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November 19, 2012

COLUMN: A win is good, but cronyism isn't

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AUBURN -- The first thing you realized on Auburn's senior day was, for the second year running, just how few seniors there were.

Twelve were called out to receive their ceremonial footballs and pose with their families. Of that number, only seven were listed as starters, and two of those were -OR- alternating first-teamers. The largest ovation went to Philip Lutzenkirchen, whose college career ended weeks ago in an operating room.

The small numbers and lousy record didn't diminish the appreciation for what these guys have done in their careers. It's hard to imagine this year being much more horrible -- at least until you think about how it might have gone without Onterio McCalebb and Emory Blake, who deserved so much better than this sick diminuendo of a season.

They all played well. Auburn scored early and often, holding the Bulldogs to less than 50 yards rushing and a single score well into garbage time. The defense even managed to finally pick off a pass, for only the second time this season and the first since the opener in Atlanta.

It didn't mean much of anything. Nobody was actually surprised to see even the SEC's worst team (give or take Kentucky, which also destroyed a lower-division opponent the same day) manhandle a SWAC squad. Almost no one outside of Trent Fisher and the large and cordial crowd of Alabama A&M fans who helped fill out the otherwise-sparse stands will recall Auburn's 51-7 win as anything other than a throw-away game.

Indeed, hardly any of the talk among the Auburn fans who did show up was about the football game. Every angry, animated, frustration-laced conversation revolved around the employment status of the athletic director, head coach and "General Manager" of the football program. Suffice to say, if a popular vote had been taken at any point on Saturday, all of the above would have been cleaning out their offices on Sunday morning--if not earlier.

The number of people associated with Auburn who still support Jacobs is vanishingly small, and those who support Gene Chizik smaller still. If anyone actually supports Tim Jackson, those individuals are doing a remarkable job of hiding from public view. All you need to do to get a rise out of pretty much any Auburn season ticket holder or donor is to mention Jackson's name in passing.

Chizik's support at this point consists of Jacobs and Jackson, but hardly anyone else. The mere suggestion that he might return in 2013 at this point is enough to generate genuine rage among Auburn fans of all ages and backgrounds. I don't even care to think about the real-world reaction (forget what the internet would look like) if Chizik were inexplicably retained for more than a few days beyond this coming weekend.

Support for Jacobs comes mostly from his former teammates and other personal friends. Fortunately for Jacobs, those friends have the ear of Jay Gogue, and their influence far outweighs their numbers. While it's hard to fault anybody for sticking up for a friend, Jacobs' defenders ought to be asking themselves some tough questions as they consider whether or not they're doing the right thing in backing his continued tenure.

Some of Jacobs' (and by extension, Chizik's and Jackson's) remaining boosters are highly successful businesspeople in their own rights. I would ask them: Would you hire Jacobs as the CEO of your company, tomorrow? Would you make any of these guys COOs or even senior managers? If you can't answer yes to any of those questions - and if you're being honest with yourself, you can't - then why do you think their performance merits equivalent jobs at Auburn?

It's one thing to support a friend for a leadership position in, say, a social club, where the stakes are limited to a small and self-selected group of people. It's another to insist that friendships and favors are more important than performance in a job with responsibility for hundreds of millions of dollars, with huge economic impacts upon the city of Auburn and state of Alabama.

For those who say Jacobs ought to remain in place because he's "a good guy" who "loves Auburn," consider this: Would you hire a good guy who loves sawing wood but isn't actually much of a carpenter to build your house? Would you hire a good guy who loved arguing to defend you in court if your life or fortune or liberty were at stake, unless he also had a track record of winning big cases?

Would you hire a good guy who loves your family but doesn't actually know much about medicine to perform surgery on your children?

Of course you wouldn't.

Very shortly, Auburn will have to say goodbye to the Toomer's Oaks. Anyone who's seen them over the past several months knows that day is near. No one with a functioning heart will take joy in seeing the old trees removed, but no one with a functioning brain believes that they can go on standing in their current state. The poison has done its work. Much as we will regret it, time and reality will force us to first do what we must, and then do what we can to replant and start anew.

If the Auburn football program and athletic department are allowed to continue in their current states out of sentiment and personal considerations, the small number of people who make that decision will inject a dose of poison into the Auburn community the likes of which Harvey Updyke can't even dream of. It would be an act that will not be forgotten, or easily forgiven.

So consider well, Friends Of Jay, just what you're doing over the next couple of weeks. Having "our guy" on the inside may seem important to you, but you aren't Auburn, and your personal concerns, no matter how well-intentioned they might be, are not as important as Auburn's future.



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