Thursday, December 31, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Do you ever get a War Eagle premonition? Do you ever hear one sports story in the news, and in the back of your mind think, "They are going to tie this back to Auburn somehow"? When Turner Gill was hired at Kansas, my first reaction should have been, "Good for him". Instead, I was thinking, "When is the Outside the Lines piece going to air that mentions Auburn". I should have known that the first person to speak up and tie Gill back to Auburn, would be none other than Charles Barkley.
Speaking with Kevin Scarbinsky, Barkley lobbed jabs left at right at Chizik and reiterated his appreciation and desire for Turner Gill:
“Turner would’ve been the right hire,” Barkley said. “I still think he would’ve been the better hire.”
“They have done a great job in recruiting, but the face of the school will always be the head coach,” Barkley said.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. As far as name recognition, Auburn is at a decided disadvantage. Not just in the state. In the SEC.”
Personally, I’ve had enough of this. After the great coach exodus of 2008, I will admit I was all for Turner Gill. He had some name recognition, he had Buffalo in the right direction, and of course, it would have been a Public Relations boom for the school.
Then something changed. I actually looked at Gill’s resume. I took off my Orange and Blue glasses and looked through more subjective eyes. Why was Gill now “the man”? I'll leave it to Jason Whitlock to explain:
As a black member of the media, I know what I’m expected to do today — shout that Gill’s hiring as Kansas’ new football coach is a bold step for college football mankind, a terrific hire by Lew Perkins and the culmination of Martin Luther King’s dream.
The problem is, unlike most of Gill’s prominent supporters in the media, I’ve actually watched his Buffalo Bulls play numerous times. Never once have I been impressed. Not even on the night when Gill’s Bulls ended my then-12th-ranked Ball State Cardinals’ Cinderella season with a shocking 42-24 victory in the 2008 MAC championship game.
In 2008, he won the MAC East with a 5-3 record in a year when the MAC’s four best teams all played in the West. It was the equivalent of winning the Big 12 North in 2009, the difference being Nebraska won the North with a Bo Pelini-crafted defense.
Looking at what Gene Chizik has done in his first year at Auburn something is very plain to me. When it came down between Gill and Chizik, Auburn made the right choice. Gill would not have been able to bring Gus Malzahn in. Ditto for Tracy Rocker and Jeff Grimes. Possibly Trooper Taylor, but that’s just conjecture. The fact is that Chizik was prepared. He sat down with a plan for Athletic Director Jay Jacobs; saying here’s what I want to accomplish and here’s who I’m bringing in to help. Gill did not and I’m not the only person who’s heard that Turner Gill lost the Auburn job in the interview. Let’s not forget, Gill did interview for the job and was given the time of day by the Auburn brass.
The biggest difference? Turner Gill, at his core, is still a Nebraska man. He will still bleed Husker Red and will continue to be until he dies. He had no previous ties to Auburn.
Chizik on the other hand, knew first hand what makes Auburn special. He knew the traditions and the legends. He knew the fan base and the community. That is what sets him apart. Auburn got as close to an Auburn man as they were going to get. I honestly feel Chizik regrets taking the Iowa State job. That he wasn’t ready at the time and jumped at the Head coaching chance to early. Watching him in interviews and seeing him during the Auburn Every Day program it just becomes more and more evident that Coach Gene Chizik gets “it”. “It” of course being the unnamable things that make Auburn special. If you’re an Auburn fan you get “it”. You understand “it”. “It” is that feeling you get in your chest whenever you watch Auburn play, that warm buzz that reverberates through your body whenever you hear the fight song, and that understanding that yes, Auburn is a special (but often overlooked) place.
My real issue however, isn’t with Gill or with Chizik. Auburn has made their decision and it has (for now) paid off in its first go-round.
No, my issue is with Barkley. For bringing up this dead-horse issue again and for being hypocritical. This quote in particular stands out:
“Let’s not kid ourselves. As far as name recognition, Auburn is at a decided disadvantage. Not just in the state. In the SEC.”
You know who could change that perception? How about you Charles Barkley? You’ve got a national television audience every night on TNT. You never refrain from giving an opinion (good or bad) or ANY subject. I’m sure there are contributions Barkley may have given behind the scenes to Auburn. However, there are two sides to that coin. Outside from some face time during Auburn’s 2004 Undefeated run, you’ve been noticeably silent about Auburn football. It should stay that way. I will gladly listen to Barkley when it comes to hiring a Basketball coach. However, when it comes to football? Never. Does North Carolina care what Michael Jordan think about Butch Davis? Nope.
