Thursday, May 29, 2008

New arena donation: $1 million

This from Auburn's athletics media relations department today:

AUBURN—Milton and Pat McGregor of Montgomery recently pledged $1 million toward the new Auburn Arena.

The McGregors pledged the gift in honor of their daughters, Kim McGregor Brown and Cindy McGregor Benefield.

“I want to thank Milton and Pat McGregor for their extraordinarily generous gift, which propels us toward our goal of building a world-class arena for Auburn University,” Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs said. “This is a tremendous step forward for the arena, which will take Auburn’s men’s and women’s basketball programs to a new level.”

Milton McGregor said he and his wife wanted to make a lasting gift to Auburn Athletics that will honor their daughters.

“We feel fortunate to be able to honor Kim and Cindy in such a special way,” McGregor said. “We also believe strongly in the Auburn Arena project, which will provide a major boost for the Auburn basketball programs and will benefit Auburn University and the community at large.”

Construction is expected to begin on the $92.5 million arena this summer. It will have an approximate capacity of 9,600 and will include a two-court practice facility, coaches’ offices, the Auburn University Ticket Office and an AU Team Store. It will also include the relocated Lovelace Museum honoring the history of Auburn Athletics, two food courts and many other amenities.

Designed by 360 Architecture out of Kansas City, Mo., the 243,000-plus-square-foot facility will be built northwest of Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum on Roosevelt Drive.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A big seven-finger so what

I've been asked a few times over the last 48 hours what I think about Tommy Tuberville's holding up seven fingers to celebrate a flag-football victory during his Middle East tour, and I say so what.

Look, I'm a journalist. I'd say cynical journalist, but then I'd have to correct myself for redundancy.

I've been in this business full time for 21 years as of Sunday. I've covered the Auburn beat for going on 12 years, so I've covered Tuberville throughout his nearly 10-year tenure as the school's head football coach.

Do I think it's beyond Tuberville to tweak Auburn's biggest rival? Absolutely not. I've seen it and heard it. I stood there during the team's 2004 SEC championship celebration and heard him sub his own name in for those hallowed names adorning Alabama's football stadium.

I also remember back in 1999, when he fired back at a columnist from his home state of Arkansas. Something about the two of them coming from roughly the same place and Tuberville bettering himself, as I recall.

Tuberville is a very smart and good man in my estimation, but he's not beyond pettiness. I know no one who is.

That said, he also has the savvy of a stout politician. I've often thought he could do well in that field, and I don't mean that negatively. He's a pragmatist. He knows his constituency, and his tweakings in relation to Auburn's six-game winning streak over Alabama are for Auburn fans, not Alabama fans.

And believe me, if you read Auburn message boards, you know it's working.

I say all of that to say this; I don't think Tuberville is beyond sincerity, either.

I'm willing to consider his explanation of his seven-finger salute in the Middle East ... that it was meant in fun for those there with him in the moment, not anyone back home in Alabama.

Please read me out.

Imagine you're the coach of a major college football team. You and a few colleagues have been given the chance to visit U.S. military personnel in a war zone.

You get there and see a lot of young faces, faces that look a lot like the ones you coach. Faces that look just a few years beyond those of your own children.

You sign autographs. You talk. You listen. You share.

They delight in your autographs. They talk, listen and share about their dangerous missions, their 110-degree environs, their folks back home, their beliefs about the war they fight for their country.

You see soldiers who follow the school you coach. You see soldiers who follow rival schools. They rib you at the same time they let you know they're glad to see you ... a celebrity who took time during your offseason to see them.

Then comes the flag-football game. You've been chosen to coach servicemen who consider themselves fans of myriad schools back home. Some played for school's back home.

The team you help to coach wins, and THEY lift you on THEIR shoulders. A camera is there to capture the moment and send a few seconds of film back home.

Fans back home get bent out of shape over it.

As much as some college football fans might like to demonize a rival school's coach, would YOU be so callous as to use a light moment with troops in a war zone to tweak a rival's fans ... or politic your own?

I find it hard to believe that the coach I've covered for 10 years ... or any coach I've covered in 21 years, including ones I didn't like ... would do such a thing.

And to the rivalry, the office water cooler, the streak, the thumb or any other digit, I say so what. Let the troops and coaches who were there have their moment.

The quiet search

Imagine the football coach at Alabama or Auburn resigning, and the resulting search for his replacement going almost two weeks with no leaks and few headlines.

