Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Random bowlthoughts

At some point, you're getting a 2008-in-the-rearview kind of post from me ... but that post will be long and time consuming and with bowls on this afternoon (including actual SEC action!) it's not getting done today. So here's a sort of random collection of responses to the bowl season we've seen thus far, starting with this, because you really can't see this often enough:

Sneak preview? I think what we saw from Oregon and Oklahoma St. last night was a pretty good indication of what we're eventually going to see from Florida and Oklahoma in the national title game. Both games are matchups of incredible offensive teams, stunning blends of All-American talent and ingenious coaching. But in both games, one team is just a little bit better on defense. In both games, one team--that same team--is just a little more committed and capable in the running game. And in the Holiday Bowl, those edges eventually won the game for Oregon, as their defense hung in just long enough to start landing some haymakers and the Poke D eventually fell apart in the face of the Ducks' ultra-polished ground game. I'm expecting the same thing from the Gators: perhaps an early deficit, perhaps a tight game into the fourth quarter, but eventually it's the Gator D I see making more plays and the Gator ground game--the most explosive in the country--winning the final period.

Running QBs? Particularly when you live in the age of Pat White and Tim Tebow, the topic of whether you can trust a running quarterback to stay healthy in the face of prolonged battering at the hands of your modern BCS-level defenders is a sensitive one. If I'm an Oklahoma St. fan this morning, I'm sort of wondering if it's really worth sending Zac Robinson into the fray to pick up seven yards in the second quarter if the killshots he ends up taking mean you don't gain any yards at all once the fourth quarter rolls around.

Then again, if I'm an Oregon fan this morning, I'm thinking that what finally got our offense going wasn't the two stud RBs or Chip Kelly ingenuity, it was Jeremiah Masoli straight wrecking fools. Without Oregon's running QB, they don't win that game. But even the Ducks have fallen victim to the too-many-hits theory, as they did two years ago when Dennis Dixon went down and ruined the best team in the country.

Is there a right answer? After watching last night, I think it might be this: yes, generally, you should have your QB run. But if he's not the sort of guy who can stand up to it or if you don't have a backup you feel comfortable turning to, you might want to think twice about it.

Dude, the WAC is over. It's not just the 1-4 mark, the hideous home loss by Hawaii to Notre Dame, Fresno's final pratfall in what was supposed to be their breakthrough season. It's that these teams just do not have it from a physical standpoint. Watching Maryland-Nevada yesterday, I didn't have much doubt that if the two coaching staffs had switched sides at the end of the season, with Chris Ault directing the Terps and Ralph Freidgen calling plays for the Wolf Pack*, it would have been a Maryland bloodbath. For all of Friedgen's supposed "guru" reputation, I thought the Terps looked pathetically predictable on offense--off-tackle run first down, off-tackle run second down, seam or comeback route over the middle on third down. By contrast, Ault's pistol look looked as creative, as unorthodox, and as productive as you might expect given Nevada's obvious physical limitations.

But that's the thing: those limitations weren't just there, they were obvious, as obvious as they were when Georgia gobsmacked Hawaii straight out of the Superdome last January, as obvious as they were when TCU shoved Boise up and down the field a week ago. And eventually (i.e. the moment Maryland's bowling ball running back's one-half suspension ended) they caught up with Nevada, just as they did Boise and Fresno and Hawaii. I'm as big a proponent of quality mid-majors getting their BCS shot as anyone, but for the time being, if we're talking about a WAC team we're going to need to see some definitive regular-season proof that these limitations have been reduced or neutralized (a la Boise's rout of a good Oregon St. team in 2006) before we can take them seriously.

Really? Like Doug, I'm not feeling the widespread love for Ole Miss against Texas Tech. Love like this prediction from Chris Low:
Ole Miss 38, Texas Tech 28: The Rebels were on the kind of roll to end the regular season that the last thing they wanted to see was a month break after their 45-0 shellacking of Mississippi State on Nov. 28. They get a chance to continue that momentum and make one of their most convincing statements yet about what kind of team they are against No. 7-ranked Texas Tech in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. All season, we debated the Big 12 offensive thing versus the SEC defensive thing. Well, the Rebels are good enough defensively to hold the Red Raiders under 30, and that will be good enough to win.
And ... how, exactly, are the Rebels "good enough defensively to hold the Red Raiders under 30"? Yes, thanks to their studly defensive line Ole Miss is tremendous against the run and has arguably the SEC's best pass rush. Guess what? Against a team that couldn't care less about running the ball and gets rid of the ball too quickly for that pass rush to be a substantial advantage--remember, even Auburn found a way to keep the Rebels without a sack for the day--that d-line doesn't mean much. What does mean a lot against a team like Tech is the secondary. The secondary that let Kodi Burns throw for 300 yards. That finished 11th in the SEC in passing yardage allowed. And that will be facing a Mike Leach-coached team that's had a month to prepare. Under 30? If Ole Miss keeps Tech under 45, I'll be surprised. A year ago a lot of people thought a hot Arkansas team was going to upset a Missouri team that had rolled through the Big 12 season save for a bad performance against Oklahoma. That didn't work out so well, and I just don't see that it'll be a different story for Ole Miss.

Bowls are awesome. It's not just that watching a game that clearly means so much more to the players and coaches involved than it should always makes for great viewing--apparently, Jason Whitlock got a big lump of coal in his Christmas stocking--but the chance to watch Air Force's option, Oregon's Masoli, Nevada's pistol, Boise's Ian Johnson (one last time), Louisiana freaking Tech and freaking Rice go nuts in front of their home crowds, basically every single thing that happened in that UNC-West Virginia game ... I mean, if you don't like these things, you don't like college football, and you're probably a Communist.

All right, Vandy's about to come on, so I'm going to enjoy the first half, while it stays competitive.

*Remember, it's two words at Nevada, one at N.C. State.

The Works, Ron freaking Franklin-style

I'm kicking myself, because during the Alamo Bowl the other night, I thought to myself, "I've got to post that clip of Maclin's punt return and write about it." Then yesterday I forgot, and now Blutarsky's beaten me to it, sort of:

I'm posting it myself anyway, horrible quality and all, because if you need any more proof that Ron Franklin is the best play-by-play guy and probably best announcer, period, in all of college football, here you go. If you're stuck at YouTubeless work, this is his call here:

Kiss him good-bye! Count it off: 20, 15, 10 5 touchdown! 75 yards! Pat Fitzgerald, you knew better!