Here’s the picture Barkley has painted to the media and to the public about what Auburn University is:
EJ: "Auburn is a pretty good school. To graduate from there I suppose you really need to work hard and put forth maximum effort." Sir Charles: "20 pts and 10 rebounds will get you through also!"
EJ: "Did you graduate from Auburn?" Charles: "No, but I have a couple people working for me who did."
"when I was recruited at Auburn [university], they took me to a strip joint. When I saw those titties on Buffy, I knew that Auburn met my academic requirements."
Those are all actual quotes from Barkley. Granted, most were used as humor and probably shouldn’t be taken seriously. However, if Barkley is so concerned with Auburn’s public perception, then he’s persona alpha who can start to change it.
I’m not asking him to sugar coat his speech. Not in the least. All I want, and all I’m asking is that he quit giving opinions about football and drop the Turner Gill subject (of which he’s blissfully ignorant). It’s done. It’s over. It’s time to move on.
Favorite Comedy? Check
Favorite Character on said Comedy? Check
Favorite School? Check
Combined in one glorious 5 minutes (yes I timed) of screen time? My head. Asplode:
That would be Jason Segal's Character on How I Met Your Mother, sporting a sweet Auburn T. Bravo and big War Eagle sir.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
6. RUN THE WILDCAT PROPERLY
The “Wildcat” was fun for a little bit during the 2009 Season. It even had sports writers running the requisite “Defenses Can’t Stop the Wildcat” articles. Fast forward to the end of the year and the wildcat was predictable, pedestrian, and just plain ineffective.
Why? I’m not going to blame Kodi Burns, but that was a big part of it. The Wildcat runs back when it’s that element of surprise involved. When there is a natural running back at the helm. It gets to be extremely effective when said Running back also has a bit of an arm. I wonder if there is a running back on the Auburn team who played High School Quarterback? (*cough* Dontae Aycock *double cough* Mario Fannin).
Auburn did run some elements of the Wildcat properly in 2009. Those results were evident on the field. However, later in the season whenever Kodi Burns came in the game, Defenses knew what was coming. That Element of surprise was gone and they might as well have spun the wheel above.
If they insist on putting a QB in the Wildcat, then how about Tyrik Rollison? That all depends on if his case of the brain farts (and midweek Skybar scuffles) are behind him and if he’s ready to become a productive member of the team.
7. REPLACE BEN TATE
I think it will take a couple of years for Auburn fans to realize just what a tremendous asset Ben Tate was to Auburn football. Yes, there were his ill-timed and out of context comments about being the Best Back in Alabama, and the sad fact that he had some his worst games on the biggest stages. However, when I saw the emotion on his face after the Georgia game, it cemented for me one certain fact: Ben Tate was and is a special Auburn man.
Tate was an emotional leader for the team. That void can be replaced by Kodi Burns. However, his role as a compliment back to OMAC the Squirrel chaser will be a huge loss for the 2010 Auburn Tigers. Some have speculated that Dyer is already fit for that role. That role as a punishing and bruising back. A back who can be the Mr. Inside to McCallebb’s Mr. Outside. Personally, I don’t feel like Dyer is ready just yet (but that’s for the coaches to decide). I think Eric Smith is perfect for the role as Tate’s heir apparent. He’s physical, bruising, and has soft hands. Eric “Lil Rudi” Smith should be able to flourish in Tate’s stead.
8. BUILD DEFENSIVE DEPTH
Nowhere was this more evident than in the Iron Bowl. Auburn only played 3 Linebackers. No rotations. No Subs. Good Lord. The same three players at the most crucial position on Defense, against the #2 Ranked team, for every. single. snap.
Thankfully, Defense has been a priority for the Auburn coaching staff on the recruiting trail. Barring no injury setbacks, there are a few guys like Joel Bonomolo, Ladarius Owens, Kenneth Carter, and Jawara Wright who can already come in an play immediately, in addition to the players who were already sidelined in 2009.
9. HANDLE EXPECTATIONS
Auburn won’t be picked to win the SEC, much less the West. However, the expectations will remain high. Especially when you look at how much is coming back offensively. A near intact Offensive Line, a couple of proven RBs, A maturing WR corps, the loss of Tommy Trott, etc. Jerry over at The War Eagle Reader already gave a pretty in depth account.
So going in to the 2010 year, the expectations will be high. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Auburn (with the help of a bowl win) crack the Top 25 at the start of the year.