That's the case so far with Auburn's search for a baseball coach, and it's no surprise.

First, the search firm Carr and Associates is handling the search. One has to think that a professional head-hunting firm would know how to protect the heads, so a so-far-leakless search makes sense.

There's also timing. Most of the coaches Auburn might pursue were in conference tournaments last week, and some are in NCAA regionals this week.

Also, Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs is in Destin, Fla. for this week's SEC meetings.

So, one sees why there's not much doing here. There's probably back-channel communication, but there doesn't seem to be much else happening at this point.

Jacobs told The Star on Friday that the search would probably take "a few weeks."

As for candidates, naming is guessing. Jacksonville State's Jim Case and Samford's Casey Dunn, whose names have come up in published speculation, are free of obligation. Their teams lost in last week's OVC Tournament.

Same for Troy's Bobby Pierce, whose team bowed out of the Sun Belt tourney.

It would be no shock if Auburn made another run at Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin, who turned down the job in 2004. He's busy with an NCAA regional this week, though.

There's also talk about former Mississippi State and Florida head coach Pat McMahon. It's a curious name, since he was Tom Slater's boss before Slater's ill-fated shot at Auburn's head job. McMahon was fired at Florida and spent last season out of coaching.

I seem to remember him dispersing his 2003 team after the regular season, only to recall them when the NCAA surprised the Gators with a tourney berth.

Then again, McMahon took State and Florida to the College World Series in 1998 and 2005, respectively. He's 555-287 in 15 years as a head coach at Old Dominion, State and Florida.

I've heard other names thrown around in speculation, like Tulane's Rick Jones, New Orleans' Tom Walter, Virginia's Brian O'Connor and Kentucky's John Cohen.

Hey, I'll play. Why not Western Kentucky's Chris Finwood? He left Slater's Auburn staff to become Western Kentucky's head coach, and he has the Hilltoppers in the NCAA Tournament.

I know. WKU's 33-25 record and No. 4 regional seed headed to Sillwater, Okla., won't overwhelm anyone, but the Hilltoppers made a nice run through the Sun Belt tourney. They're in the NCAA tourney, where Auburn hasn't gone since 2005.

And hey, at least I got to mention that my alma mater made the NCAA Tournament.

Back to Auburn's search, things likely will pick up next week. For now, nearly all's quiet on that front. Stay tuned.

Also, don't forget to vote on the search-related poll on this blog. It's just a short scroll on the right side of this page.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tubs talks Middle East trip

Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville had a conference call with reporters this morning about his just-completed trip to visit U.S. Military personnel in the Middle East. Here are some highlights of what he had to say:

--He called his visit to the military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, "very emotional." He met soldiers who had lost parts of legs, but he said they wanted badly to get back to duty.

--About the video from the flag football game he helped to coach, showing him holding up seven fingers in celebration, he said he wasn't tweaking anyone. He had met fans of Auburn rival Alabama during his trip, and it was good-natured. "There was a lot of kidding going on between myself and all the Alabama fans," he said. "We went over there to spread good will. We didn't go over there to jab anybody."

--As for the game, the team he coached included a former Air Force Academy tight end and a former Marshall running back.

--He said he was extremely impressed with the security all around his contingent. He said the security was more extensive than what he saw upon his visit to President Bush at the White House.

--He said he was very impressed with the technology he saw over there and specifically mentioned the Stryker vehicle, which is produced at the Anniston Army Depot.

More to come in Wednesday's Anniston Star.

Friday, May 23, 2008

New Auburn Beat poll

Auburn fans, JSU fans or fans of any stripe, do you have any opinion on who should be Auburn's next baseball coach? Well, you're invited to look down the right side of this page and vote and the new poll.

There's not much happening in the search for a coach. As I said a few blogs down, most of the coaches Auburn might pursue are in conference tournaments this week, and many will be in NCAA regionals next week.

I talked to Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs today, and he said the process will likely take "a few weeks," so there's plenty of time to vote your two cents.

Also, I talked to Auburn signee Caleb Bowen, and the Saks High School catcher said that he's not reconsidering his college choice.

Bowen, who signed last fall when Tom Slater was Auburn's coach, said he likes all of the coaches whose names have come up in speculation about Slater's replacement. Bowen specifically mentioned JSU's Jim Case and Samford's Casey Dunn.