Magic, man. If I'm ever at a fancy cocktail party and making chit-chat and say "Yes, I'm a freelance writer, do some college football blogging," and the guy I'm talking to says "Oh, you like sports? I'm an ESPN executive," and I say "Really? Did you have anything to do with Ron Franklin's demotion from ESPN's primetime Saturday night team and his replacement with Mike Patrick?" and he says "Why yes, I made that decision myself, as a matter of fact," I'm going to punch him right in his fat face. Tuxedo and all.

Thoughts, prayers. As you've surely read by now, Auburn head swim coach Richard Quick has been diagnosed with an inoperable cancerous brain tumor. God be with you, Coach, and I'm not sure if there's anything else for someone like me to say.

Tangible benefits. Not that any Auburn fan really ever needed one, but would you like a concrete reason bringing back James Willis was an excellent move?
Another player formerly from the Mobile area whom Willis had recruited for the Tigers, former Faith Academy quarterback Raymond Cotton, also has de-committed from Auburn and has January visits lined up to Arkansas, Ole Miss and Southern Miss. Cotton threw for 2,243 yards and 24 touchdowns this season at Fort Meade, Md.

Cotton's father, Raymond Cotton Sr., told on Monday, however, that Willis' retention on the staff has his son looking twice at the Tigers.

"We have been in touch with coach Willis and that's always a plus," the elder Cotton told the Web site. "After this week, we'll sit down and talk about what Auburn has done with the hire of Gus Malzahn. We're going to talk with coach Willis and that will hopefully give us an opportunity to sit down with Gus Malzahn and Chizik and just talk. Prior to Willis being retained, I don't think that meeting would've ever happened. Now, I think it will."
Maybe Malzahn will explain about that whole "in his first year under me, my first QB at Tulsa finished second in the country in touchdown passes" thing? Do you think that'll come up?

Rush Propst should just retire and offer football-related quotes full-time. Not because he's necessarily good at it, but because he seems to do it so often these days I have to wonder if it's cutting into his coaching time. I do have to give him credit for the chuckle-inducing specifics of this one, though, delivered to K-Scar for his Malzahn column:
"Gene Chizik is one of the finest defensive football coaches I've been around. Gus is innovative and ahead of the curve on offense.

"Auburn has hit two three-run home runs."
For Scarbinsky's next column, I sincerely hope we get a breakdown Propst's baseball analogies for each and every possible coaching candidate on the market. Something like:

Turner Gill: Solo shot
Rodney Garner as DC: Bases-clearing triple
Todd Graham: Line-drive single, thrown out trying to advance to second
Steve Spurrier: Pop-up to shortstop
Mike Sherman: Called strike three
Bill Stewart: On-deck pinch-hitter called back to the dugout when opponent makes pitching change
Pete Carroll as DC: Grand slam that hits light stand and causes it to explode in picturesque shower of sparks, like in "The Natural"

SEC coachin' carousel. The Orgeron is back, this time as LSU's "associate head coach along with recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach." Also, he'll be paid more than the defensive coordinator he'll be working under, the jolly and agreeable John Chavis. I'm sure there won't be any kind of friction on staff at all!

Really, though, I shouldn't be so sarcastic: on paper it's hard to see how having Orgeron recruit menacing recruits that Chavis has always been capable of scheming into position isn't one hell of an idea. I like it a lot better than Lane Kiffin's "hey, let's build our college staff entirely out of NFL retreads" philosophy, which has allegedly taken its next step with the hire of the Vols' new OC ... Jim Chaney, the St. Louis Rams' tight ends coach and former assistant offensive line coach. Let's let TSIB respond, shall we?
This is definitely not the sexy hire that we all expected, like Billy Gonzales, Jeremy Bates, or possibly Trooper Taylor, and I for one was dissappointed to hear the news.
To be fair, Chaney had some pretty good years as the OC and recruiting coordinator at Purdue, and Kiffin's of course going to be calling his own plays regardless, but ... would Trooper Taylor really have turned down the opportunity to come back to Knoxville under the title of full offensive coordinator? Is Chaney's recruiting record at Purdue several years ago really worth more than Taylor's experience in the Vols' backyard? Also, he looks like this. I realize that an Auburn fan calling out Tennessee for unusual coaching decisions gets us well into pot-and-kettle territory, but I just don't get it.

Two more staffing thing worth mentioning: Dan Mullen has hired Carl Torbush to (most likely) come run the Bulldog defense in Starkville. Torbush is an old pro who, unfortunately, doesn't seem an especially good bet to tear down the Ellis Johnson-built competence on that side of the ball. Also, Terry Price has continued the ISU-Auburn swap meet by joining Rhoads in Ames. Good news for the Cyclones.

Hoopity. The Auburn women had no problems whatsoever in Miami, strolling to two easy wins over Duquesne and yesterday the host Hurricanes, the latter a BCS-conference team sporting a good record. Sweet. The men "will put a five-game win streak on the line today as it hosts" ... wait for it ... Southeastern Louisiana. The Lions are actually a decent team, having been competitive in losses to Arkansas and Texas Tech. Then again, they also have losses to Florida Atlantic and Lipscomb and they don't have a victory over any non-SWAC D-I team. Forgive me if I think Auburn's win streak isn't really so much "on the line" as "safely tucked away in Auburn's knapsack, though I suppose they could take it out and lose it by trying to show it off for some dumb reason." Or something.

Grotus. His thoughts on the Malzahn hire are up, and as expected they're very much worth a read:
Everyone by now has heard how Chizik is going to let Malzahn have a say in the structure of the offense and the hiring of assistants, and is rightly pleased. But - courtesy of Jay G. Tate - this is what Malzahn had to say:

That's what I did today -- spent time evaluating our strengths.

Well, you got to be balanced, and you've got to take what the defense gives you. People tell me, hey, do you want to run more than throw? Really, it matters on what the defense is going to give you.

We're going throw the ball far downfield, and we're going to do that quite often.

[When I talk to the players,] we will definitely put up exactly who we are, we will put up our goals... we'll have a good sound plan, and we'll have extremely high goals.

Now, some may dismiss that as coachspeak, pandering, or well-duh-isms. But our current situation dictates what the "Well duh" will be. And this year, what is "well duh" is play to our strengths, balance in the context of the opposing defensive scheme, and stretch the field. None of which was done consistently in 2008. Taken with Chizik's generous proclamations, this is the message I heard:

We have identified the lethal mistakes that were made and publicly announce our desire to correct them.

Hallelujah. This is the real ray of light, the sign that the dawn marches ever earlier after our dark solstice.

Etc. Blutarsky makes me ever-more-wistful we never picked up the phone on Mike Leach ... Braves and Birds's thoughts on Bill Simmons are pretty much exactly my own. Terribly underrated as a writer; terribly overrated as any kind of analyst, or at least he would be, if anyone I knew rated his analysis in the first place.