The real task comes at handling those expectations. In most of the games, Auburn will go from Hunter to Hunted fairly quickly. The schedule sets up nicely and on paper I can only see 3 games where Auburn wouldn’t be either favored or at least even with (Arkansas, Alabama, and Clemson). In addition, the only road games are Mississippi State, Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Kentucky. So, again, it looks good (on paper at least) for the Tigers.
So how do you handle those expectations? That will be the biggest test for Auburn.
10. PLAY IN A NEW YEAR’S BOWL
To put to plainly, the Iron Bowl should be Auburn’s final football game of the 2010 Calendar year. This, of course, barring an improbable birth into the SEC Championship game.
Auburn’s tasted that sweet sweet New Year’s Fruit already. They’ll want to taste it again. Anything less, to me, would be a set back. Cap One, Cotton, even Liberty would be another progressive step forward. I’ll even settle for Chik Fil A if need be. Anything else, however, wouldn’t make my Orange and Blue Heart flutter heading into 2011.
Monday, December 7, 2009
The paint still hasn’t dried from the 2009 Auburn Tigers, and depending on who you ask, this past season was a success. The Tigers managed to rebound from a disastrous 2008 season, a questionable hire (3-19 Gene), and a completed rebooted offense to a winning record, a New Year’s Bowl and cautious optimism for the 2010 Season. These aren’t end all be-alls for the Tigers. They should be used and viewed as a good barometer and a measuring stick that this fan at least, can look back and say, “Yep. We’re on the the right track”.
1. WIN THE OUTBACK BOWL
When I originally thought about the ten things, I was still under the impression that Auburn would be going to the Independence Bowl or (worse) the Birmingham Bowl. When worked leaked out that Auburn was going to the Outback Bowl, I got excited. Then, when it looked like we would have AU-Wisconsin III, I was tempted to downgrade this from a must, to a hope. Now that its official that it will be AU vs Northwestern that was upgraded from a hope to a huge must.
Winning the bowl game ends the skid. Auburn fans shouldn’t forget that we ended the 2008 season losing our final two games (and 5 of our last 7). Winning the Bowl stops that and put a nice bow on the 2009 season. 8-5 looks a heck of a lot better than 7-6. It also creates positive buzz into 2010, sends the Senior class off with a much-needed reward, and definitively answers the question that (for now) Gene Chizik was the right man for the job.
Add to that the opponent. It’s one thing to play Wisconsin, a competitor year in and year out. It’s quite another to play Northwestern. Nothing against the Purple Wildcats, but losing to the boys from Evansville hurts a lot more than losing to Wisconsin. Losing to a school that lost to Minnesota, Syracuse, and had some nailbiters against mid-level MAC teams, doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the Auburn faithful. Than again, anything can and will happen on January 1st.
2. RETAIN ASSISTANTS
Auburn fans aren’t the only people who know we’ve got a great staff here at Auburn. A staff filled with (just off the top of my head) at least 4 potential future head coaches (Thigpen, Malzahn, Trooper Taylor and Jeff Grimes) and one who could sneak back into coaching, with a little help from a couple of strong defenses (Ted Roof).
Hopefully I’m not the only Auburn fan who looks at each new Head Coaching vacancy and gives them an eye-ball test to see who from the current staff might get talked about for that job. The Memphis vacancy in particular gave me a bit of a scare.
You have to keep these guys around. At least for 2 years. Especially Malzahn, not because of his offense but because we can’t go back to square one again with offense. I’m personally tired of playing musical chairs with offense. In a perfect world, Auburn would add one more coach to the staff and name him Quarterbacks coach. Have him essentially be Malzahn’s Apprentice, learning the O and all the schemes and in the event of Malzhan’s departure, promote him to Coordinator. However, that is more of a 5 year plan. This thinking behind it isn’t unheard of. Just look at Troy. Neal Brown is the youngest coordinator in D-1. Partly by default. He spent 4 years under Franklin’s tutelage at Troy and when the snake oil salesman left, Troy already a guy on staff who knew of O, could run it, and could run it well (some might say better).
More than that, it hurts recruiting. The assistants have preached about the family atmosphere and the love at Auburn. What kind of message does it send if the person recruiting them, extolling the virtues of Auburn, isn’t even there to help them move into Sewell Hall?
The same goes for these recruits who fell in love with the Malzahn O and the unsightly numbers it can put up.
My biggest hope on the recruiting front is that the lead recruiters have sold Auburn first and the staff second. At the end of the day, the staff may leave, but the Plains remain.