When there's news on the search, I'll have it here and in The Anniston Star ... and don't forget to vote.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Auburn football picks up major commitment

Rodney Scott, dubbed by as one of the nation's top running back prospects, has committed to Auburn.

The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Scott chose Auburn over offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Clemson, Arkansas, Purdue and South Florida, according to He said his final three came down to Auburn, South Carolina and South Florida.

Scott rushed for 2,017 yards (8.1 per carry) and 20 touchdowns for Cross City (Fla.) Dixie County High School as a junior. He's said to be on track to qualify academically.

More in Friday's Anniston Star.

Add another forward

Auburn picked up a fifth member of the men's basketball class of 2008 Wednesday when 6-foot-9, 215-pound junior college forward Francis Aihe signed.

He's on schedule to graduate from Gainesville (Fla.) Santa Fe Community College this summer and be eligible for next season.

Aihe averaged 8.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks a game last season. More in Thursday's Anniston Star.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What's going on with comings and goings?

AUBURN -- In two days, we saw Jeff Lebo issue a scholarship release to a 7-foot-1 center who averaged two points a game in prep school and accept a transfer from a top-100 recruit.


Great timing for the fifth-year Auburn men's basketball coach, to say the least.

Boubacar Sylla's departure Monday brought the Lebo's-a-loser folks out in force on fan message boards. It even made Lebo supporters, who still seem to have a majority, question their support.

After all, Auburn has seen 13 scholarship players leave the program before their eligibility was up since Lebo was hired in the spring of 2004. Eight were Lebo signess.

Tony Neysmith's transfer from Oklahoma on Tuesday brought the told-you-so Lebo supporters back out.

Some have speculated -- and I will here -- that Neysmith's transfer to Auburn was the other shoe dropping. Sylla's departure cleared a scholarship.

Again, we're talking about the departure of a player who has a great basketball body and the welcoming of a player who has a better body of work ... at least if you believe's prospect rankings.

What's interesting about the Sylla-Neysmith turnabout, however, is that it marks a change. Plenty of players have left the the program. This time, a player transferred in, too?

And, apparently, he's a good player.

In fairness to Lebo, a closer look at outgoing transfers on his watch (see two blog entries below) shows that in most cases, he wasn't to blame. The first five were Cliff Ellis signees, four of which left soon after he was hired. Daniel Hayles and Kelvin Lewis left for family reasons.

Several were light- or non-contributors who left over playing time. Call them recruiting mistakes, if you will. Call them risks Lebo had to take after taking over a long-mediocre program amid new NCAA sanctions four years ago.

We are talking Auburn basketball. It's most recognizable tradition is indifference from the school's fan base. I mean decades of indifference, as evidenced by a long-outdated arena.

Had Auburn fans cared at all, Boom-Eve-Memorial Coliseum would have met its end years ago. Auburn's athletics heads hope to achieve hoops passion through overdue investment, so they're finally building a new arena.

Meanwhile, Lebo prepares to welcome easily his best recruiting class, led by Alabama Mr. Basketball runner-up Frankie Sullivan.

Lebo is also due to get a core of veteran players back next season. That includes former McDonald's All-American forward Korvotney Barber, lost to a broken wrist last season. There's forward Josh Dollard, the top returning scorer and rebounder coming into last season who took a medical redshirt.

Now, Lebo welcomes a reputable transfer just as another player exits.

Could his luck be changing after four years of personnel setbacks and injury woes? Might Auburn fans see a Lebo-era season with something approaching a full scholarship roster?

Will Lebo know what to do with more than a six- or seven-man rotation?

Perhaps that other shoe will finally drop.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Goings, comings for AU hoops

A day after freshman center Boubacar Sylla transferred from Auburn's men's basketball team, Oklahoma freshman guard Tony Neysmith transferred in.

This from Auburn, with more to come in Wednesday's Star:

Auburn Basketball Signs Oklahoma Transfer Tony Neysmith

AUBURN -- Tony Neysmith, a 6-foot-5, 203-pound guard who played last year as a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, has signed a financial aid agreement with Auburn basketball, head coach Jeff Lebo announced Tuesday.

"We are very excited about Tony joining our program," Lebo said. "He is used to winning and has played for winning programs, and I know he is excited to be at Auburn and to be closer to home."

The Norcross, Ga., native played in 22 games for the Sooners, starting four, and averaged 0.5 points, 0.6 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from the field as Oklahoma went 23-12 (9-7 Big 12) and reached the NCAA Tournament second round.

