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.