New Year's Eve Feedback

Time for another round of Feedback, where I reproduce and respond to various e-mails and comments that have trickled into the ol' JCCW inbox. Oh, and the occasional cell-phone picture, I guess, like the ones sent in by reader John, who attended one of Lassiter (Ga.) High's holiday break basketball games and passed along the following:

That middle blur in the top picture, the masked man with his back to the lens in the second? None other than Gene Chizik, who was in attendance for reasons I'll let John explain:
A friend of mine coaches for a local high school and we recently went to a holiday basketball festival they were playing in. The game preceding his school's game featured Lassiter and Phillip Lutzenkirchen. I watched the first half and marveled at his athleticism and nimbleness of his feet. I looked up in the tiered gym and saw Chizik observing the game like a hawk with a couple of cohorts. I was as disappointed as anyone in his hire, but seeing him in person, after one of our top prospects, excited me. At the very least, he is doing what he said he would do. He is putting a face to the Auburn program, and working as hard as possible to win the respect of the recruits. From a distance, you could see the easy and natural rapport Chizik had with the Lutzenkirchen family.
Good stuff to hear. One the one hand, I sort of feel like "Well, Chizik had better be working his ass off and schmoozing recruits' families like schmoozing is going out of style." On the other, as John points out, it's one thing to talk the talk, it's another to walk the walk. What the end result is going to be is still way too early to guess, but at least we have hard evidence that the work is indeed being put in.

For a less positive take on the impending Chizik era, check out the following comment left by an Iowa St. fan calling himself "Chizzed on," which got tagged onto this post:
As a long-suffering Cyclone football fan, allow me to present my perspective of the Gene Chizik Auburn defection:

Initally, Cyclone nation was ecstatic when Chizik was hired. His presence here allowed our AD to nearly double our athletic program budget, at that time of his hire it was the lowest in the Big 12.

That's the only positive comment I can make about the man. Gene Chizik promised the Cyclones a winning program. In a press conference prior to leaving for Auburn he publically professed his love for Ames, for Iowa, for the students, faculty, alumni and boosters. Mr. Chizik told ISU fans he'd do what it took as long as it took to turn the program around.

And then without warning he bailed...QUIT.

Good riddance to Chizik. And I'm truly sorry that Auburn ended up with this guy. His actions here clearly demonstrated he can't be trusted, lacks character, has questionable values and low integrity. If he had any balls at all he would have finished what he started and made good on his promises. Instead, he runs away at the first opportunity.

These aren't values you look for in a head coach. Maybe I'm wrong...he might become a great head coach. But his recent actions at ISU indicate differently.

Right now, I'd give him 2 years at Auburn...after he 'Chizzes' all over you like he did ISU and runs the program into the ground dump his sorry ass and get someone who you'd be proud to call Coach.
To some extent, I want to call this kind of response pure, undiluted, classic vintage sour grapes. Certainly, there's not enough cheese in all Wisconsin to accompany the kind of whine ISU AD Jamie Pollard produced in the wake of Chizik's departure, and I mean, come on--Auburn's the better job. Expecting a guy without any Iowa roots like Chizik to choose to stay in Ames after receiving an invitation to the Plains was never going to make rational sense, no matter strong a sense of duty you might expect Chizik to have. Duty's great, really. But a gigantic raise and a program with 10 times the professional potential? It ain't that great.

But ... but ... for those same reasons, shouldn't there be just a sigh of resignation and blank surprise coming from ISU? Where is all this anger coming from? The press conference, right, the alleged late-game assurances, right ... is that enough? It all makes me uneasy. I don't much care for the idea that our new head coach was telling his current employers he wasn't really interested in leaving until he left. I don't care much that so many bridges seem to be burned behind him. Coaches who leave that kind of scorched earth don't always succeed at their next stop. Franchione. Petrino going to Atlanta. Rich Rodriguez, at least to this point. I don't want to call it karma, but it just doesn't seem to be a positive omen.

Then again, it's not necessarily a negative omen, either, as Todd Graham and Nick Saban and, ahem, Tommy Tuberville will attest. It makes me uneasy, certainly, but in the end whether Chizik succeeds at Auburn won't come down to how classy or how smooth his departure from ISU was--it'll be how classy and how smooth he is now that he's here.

Got a couple of late, less-than-impressed comments on the Turner Gill Coachapalooza post, which as you'll recall was mostly ambivalent about Gill's resume for the Auburn job (ironically, of course, it ended up being better than the one belonging to the guy who got hired). Gerald Ball summarized the post like so:
"Turner Gill is a great candidate who deserves a job somewhere, just not at MY school."

That is precisely why there are only 4 black coaches today, and when black coaches do get hired it is at wastelands like Mississippi State, New Mexico State, Temple, Wake Forest, New Mexico, Northwestern, Stanford etc. The only SEC school to offer to hire Charlie Strong, who has been the conference's top coordinator for 10 years? Vanderbilt.

Most people I suppose would only want a black coach after he has already won a national title. (Never mind that if he has already "proven himself", why would he leave?) Meanwhile, Lane Kiffins and Steve Sarkisians, guys not even 35 years old who have been coordinators for less than 3 years, can get jobs with no problem.

It stinks, and attitudes like this are the reason why.
I certainly won't argue that college football's record of hiring African-American head coaches is absolutely disgraceful. Why is Charlie Strong still coordinating at Florida instead of serving as the head guy at N.C. St. or Kansas St. or Minnesota, to name three mid-level programs who have hired retread white guys in the past two seasons? No clue. Why would Syracuse hire a white Sylvester Croom* instead of the dynamic, successful black guy in their own backyard? Search me. I don't see what Tennessee sees in Kiffin, don't see what Washington sees in Sarkisian, and frankly, as hard as I tried, it never got easy to see what Auburn saw in Chizik until we found out they saw "So, the first thing I'm going to do is hire Gus Malzahn." If a clearly qualified candidate like Dewayne Walker is willing to go to New Mexico St. to get his shot, surely he would have gone to Bowling Green, right? So why did the Falcons look at the disaster zone that was the Clawfense and say Hey, we'd better get ourselves some of that?

That said: it wasn't about all those other teams It was about Auburn, and Gill was just not the best candidate I believed Auburn could hire. As I said repeatedly, I believed those candidates were Brian Kelly and Paul Johnson. If Auburn had hired Kelly or Johnson, do you know who I would have recommended Cincy or Ga. Tech hire? Turner Gill. It's not about race, it's about the situation, and whatever you want to say about the Auburn administration's final decision, the attitudes of fans like yours truly obviously had nothing to do with it--or Turner Gill would be Auburn's coach today.