3. MAKE A SPLASH ON SIGNING DAY
This one has been coming for a long time. We’ve already seen what the staff can do on the recruiting trail. However, for now, those are just verbal commitments, and verbal commitments can change (as seen today with Antonio Goodwin).
I’m not saying Auburn needs a Top 5 Class. However, with the commitments already on board, there is nothing that says Auburn can’t at least have a Top 10 class.
More than that, making a Splash on signing day distances the current staff from the current staff. It shows that recruits are buying into the rebuild and brings more national attention to Auburn.
This will be the first time, well, ever that I will watch the Army All American game. Ditto for the Under Armour All- American game. Why? Because finally, Auburn will be represented in the game.
The main thing, however, is not to look at the stars. Auburn needs immediate playmakers and contributors (especially on defense). These needs have to be met and addressed on signing day.
4. SETTLE ON A QB
This needs to be done sooner rather than later. Auburn doesn’t need to go in and out of Spring practices without officially handing the reigns over to a QB. Whether that QB is Barrett Trotter, Neil Caudle, or Tyrik Rollison, or the ultimate dark horse Clint Moseley, remains to be seen. I’ll save my personal pick for a later blog post.
No matter who the choice is, Auburn should be in good shape. To me, choosing a QB does numerous things, and each of them are positive.
- Gives the QB a complete year to learn, train, and hone the offense.
- Develops a rhythm with the WRs NOW, instead of in August.
- Let’s the other QBs decide whether or not its worth it to stay at Auburn or to transfer
- Defines Kodi Burns’s role in the offense.
That brings us to our fifth and final must for this post:
5. DEFINE KODI’S ROLE
We already know that Kodi is a leader on the team. After his, now legendary speach and selfless attitude, he will remain an Auburn legend.
One thing all Auburn fans should know by now, also, is that Kodi Burns is not the QB for the 2010 Auburn Team. Personally, I don’t even think he should be the wildcat QB. What throws we did see from him were wild and erratic most of the time. If the Auburn coaching staff wants to make Kodi a WR, then make him a WR full-time. Don’t let him just flirt with the idea of being a WR and still let him practice with the QBs. Keep and develop him at WR.
I still think Kodi could make a quite effective possession receiver. He doesn’t have the speed to burn anyone. However, he still possesses the raw talent and toughness to be effective between the hashes as an outlet valve.
Numbers 6-10 are coming Tuesday.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I found this pretty cool:
Tonight at church we were SO BLESSED with the opportunity to watch the following four men be BAPTIZED by their team chaplain:
Recognize those names? Yeah. It was awesome. He had a hard time lifting some of them out of the water, they weigh three times as much as he does! Yet with tears in their eyes and soft hearts as big as the room, they stood in front of hundreds and confessed their faith in Christ.
You can read the rest over here. As well as this tidbit:
Antonio Coleman finished out the service by telling us his story and had the whole place in tears. He finished by saying, "Auburn is a special place, it is such a special place", and I couldn't agree more. Auburn IS a special place. God is moving here. Next time you see them on TV, just smile and know that they are living for so much more than football.
This isn’t the place to discuss religion (nor do I want it to be) but I do know this. One of the things recruits parents look at it is what type of activities their children are going to be involved in. I don’t have kids, but I’d rather seem them get baptized on a Sunday night then participate in a dorm room brawl that suspends 8 players.
The news post World Series is slow in the baseball world. The Offseason heats up slightly, teams get ready for Winter Meetings, and it basically moves at a snail’s pace until March. Still, there are a couple of news and notes Auburn related on the baseball front:
You’re going to hear it hear first. If you play Fantasy baseball (especially if you are in a head to head league) draft Clete Thomas. No, don’t draft him early, but draft him and at least keep him stashed. He showed a lot of his potential last year and should (hopefully) get his first full year in the pros coming up. Personally, I’m going to draft him with the 3rd to last pick.
Here’s an old (July) article about Thomas and his second stint in the bigs with Tigers, showing Clete has a solid mindset:
"I figured out a few things (since his last time up with the Tigers)," the wide-eyed Thomas said with a blank expression. "Figured out how to keep me consistent up here and that I've got to stick to my key points, and that way I'll succeed."
If the Tigers do the right thing and dump Miggy Cabrera then Thomas should see ample playing time in 2010.