The Sooners went 3-1 in the four consecutive games he started from Feb. 13-23 vs. Iowa State, at Texas Tech, at Baylor and at Texas. Neysmith scored four points and had two rebounds in eight minutes in his first career start vs. Iowa State. He scored two points each at Texas Tech and Alcorn State and had two points, two steals, an assist and a rebound in 14 minutes vs. Mount St. Mary's.

He played double-figure minutes five times.

He was ranked as the nation's No. 100 high school recruit in 2007 by as he was an honorable mention all-state selection as a senior at Norcross (Ga.) High School. He led Norcross to the Class 5A state title in 2007 and a No. 12 final USA Today national ranking by averaging 10.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

He started every game as a junior when he averaged 9.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals in helping the team to a 28-4 record.

Neysmith was high school teammates with Kentucky's Jodie Meeks, Georgia Tech's Gani Lawal, Florida State's Jordan DeMercy and Fordham's Brenton Butler.

Lebo's leavings

Since Jeff Lebo was hired as Auburn’s men’s basketball coach in the spring of 2004, 13 scholarship players have left the program with eligibility remaining. Five signed under Lebo’s predecessor, Cliff Ellis, who was fired in 2004.

Here is a preliminary list, with year departed, new school where applicable and reason for leaving:


C Dwayne Curtis, 2004, Ole Miss – Left after coaching change. Followed former Auburn assistant Tracy Dildy, a Chicago native who recruited Curtis from Chicago.

G Toney Douglas, 2005, Florida State – Father criticized Lebo for using son as a shooting guard as a freshman.

F Marco Killingsworth, 2004, Indiana – Left after coaching change.

G Lewis Monroe, 2004, Indiana – Left after coaching change.

F Brandon Robinson, 2004, quit – Academics.


F Joey Cameron, 2006, Seton Hall – Playing time.

C Ryan Daniel, 2005, Lipscomb – Playing time.

G-F Daniel Hayles, 2006, South Alabama – Mobile native left to be closer to 2-year-old daughter.

F Matt Heramb, 2008, Kennesaw State – Playing time.

G Kelvin Lewis, 2007, Houston – Transferred when father became an assistant coach at Houston.

C Boubacar Sylla, 2008, Wyoming – Paris, France native said to have difficulty adjusting to Auburn. Will try Laramie.

F Emanuel Willis, 2006, Houston Baptist – Transferred from Southern Cal to Auburn after USC fired Henry Bibby but did not fit in.

G Michael Woodard, 2005, unknown – Following stops at Youngstown State and Los Angeles Southwest Community College, he left Auburn after appearing in five games in 2005-06. He cited role and playing time.

Monday, May 19, 2008

So long, Sylla

This from Auburn University athletics media relations. More coming in Tuesday's Star:

Auburn's Boubacar Sylla To Transfer To Wyoming

AUBURN -- Freshman center Boubacar Sylla has been granted a release from his scholarship at Auburn University and will transfer to the University of Wyoming, head coach Jeff Lebo announced Monday.

Sylla appeared in only three games before suffering a stress reaction in his ankle against Kennesaw State Nov. 13. The 7-foot-1, 270-poundnative of Paris, France, averaged 1.0 point and 1.0 rebound in 4.3 minutes per game. He shot 50 percent from the field.

"Boubacar had a very difficult first year at Auburn University," Lebo said. "Along with his season-ending injury, Boubacar had a hard time adjusting to Auburn."

Sylla totaled eight points, six rebounds and two steals in an exhibition vs. Bluefield College and had three points and three rebounds in nine minutes vs. Kennesaw State before his injury.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Let the speculation begin

AUBURN -- There's a coaching search on at Auburn, and here are my highly, highly speculative thoughts of how things will go.

First, don't expect a quick hire. Coaches Auburn might want have conference and NCAA Tournaments ahead, and it's not likely those coaches will interview until their seasons end.

Since a professional search firm has been hired to conduct the search, don't expect an abundance of leaks ... certainly not before the top prospects finish their seasons.

I expect Jacksonville State's Jim Case to be on Auburn's wish list. He's had the Gamecocks consistently competitive in their conference, and baseball has been among JSU's most consistently competitive programs in the Division I era.

I expect Troy's Bobby Pierce to be on the wish list, though he carries one big caveat with ties to Alabama. Alabama coach Jim Wells will retire some day soon, and Auburn doesn't want to lose another coach to Alabama.