Moving on to more current matters, the Gus Malzahn breakdown offered yesterday went skimpy on one particular set of details, prompting one anonymous reader to write:
I notice there's nothing said about the quality of his recruiting. Hard to gauge coming from Tulsa, and the Arkansas situation was sui generis, but do we have any thoughts on that?
Well, I did mention that the bountiful opportunities for stat-padding that exists in Malzahn's snapitNOW offense would be a natural lure for skill position players, but the commenter's right here--anything that happened at Arkansas is unrepeatable and at Tulsa it's hard to gauge exactly how much attraction Malzahn himself has and how much head coach Graham or the program or some other factor might have.

But I think it's fair to assume Malzahn's recruiting is much, much more likely to be a boon than it is to be an anchor. For starters, if we can't tell exactly how muxh he's helping the Golden Hurricane's efforts, he sure ain't hurting 'em--Tulsa went from having the 11th-best class in C-USA to Rivals in 2006 to 8th in '07 to 4th in '08 to the current top spot for '09. Helping that ranking, as commenter PowerOfDixieland pointed out, is former Michigan commitShavodrick Beaver, the No. 8 dual threat QB in the country and the sort of prospect that never winds up in a C-USA backwater like Tulsa. Except, apparently, when he's recruited by Gus Malzahn. (There was some brief chatter Beaver could follow Malzahn to Auburn, but as he's already practicing with the Golden Hurricane, I think we can rule that out.) And if there's anything to take away from Las Cronicas Locas de Boss Hawg, it's that he does appear to have a very good rapport with his players--it's not a one-to-one match with pure recruiting skill, but again, it's a positive sign. The guess here is that if Malzahn isn't necessarily going to turn Auburn into a coachbot-style recruiting machine, he's still pretty gosh-darned likely to bring in some of those offensive playmakers Auburn has been so starved of since the 2004 bunch left.

One last thing, also attached to the Malzahn post, from an anonymous Arkansas fan responding to my assertion that coaching credit for Arkansas's 2006 offensive success should be shared amongst Malzahn, Nutt, and David Lee:
Nutt was forced to hire Malzahn against his will and there was much resentment on the Arkansas staff of him (sound familiar?). David Lee didn't arrive until after the 2006 season. His hire is the reason Malzahn went to Tulsa. Nutt told Malzahn that David Lee would be the new OC and that Malzahn would just be the receivers coach. Yes, Houston Nutt is THAT stupid. Malzahn left with class and has never publicly commented one how he was ridiculed and handcuffed by the Nutt staff.

Neither Nutt or Lee brought the Wildcat to Arkansas. That was Malzahn's idea, which Nutt and then Lee co-opted. However, Malzahn is much more than just that offensive set. He is a brilliant mind, that if allowed to do his thing will produce serious benefits for Auburn.

If Arkansas' head coaching position comes available in the future, Malzahn will be at the top of the list. Enjoy him while you have him.

Accounts vary on the Wildcat's genesis, so I think it's safe to say Malzahn had a heavy hand in its creation and leave it at that rather than making any definitive claim (though Anon is correct that Lee wasn't on staff at Arkansas in '06; my mistake). It doesn't much matter: the point is that Malzahn is capable of thinking outside the proverbial box and adapting to the talent he has on hand, and that the majority of fans from the only previous SEC team he's served at think Auburn has made a tremendous hire. For the time being, I'm more than willing to take them at their word.

*Doug Marrone: random longtime NFL assistant, never called either offensive or defensive plays. It's Croom's resume to a T.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Works, doubleplusgood-style


All right, so the 1984 parallels are pushing it a bit. As I said this morning, if we broaden the definition of "smash-mouth" to to the breaking point of simply meaning "running the ball," then yes, actually, Malzahn's offense at Tulsa this season was "smash-mouth," seeing as how it called a higher percentage of runs than most of the SEC. And there's at least a modicum of mouth-smashing, you have to admit, inherent to the Wildcat and its removal of a genuine quarterback from the field.

But ... yeah, I can kind of sympathize with the commentators who caught Malzahn calling his offense "smash-mouth" at his press conference yesterday and heard echoes of the doublespeak Tubby used to explain how his Airraid-schooled offensive coordinator was going to mysteriously run it down people's throats. Commentators like Blutarsky, for instance, or Mr. SEC. If we take "smash-mouth" to mean what it generally means--huge offensive linemen lining up in a three-point stance and barreling over people as the fullback smacks a linebacker in the hole and the NFL-sized tailback follows, lather, rinse, repeat--then no, Malzahn's offense isn't going to resemble a "smash-mouth" offense at all. Both "smash-mouth" teams like Alabama or Wisconsin and Malzahn's Tulsa squads are looking to wear the opponent down physically, but the former do it by being bigger and heavier and simply grinding smaller, weaker opposition into dust; for Malzahn, it's the exact opposite, as his generally smaller teams looks to exhaust the opponent by running so many plays and so many formations that the opposition can't keep up either physically or mentally. Malzahn calling his offense "smash-mouth" is, well ... it appears to be a total sop, a bit of bread-and-circus for Auburn fans who liked the Cro-Magnon cut of Chizik's jib.

But it's a sop I don't really have a problem with. As Blutarsky writes:
If you’ve watched Tulsa play this year, “smash-mouth” is the last phrase you’d use to describe what Malzahn’s running.

But it’s a term near and dear to the hearts of many on the Plains, so expect it to be trotted out for everyone who wants to hear it - just not the recruits. A little talking out of both sides of one’s mouth (and Malzahn’s sat at the feet of one of the masters at that in Graham) won’t bother anyone, as long as Auburn wins.
The problem isn't in the doublespeak. It's when that doublespeak actually indicates a divergence of philosophies, a conflict of priorities--as the Tubby/Franklin tug-of-war certainly did--that it becomes a problem. As long as Malzahn and Chizik aren't experiencing the same butting of heads (and, of course, what Malzahn's selling actually works), it's all doubleplusgood.

More presser reax. The transcript makes for interesting reading, but there's not too much of substance there. If you're wondering at how many D-I programs the head coach's claim he won't "strong-arm" assistants onto his new offensive coordinator's staff would be a noteworthy statement, I'm pretty sure the answer is, sadly, one.

But I do think Chizik's revealing that he was "adamant" that Malzahn be "part of the plan" is interesting, since I think it probably helps explain why he got the job in the first place. Obviously there's no way of knowing who the other head coaching candidates proposed as their hypothetical OC's, but it must be admitted that the candidate who came in and said "I'm going to run the defense the same way I did here four years ago, and then I'm going to go out and hire Gus Malzahn, no questions asked and not taking no for an answer" probably didn't lose any points with that particular vision, either.