Thomas has become a bit of a fan favorite for the Tigers. Even inspring “Clete’s Cult” and Navy Blue T-Shirts (sidenote: WANT) But Detroit fans seem to split on him and his new found status. One blogger compares him snidely to Brandon Inge and tries to bullet point Clete’s popularity:
From what I can gather, here’s why people like Clete:
- He’s a lefty.
- He’s young.
- He’s not paid all that much.
- He’s got that blue-collar image going, people like that.
- He has country music playing when he comes up to bat.
- They think he’s “clutch”.
- His name is Clete.
That’s all I can piece together. Some of those points are the same points the Brandon Inge people have been making for years (just replace country music with lousy alternative rock).
To me the bottom line is this. Clete represents something unwritten about Baseball; fans make the superstars, not the stats. If he’s popular then he’s a star, it’s as simple as that. Also, there are worse players to be compared to than Brandon Inge.
Another thing adding to “Clete’s Cult”? Opportune hitting:
…of Clete Thomas' seven homers, five got the Tigers even or got them the lead.
And if you need more proof of “Clete’s Cult”. I give you one messageboard fans take:
"Clete Thomas always has a crazy look on his face. His eyes are just huge. He looks like at any minute he could snap and kill a guy..... or hit a baseball 422 feet"
Going in to 2010 he will competing with Ryan Raburn and Casper Wells for that third OF spot.
- Former Tiger and Troy Trojan Mike Felix had a case of the brain farts:
- The Pirates have indefinitely suspended pitcher Mike Felix, their second-round draft pick in 2006, after he was charged with a DUI early Friday morning and benched by short-season State College over the weekend. The Daily Collegian reported yesterday that Felix had a .19 percent blood alcohol level. Felix, a 24-year-old left-hander, has struggled immensely with control as a professional, though his 3.33 ERA in 10 appearances this season has been an upgrade.
- Chris Bootcheck might be taking his game to Japan Soon:
- Seems the Yokohama Bay Stars are now looking into Chris Bootcheck to be their closer for the 2010 season (and yet another indication that the team is ready to move forward with Shun Yamgauchi in the rotation next year). Bootcheck is a 30-year-old righty in the Pirates organization. He has tossed a total 147.1 innings in the Majors over his career and has a 6.54 ERA (1.64 WHIP) to go along with a 3-7 record with 1 save. A Bay Stars rep said, "In another step forward in rebuilding our team, filling our closer position with a foreign player is a big goal of ours."
- Brett Butts was named on of the Atlanta Braves Top Minor League Relievers:
- Butts doesn't have overpowering stuff, working with an average fastball, slider, and changeup, but he's an advanced college player who knows how to pitch and, more importantly, how to pitch out of the bullpen. Like Valdez, Gunderson, and Hyde, he'll likely be invited to Atlanta's Major League Spring Training, and though he's apt to spend the majority of the season with AAA Gwinnett, there's a good chance that he could find himself as an option out of Atlanta's bullpen at some point in 2010
- Levale Speigner is honing his game in Puerto Rico:
- Major League veteran Levale Speigner struck out three over 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief for the win as the Lobos sent the Leones to their fifth loss in six games.
- Tug Hulett is now a Red Sox, after toiling with the Royals:
- Perhaps the most encouraging part of Hulett’s minor league record is his ability to work counts and take walks. With about a 4:5 minor league walk to strikeout ratio, Hulett brings a great approach to the plate, though he has had trouble translating those skills to the majors, striking out 23 times in 67 at-bats. Still, with the limited sample size involved, the verdict is out as to Hulett’s ability at the major league level. Plugged into a utility role in the major leagues, Tugs could develop into a pleasant surprise for the big club. Entering his age-27 season, he still has the chance to turn his AAA successes into major league ones, so there’s reason to be optimistic about the Sox acquisition.
Finally, be sure to catch Hillary Gibbs article on Current Auburn Tiger Austin Hubbard:
"Three or four weeks before [my junior] season started last year, I started pitching better," said Hubbard. "At the team meeting before the season [the coaches] told me I was going to be closing games. That's what I like to be doing. I was more of the closer last year and that was a lot more fun than starting."
Through his trials and tribulations on the field, Hubbard, who throws a two-seam fastball, a cutter and is working on his changeup, has learned valuable lessons that will help him once he graduates and enters the career world.
"Baseball is a game of failure. It makes you mentally stronger," said Hubbard. "It also helps you work through adversity better than others. If you want something, you can do it. I was struggling my first two years here and now I've figured it out. I didn't transfer. I didn't quit on myself."
That’s it for now.