I expect Auburn to make another run at Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin. He's done well at the hardest place in the SEC to win, and he was offered the job last time Auburn searched for a coach. Could his mind frame be different four years later, especially since Auburn is that far removed from all of the coaching upheaval that marked 2003 and 2004?

There's also former Tiger catcher Casey Dunn, now the head coach at Samford. He'll have his supporters on the inside, but how far will that take him?

I expect that Auburn will attract a strong field. Former Auburn coach Tom Slater, who resigned Saturday after his meeting with athletics director Jay Jacobs, recruited three consecutive top 20 classes.

Auburn started as many as six freshman position players this season. That includes slugger Hunter Morris, who was Boston's second-round pick last year but opted for college.

On the mound, freshman pitchers Cory Luckie and Grant Dayton showed promise.

Auburn, like other programs in Alabama, plays at a disadvantage because the state has no education lottery. Other SEC programs in lottery states have lottery-funded scholarships.

Still, Auburn has competitive facilities. Not so long ago, Plainsman Park was ranked as one of the nation's top college stadiums, and it's been upgraded since.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Slater resigns

This just minutes ago from Auburn University athletics media relations:


AUBURN-Tom Slater has resigned as head coach of the Auburn baseball program, Auburn Athletics Director Jay Jacobs announced Saturday.

“Jay and I met this morning, and we mutually agreed that there is going to be a change,” Slater said. “I’d like to thank Jay Jacobs, Dr. Ed Richardson and Auburn University for the wonderful opportunity I was given to be the head coach.”

In four seasons as head coach, Slater had an overall record of 115-113 and a Southeastern Conference record of 43-77. This season, Auburn was 28-28 and 11-19 in the SEC.

A Richmond, Va., native, Slater also served as an assistantcoach at Auburn from 1995-2000. He was named head coach at Auburn on June 29, 2004.

“We appreciate Tom’s efforts and the hard work and dedication of he and his staff over the last four years,” Jacobs said. “We wish Tom, his staff and their families the best of luck in their future endeavors.”

A search for a replacement will begin immediately. More to come in Sunday's Anniston Star.

Tight end picks Auburn

Auburn received a commitment Friday night from one of the nation's top tight end prospects.

Philip Lutzenkirchen, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior at Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter High School, chose Auburn over offers from Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Stanford and Mississippi State, according to

As a junior, Lutzenkirchen caught 46 passes for 496 yards and seven touchdowns. He'll play in the spread offense this year under new Lassiter coach Chip Lindsey.

Auburn's new spread offense under first-year offensive coordinator Tony Franklini factored in Lutzenkirchen’s college decision.

"The offense they run is the exact same system as we run, the same terminology," he said. "I know the spot I'll be playing, the ‘Y’ receiver, will get a lot of balls thrown at them. That was definitely a big part of me picking Auburn."

Lutzenkirchen is Auburn's eighth commitment for 2009. The list includes defensive linemen Terrence Coleman, Jamontay Pilson and Wilfred Journey, linebackers Harris Gaston and Eltoro Freeman, athlete Brandon Heavens and quarterback Raymond Cotton.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Auburn's commitments now seven

Auburn now has seven football commitments for the class of 2009, with former signees Eltoro Freeman and Wilfred Journet saying this week they will re-sign with the Tigers.

Freeman, a 2007 signee, committed Wednesday. He told that he's on course to graduate from Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston, Miss., and will be able to re-sign with Auburn in February.

Freeman wound up at GCCC after failing to qualify academically out of Benjamin Russell High School, where he was one of the country's top linebacker prospects.

In his one junior college season, Freeman had 65 tackles with 17 for loss, including five sacks. He was all-state and all-region.

The 5-foot-11, 218-pound Freeman said he will redshirt his sophomore season at GCCC and will have three seasons of eligibility left for Division I.

Journet signed with Auburn in 2007 out of Acadiana (La.) High School, where he was Class 5A defensive player of the year. The 6-3, 247-pound defensive end detoured through Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss.

Journet played four games for Copiah-Lincoln last season before a hip injury sidelined him. He will have two years of Division I eligibility.

Auburn's class of commitments to date includes defensive tackle Terrence Coleman, quarterback Raymond Cotton, linebacker Harris Gaston, athlete Brandon Heavens and defensive tackle Jamontay Pilson.