Nixed. As you've no doubt heard, Pat Nix is on the outs as Miami's OC after guiding the 'Canes to back-to-back finishes of 89th or lower in total offense and, more recently, what's generally believed to be the worst two-minute drill in the history of college football in Miami's Emerald Bowl loss. With Malzahn safely in at OC, Fear of a Patrick Nix Planet is at a much lower ebb these days, though I'd guess it's more than possible that Nix could come back to the Plains as a quarterbacks coach while he awaits his next coordinator's shot. His interview for the head coaching position and presence on the Pat Dye list of approved coaches means he'll be in the mix. And frankly, it wouldn't be a disaster--as long as he's not calling plays, there's only so much damage he can do, right? On top of that, Nix does have a wealth of experience by now and surely he could handle a simple position-coaching role without bringing the Spread Eagle to its knees.

Than again: Reggie Ball. And more importantly, hiring Nix over someone Malzahn might prefer would be a signal that the Dye-hards really do have an unfortunate say in the matter. As always, all due respect for what Nix accomplished in his time at Auburn, but I'd much, much prefer someone else.

Please. Tony Barnhart on the Andre Smith suspension:
(W)hy is this good for Alabama? It’s good because when the school was faced with an issue it took quick and decisive action. Coach Nick Saban suspended his best player and in the process sent out the word: No one player is bigger than the team and what we are trying to build here.
This is a sentiment I've seen in a few places, the implication being that it takes a forthright disciplinarian like Saban to make a tough decision like this, and that he should be commended.

To which I respond: Sure. Right. Someone correct me if I'm mistaken, but depending on the level of Smith's involvement with the agent, the NCAA could retroactively declare him ineligible and the game forfeited. So we're supposed to congratulate Saban on not throwing the entire team under the bus just so a guy who's clearly on his way to the NFL can enjoy one last dance in the Tide spotlight? Uh, no. Suspending Smith wasn't some kind of brave, noble choice, it was the only choice, and I sincerely believe it's the one that every damn coach in the league. Remember, this is the same coachbot who a year ago suspended D.J. Hall and then unsuspended him at halftime when his team actually found itself in danger of losing. Where were Saban's high-and-mighty principles then? The dude just went 12-1 and came within a quarter of taking a team that was 6-6 the year before to the national title game. I don't see why it's necessary to make up reasons for falling prostrate at his feet when the Tide's season seems like a perfectly legitimate reason all on its own.

Wait, did I just pay Saban a compliment? Oops. As penance, I give you this Saban sweater-centric post at DeepSouthSports, which I have to admit I enjoyed thoroughly.

Not Auburn-related in the slightest, but deeply important to me on a personal level. It looks like the Arrested Development movie would be a go, except that apparently someone is getting too big for his damn britches:
So what of the rumors that new dad Will Arnett and shiny movie star Michael Cera are the only two remaining holdouts?

"I don’t want to talk about who is holding out right now because we might still work that out and I don’t want to pressure anyone through the press," said Hurwitz. "Although I will say that Will Arnett is gung-ho, so there’s a big clue!"
Attention Michael Cera: I've loved you in, like, every single thing you've been in. You taught me that impossible is just the opposite of possible. But if you keep this from happening or let it happen with someone else soiling George Michael's shoes, dude, you are on my permanent sh*tlist. Get it together.

Aaaaaaand finally ... it appears there might be another college football fanbase who hates the New York Times sports section as much as we do.

Happy Trails

So, yeah, losing both Sen'Derrick Marks and Antonio Coleman to the draft sucks. (Yes, we're losing Coleman. You don't call a press conference celebration in front of all your friends and family back home to announce they're not going to be sharing in the million-dollar spoils of the NFL for another year.) They would have been awesome next season. Chizik needs all the help he can get. A defense with a Malzahn offense on the other side, let's be honest, probably needs all the help it can get, too.

But I wish Marks and Coleman nothing but the best. Not that anyone from Auburn is arguing either should stick around, but I always find it astonishingly easy for fans to say a certain player or two should remain for their senior season when leaving for the NFL represents something like a 3,567 percent raise. Let's say you love your job the way these players (we hope) love Auburn. How often are you going to turn down a 3,567 percent raise, especially if the job you'd be leaving for happens to be one you've had your eye on since you were a little kid, even if might not be quite as fun as your current job? My guess is that 3,567 percent is going to speak pretty loudly.

So the JCCW hopes Marks and Coleman rock the NFL's world--Marks, in particular, should be a very, very rich gentleman in the near future--and wishes them as much luck as they can stand.

Mike Blanc, Jake Ricks, Raven Gray, Antoine Carter? You guys are on the clock.

Gus Malzahn: the Tony Franklin we got, or the Tony Franklin we wanted?

I'll be perfectly honest: I'm stunned at how widespread the willingness of Auburn fans to lay palm branches down at Gus Malzahn's feet seems to be. Not because he's not deserving (well, metaphorically speaking), but because these are the same Auburn fans who were ready to tar and feather Tony "Spread Man Walking" Franklin before running him out of town on the proverbial rail, and that was three games into the season. They're the same Auburn fans who looked at Mike Leach's 11-1 record in this year's Big 12 and said "Actually, we'd rather wait until you go undefeated, thanks." And now comes Malzahn, with his Franklinesque up-tempo scheme and high school roots, and his Leachesque hatred of the humble punt, and he's greeted with hosannas? Was the Fear of a Patrick Nix Planet really this strong?

So, yeah, I was expecting more comments along the lines of this beauty left in the thread after Sunday's post:
Oh no - this is an absolute disaster. I remember the last time an SEC team hired Malzahn and what happened there. Nobody is left from that debacle at Arkansas.

I thought we were going back to smash-mouth football, but apparently we are simply going to concede the next few years to Bama and everyone else in the country and maybe hire Turner Gill after this HIGH SCHOOL COACH fails to implement the spread at AU once again. Tony Franklin, redux. What is that quote about insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result ? The ONLY silver lining in hiring Chizik was he promised a return to AU football, i.e., not the spread. So what does he do next ? This is it for me. The powers-that-be at AU are absolutely crazy and the whole lot of them needs to be run off....
This opinion is far and away in the minority, though. Charles Goldberg's survey shows more than 88 percent of Auburn fans are behind the hire. Why? Are the surface differences between Tony Franklin, the man who'll forever be known as the decision that destroyed Tommy Tuberville's Auburn coaching career, and Malzahn really that great? Hell, despite his Arkansas episode, Franklin's systems were more proven against SEC competition than the ones Malzahn will run at Auburn will be.

