to give up on their season, though an SEC West Division championship isn't likely.
The Tigers have winnable games against Ole Miss and Tennessee Tech coming up, followed by pick'em rival showdowns with Georgia and Alabama.
The Tigers could still finish 9-3, 6-2 SEC and likely wind up somewhere like Tampa for the holidays. They will long lament the early loss to Mississippi State, but a positive outcome remains reachable for a team with 66.7 percent lower classmen.
That seems to be the talk here this week. Maybe that's enough to keep a bunch of college football players from dragging.
As for travel-weary beat writers, there's always caffeine.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Of pig calls and barbecue pits

FAYETTEILLE, Ark. --- Not to brag, but I feel like I have the best seat in Razorback Stadium today.
I'm on the front row of the press box, far left corner as I look out. The window to my left lets me see the tailgate scene, and I have a nice view of the big, tent-dotted hill across the way.
The scene just screams college football. Add clear skies, a moderate temperature and stout breeze, and it's a perfect day to cover a game.
Because I'm in a corner, I have all kinds of office space to my left. I could actually take a nap in the floor to my left, if so inclined (or declined).
There's no one seated immediately to my right because of the staircase, so elbow space galore! The nearest writer is my friend Christa Turner from the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer. Shouts out to her family in Pleasant Valley, Alexandria and White Plains.
This Auburn-Arkansas game is a hard one to analyze. I see reasons why both teams could win it.
I see more reasons in Auburn's favor. First, I think Auburn's defensive line is the best of Tommy Tuberville's nine-year Auburn stay and will win its share of battles at the line of scrimmage. Also, I like Auburn's offense against Arkansas' defense.
Arkansas has given up a combined 83 points in its two SEC games. Auburn's offense has six drives of nine plays or more and five of 74 yards or more in the last two games. Auburn's best defense against Arkansas running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones is keeping them on the bench.
On the Arkansas side, no one completely stops McFadden and Jones. Also, Arkansas has an X-factor on kickoffs. The Razorbacks, with McFadden and Jones as the deep men, average an SEC-best 26.5 yards a return. Jones averages an SEC-best 34.4 yards. Auburn ranks No. 11 in the SEC in kickoff coverage, giving up more yards per return (38.3) than Jones averages.
If Auburn's offense is successful in milking time of possession, then its kickoff team cannot let Arkansas make up time with returns near midfield or better.
A flag-stretching wind blows from the enclosed end of the stadium to the fieldhouse end. If Wes Byrum kicks off that way, he has a good chance for touchbacks. It'll be interesting to see what happens with the coin toss ... if Auburn gets the wind to its back.
Well, Auburn's team just arrived. I see Tommy Tuberville, state trooper and two sons in tow, walking across the field. Players are filing in, as well.
I see center Jason Bosley (knee) and linebacker Tray Blackmon (ankle). That means they're on the travel squad, so they must be able to play today. I also saw a player who looked to be linebacker Merrill Johnson (shoulder).
Defensive end Quentin Groves (toes) just walked in with heavy taping over his lower right leg. He's running and doing agility drills and does not appear to be hobbled. The Under Armour tank-top undershirt indicates that he intends to suit up.
No word yet on safety Aairon Savage (knee).
I hear the Kentucky-LSU game beckoning from the TV behind my head, so I think I'll check it out.
Happy football watching. Reply if you want to chat.