But even if I can't explain why Malzahn is being welcomed with such open arms--maybe it's that his Tulsa numbers are off the freaking chart, as opposed to Franklin's Troy numbers merely being very, very good?--you can definitely consider the JCCW among the cheering throng.

Here's why.

The numbers really are that bonkers. It would be one thing if Malzahn had arrived at Tulsa and only maintained an already-built offensive machine. And, to be fair, Tulsa wasn't bad before Malzahn arrived: 26th in yards-per-play in 2006, 31st in 2005. You also have to take Tulsa's total offense numbers under Malzahn with at least a tiny grain of salt: because Malzahn tries to run so many damn plays in a game, their per-game stats (both offensively and defensively) get inflated.

But yeah, things have still been decisively on the ridiculous side for the Golden Hurricane since he showed up. Third in the nation in '07 in yards-per-play (to go with their easy first in total offense), then a tie with Houston for first this season with a staggering 7.3 yards a play, a mark matched only over the past five years by the likes of Leinart and Bush's USC, White and Slaton's West Virginia, Colt Brennan's stupid year at Hawaii.

Are you more worried about scoring than yardage? That's the sort of thing that gets distorted by field position and defensive touchdowns, but why not: Tulsa went from 37th to 6th and then 2nd this year.

There's also the little matter of Malzahn's (ahem) turbulent season at Arkansas in 2006. Exactly how much credit you want to give Malzahn for an offense that finished 12th in yards-per-play and third in the country in rushing is kind of up to you; given that the offense bore very, very little resemblance to what Malzahn has run at Tulsa, that Houston Nutt and then-QB coach David Lee (who took the Wildcat to Miami, as you probably know) are pretty sharp offensive minds in their own rights, and that that offense had at its disposal perhaps the greatest SEC running back since Bo, I'd pass on putting too much weight on Malzahn's results in Fayetteville. That said: the year before he got there, Arkansas ranked 66th in yards-per-play; the year after he left, the Hogs slipped just a hair, from 12th to 14th. (To be fair, the Hogs' scoring offense improved dramatically. So Arkansas sort of stayed about the same overall.) Whatever you want to say about Malzahn's Hog tenure, you have to admit this: he sure as hell didn't hurt that offense.

The bottom line is that no, we don't have a ton of evidence. But every bit of evidence we do have suggests that when you hire Gus Malzahn, your offense gets much, much better.

His real name is Gustav. Arthur Gustav Malzahn III. Would you want your opponent to have a coach named Gustav? No, no you would not.

Balance. As Jay G. Tate related for you in the Malzahn hire's aftermath, just because Malzahn prefers to spread the field and Tulsa tied for the best mark in D-I in yards-per-passing attempt doesn't mean he's of the Leach/Mumme/Franklin "Airraid" pass-to-set-up-the-run school. The Golden Hurricane had an almost exactly 50-50 run/pass split in 2007 (two more passes than runs) and in 2008 ran 61 percent of the time. For comparison, remember Auburn's 2007 Borges-directed grind-a-thon? 60 percent running. 2006? 62.5 percent running. In other words, the newfangled, basketball-on-grass, no-huddle pointfest Malzahn oversaw at Tulsa this year? Every bit as run-obsessed as the Auburn offenses that Tubby believed so stodgy he had to turn to Franklin.

When Franklin said he was going to pass to set up the run, he wasn't lying. That's how his system worked. When Malzahn says he'll use the run to set up the pass, he's not lying either. And as with Franklin, that makes all the difference when it comes to success. Any shred of balance Franklin had at Troy came from Omar Haugabrook's ability to run with the ball, but Malzahn's genuine commitment to the run means that that 5.43 yards-per-rush--eighth-best in the country this year, one spot ahead of Navy--isn't a mirage that's going to evaporate when he comes to Auburn. He'll find a way to run the ball.

And once he does, that's when he goes deep. Again, no team in the country averaged more per-pass than Tulsa; Malzahn's not interested in dinking-and-dunking. When he passes, he's usually going for the throat. End result: the only team in the country that finished in the top 10 in both total rushing and passing.

Personally, even an all-pass-all-the-time scheme like Leach's (or the Paul Johnson converse) would be fine by me--as long as it worked. But to pull off something like that requires a phenomenal coaching mind, a true savant like Leach or Johnson. For all we know, Malzahn might be that kind of savant; Tulsa's eye-popping numbers suggest he might be. But even if he's just very good, having the option of succeeding either via the air or the run means Malzahn arrives on the Plains with more ability to adapt: adapting to Auburn's personnel, adapting to SEC defenses, adapting to whatever challenges this position winds up offering him. There's a reason Malzahn hit the ground running at Tulsa and never stopped.

Ludicrous speed. That's the term the brilliant Chris Brown coined for the pace of Malzahn's Tulsa offense in this must-read Smart Football post on Auburn's new hire. Remember how Tubby said he wanted Oklahoma's offense? As Brown points out, the two teams that in 2008 ran the most plays and played at the fastest pace were Oklahoma and Tulsa. Total offense, sure, but both of those teams also finished in top five in the country in yards-per-play. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Also, do you think this just might be a selling point with skill position recruits? Come to Auburn, and you won't only play for a good offense--you'll play for an offense that is designed to give you more opportunities than any other offense in football, every game, of touching the ball.

Also also: as Brown illustrates, because Malzahn's version of the Spread Eagle won't be all that schematically complex, the adjustment period shouldn't be quite so rough as it might be with some other alleged *cough*Jonathan Clawson*cough* gurus.

The negatives might not be as negative as you might think. Let's review the common complaints:

Malzahn's offense won't work in the SEC. Why, exactly, is never explained, of course. The same reasons Mumme's offense* and Meyer's offense weren't going to work, I'm sure, or that Paul Johnson's offense was never going to work in the ACC. You'll hear that even if the novelty has some effect, that in Year 2 the defenses will adjust. This, of course, assumes that the guy creative enough to come up with this and who at the very least had a hand in the creation of the Wildcat is incapable of making adjustments himself.

The offense didn't work against real competition. Riiiiight. 528 yards against Arkansas, a better per-play average against the Hogs than anyone but Florida or Alabama ... a clear failure. The relatively anemic ECU output of 24 points and 399 yards? Still good for 28 first downs and 100 more yards than ECU managed. 2007? 5.5 a play against Oklahoma, 8.5 in a 55-47 win over 11-2 BYU, 6.5 in the 63-7 annihilation of Bowling Green in their bowl game. No, over two seasons, Malzahn's Golden Hurricane haven't been quite as good stepping up against non-C-USA competition as they are in bludgeoning the weak sisters of their home league. But that doesn't mean they've failed, exactly, either.

Chizik won't let him be Malzahn, just as Tubby never let Franklin be Franklin. Uh, Malzahn is now very likely Chizik's only hope of turning the steaming, fetid pile that is the current Auburn offense into something competent before the ax falls on his own neck and the neck of the man who hired him. Hamstringing him in any fashion seems the very essence of stupidity--particularly since if Chizik is indeed attempting to build the SEC's version Oklahoma, meddling is the very opposite of what Stoops did with Leach/Mangino/Wilson. (Not to mention that if Chizik's experience at Iowa St. is any indication, he needs to spend a lot more time worrying about his defense than his offense.) Also: there is no misguided loyalty to Steve Ensminger et al to get in Chizik's way. I will be very, very surprised if what we see at Jordan-Hare this fall isn't something awful close to what Tulsa's doing right now.

Malzahn's teams turn it over too damn much, and between that and the supercharged pace, they hurt the defense. Well ... there might be something to this. Tulsa has finished 97th and 92nd in turnover margin under Malzahn, and it was the Golden Hurricane's TOs and general wastefulness in the red zone cost them the Arkansas and East Carolina games (the laterr of which featured an incredible 7 Tulsa TOs). Whether you want to blame the turnovers or the pace, with Malzahn in tow Tulsa finished 100th in scoring defense in 2007 and 84th this year. Yards-per-play? Back-to-back 93rd-place finishes after finishing 37th in '06.

But ... that downturn in defense also coincides with Steve Kragthorpe's departure from Tulsa. Is it really due to Malzahn's arrival, or to the AgroKrag and his staff's departure? There's no way to tell. Are Tulsa's turnover margins--2008's would have been +4 if not for meltdowns against Houston and ECU--really due to the Hurricane's lightning pace and more plays, or could we assume that with both teams having so many possessions in each game, that it might just be bad luck that will even itself out over time? Again, I don't think two seasons is enough to know for sure.

Yes, it's a worry. But only a worry--I'd much rather my defensive-minded head coach go out and find the best offensive coach he can and worry about figuring out the defense myself. That's the way Pete Carroll's approached it, the way Bob Stoops has approached it. It looks for all the world to me that's the way Gene Chizik has approached it, and even if the results aren't quite so spectacular, there's not enough reasons here to think there shouldn't be offensive results.

He's a good coach. This is the bottom line. Good, smart coaches find a way to succeed. Bad, misguided coaches find a way to fail. Everything we've seen of Malzahn has to suggest that he is, in fact, a good coach, right?

Of course, in the wake of last year's Chick-Fil-A Bowl, I've said the exact same thing about Tony Franklin. Is he really a bad coach and Malzahn really a good one? Nah. I think they're both good coaches. But one got suckered into a series of mistakes and dug himself a hole "his" staff and situation wouldn't let him out of. Malzahn won't face that situation. His balance means he'll have more slack to make mistakes. His statistics suggest he's an even better coach than Franklin was.

So in some ways, yes, he is the second coming of Franklin. But it's my best guess--biased as it is--that this Franklin is going to come to a very different end on the Plains than the first one. This Franklin is going to be the one we wanted, the one we were promised all along.

*Remember, Mumme's offense was never the problem; it put up points like mad. He just never got the defense figured out. I like Chizik's odds a lot better than Mumme's if everything offensive winds up equal. At least, I think I do.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Works, grab bag-style

Since I burned through a lot of news links in the last post and some of the Malzahn-related stuff is being held for a Malzahn-centric post coming up (relatively) soon, there's not a ton to go through in this edition of the Works. But there are some things, like this, via TWER:

That, ladies and gents, is phenomenal work, the sort of thing Mr. Jeff Fuller* has been building to lo these many anonymous YouTubed years. Kudos to you, sir.

Ramsey? Some of the biggest news on the recruiting front over the next couple of weeks might not come from an actual "recruit" at all, not if Chaz Ramsey returns to Auburn as Jay Tate recently indicated he might. Assuming Ramsey can come back healthy (a great big giant assumption, but still), adding a player that had essentially left the team that already has a year of starting SEC experience and Ramsey's wealth of talent would be another huge coup for Chizik's "Hey! I Don't Suck!" campaign. Fingers crossed. (Of course, this link is now 10 days old and I've probably missed where Ramsey was named NASA's next space shuttle captain or something, so disregard if this has been resolved somehow.)

Timing. As you know, Gus Malzahn is keeping his day job with the Golden Hurricane through their appearance in the GMAC Bowl. The official JCCW reaction is: fine by me. I'd rather have a guy who feels it necessary to finish his commitment to his current group of players than one who's comfortable with bolting before the season's truly over**. If only the GMAC wasn't being held January freaking 6th.

Auburner +1. First, after a sad drought on the comic-making front, we get a classic. But even that sort of paled next to this excellent post from Mark on the generational divides in the Auburn fanbase, various James Bonds, and how if Will Muschamp had stabbed himself with a pencil, you wouldn't want to hire him as an engineer (or something like that). Money graf:
Now that Gene Chizik is head coach, I'm going to have to make some unfortunate revisions to my previously held football beliefs. I can no longer fault Nick Saban for leaving the Miami Dolphins. Voluntarily leaving a team worse off than a coach found it is now officially “Ok – but sorta frowned upon” and not “Horrible – something that the absolute scum of the Earth does”.
Eventually, Mark devles into what's sure to become a classic Auburn debate over the years, if it's not one already: who's better, Dye or Tubby? There's an argument to be made for either, but speaking as someone who came of age as an Auburn fan during that glorious run of three straight Sugar Bowl appearances ... I'll take Dye. But, as Mark points out, that could just be the generational thing talking.

Get down with your bad self. Ronnie Brown in a random picture AA found:

Dance all the way to the Super Bowl, Ronnie.

Auburn Hoopity. The men are doing OK (even if the SEC's sucktastic performance-to-date and a lack of a bona fide nonconference win means an NCAA berth is all but out of the question already), but the real story on the Auburn hardwood is that Nell Fortner--fresh off her 100th coaching victory--has put together what appears to be the best Tiger women's squad since Joe Ciampi was taking Auburn to three straight national championship appearances back in the mid-to-late-'80s. The women tip off against a decent Duquesne squad in ... oh, call it about 10 minutes from now. The RPI isn't quite as kind to Auburn at this point as the polls are, but that'll probably shake out in SEC play and that win over RPI No. 10 Ohio St. isn't going anywhere. In short: it's time to start paying attention.

Etc. Jay Ratliff gets the uplifting profile treatment, even if that Super Bowl talk seems a little silly after yesterday ... Auburn equestrian still looks as good as you've heard it does, apparently ... Ohio St. aside, it's actually the Big 10 that's given the SEC the most bowl trouble over the past couple of years.

Aaaand lastly ... I feel like I should say something about Paul Rhoads becoming Iowa St.'s head coach, but what's there to say other than to thank Rhoads for his rather-excellent brief service for Auburn and to wish him "Good luck" at ISU? It's a little ironic, yeah, but it's not like Rhoads was an Auburn lifer or was a serious candidate for the AU DC position--his going to Ames is an interesting footnote, but I don't see as much more than that.

*How do I know A96's real name? Because back in February, TWER wrote one of the posts of the year about him. Check it, if you haven't already.

**Hypocrisy alert level for not holding Chizik to a similar standard: orange.

Where we stand ... or maybe, rather than "stand," are walking forward, even?

So, a quick overview of how things went during these critical early days of the Gene Chizik era while the JCCW was away ...

Staffing. Yeah, so Stacy Searels stayed in Athens. I don't think anyone's all that surprised or even that disappointed--we all knew we'd probably have to offer him the offensive coordinator's chair to get him to move, and we didn't, so he didn't. Would it have been awesome if the glory of his alma mater's Plains alone would have been enough to bring him to Auburn? Yes, yes it would have. But he's got a good situation at UGA, no question, and if he wants to hold out for an OC position* somewhere, fair enough.

Everything else? Champagne wishes and caviar dreams to this point, man. Start with the retention of James Willis, which while kind of a well, duh move is also the kind of well, duh move that shows Chizik's not really so dumb as to throw the previous regime's babies out with the bathwater. And then yesterday we get the Gus Malzahn bombshell dropped on us. I'll delve more deeply into what we can expect from Malzahn later today, but suffice it to say for now that it's hard to pick out anyone available who would have been a better choice.

Perhaps the best part of the Malzahn hire is this: what we've been hearing ever since Chizik was hired was how Auburn was hauling itself 20 years back in time to the Pat Dye era. "200 years old" Pat Dye offensive mindset, Pat Dye coaches, Pat Dye himself. But as it turns out, that talk (to this point, at least) has been pretty cheap, since Chizik just filled the most important position on his staff with the most revolutionary, forward-thinking offensive mind this side of Mike Leach. Gus Malzahn wants to snap the ball as fast as possible, run from the spread or the Wildcat, take long shots down the field as often as possible, and go for it on any makeable fourth down, even in your own half of the field. It's not possible Chizik could have made a hire more removed from the Pat Dye mindset. This? Is an awesome and very reassuring thing, especially when one has lived in terror of Pat Nix for the last few weeks.

There's still time for Chizik to fill out the rest of the staff with Dye retreads, I guess, but you couldn't ask for a better indication that those fears aren't entirely well-founded. (And of course some of those retreads--Rodney Garner--would be welcome.)

Recruitin'. Honestly? I think it could be a lot worse. Auburn had two JUCOs in the class--Eltoro Freeman and Onterio McCalebb--who were generally seen as must-get, immediate impact-type players. Freeman's already in the fold and by all accounts McCalebb's going to arrive soon as well. Add in Nick Fairley's commitment at an area of substantial need--DT--and Freeman's stunningly positive response to Chizik's visit and this might even be seen as a "good" start. Sure, there's going to be decommits along the way--at last word Jermaine Johnson is off to Miami, if he ends up going off to anywhere--but there's nothing that can be done about a lot of them in the wake of a regime change and with another spread guy on board, the chances of locking up the Franklin-impressed likes of Phillip Lutzenkirchen or Travante Stallworth have to be a lot greater than they were before Malzahn came on board. Again: things aren't perfect, but I think it's totally fair to say they're at least looking up.

General buzz. Things had to get better. When your football program has hired a 5-19 head coach and it gets roasted over a national media flame for a solid week for allegedly taking football race relations back to 1961, that's pretty much rock bottom. There was nowhere to go but up. (Well, hiring Pat Nix as OC would have proven this theory decisively wrong, but we didn't hire Pat Nix, did we?)

But, nonetheless, things are looking up. For the above staffing-and-recruiting reasons, for the simple passage of time healing ever-so-slightly the initial wounds of the Chizik hire, for tidbits like this one from K-Scar:
At Auburn's insistence, Chizik didn't use his agent, Jimmy Sexton, to negotiate a preliminary letter of agreement outlining the general terms of the deal. That's almost unheard of for new coaches at major programs.

In addition, it appears that Chizik has cut ties with Sexton, although their working relationship was barely two years old.
Due, that's ... that's just awesome is what that is. Chizik had a choice between what was best for Auburn and what was best for Jimmy Sexton, and he chose Auburn. As much as I love and appreciate Tommy Tuberville, there were times in the past couple of years where he's had that same choice to make, and he's sided with his agent. Between this, and Chizik's willingness (reported in that same article) to forego salary to lure in the assistants he wants, and the repeated, repeated statements of how badly he wanted this job and how much he enjoys Auburn ... I think it's quite possible Chizik really does enjoy Auburn about as much as he says he does. Or at the very least, wants to win at Auburn as much as he says he does.

That wouldn't matter much if recruits were ignoring him and he was hiring his staff straight from the Pat Dye Recommended Reading list. Thus far, though, that hasn't been the case. So it does matter. Auburn's stock arrow: up. Again, it would be hard after the firestorm of the hire for it to point further down. But it's not, and after the neverending slog that has been the Season of DEATH, it's not for the first time in what seems like a very, very long time. I'll take it.

*Don't call it that.

Vacation Slide

You can consider this my playoff beard*:

Anyways, this post is just to say that, yes, I'm back, and regular service at the JCCW will resume today. Thank you for your patience over the past week-or-so.

*i.e. the beard I'm wearing until college football institutes a playoff, or it gets too hot and scratchy over the summer and I shave it off, whichever comes first.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Things just got interesting

Ladies and gents, we interrupt this blog silence and a lazy Sunday afternoon to bring you the following news bulletin: things just got interesting on the Plains.

So much for the smashing of mouths, huh? Assuming Chizik lets Malzahn hire his guys and be the Tony Franklin Tony Franklin never became, consider me de-freaking-lighted. If if if if Chizik can just hold the damn line on defense and Malzahn's success isn't entirely a byproduct of plying his trade in C-USA, it's suddenly not so difficult to see Auburn ... well, getting somewhere these next two years.

And even if Malzahn faceplants, hell, 2009 just got a hell of a lot more fun, didn't it? And hey, let's not ignore what this might do to recruiting--Tulsa with Malzahn just stole away one of Michigan's top recruits and of the best QB's in the 2009 class. Ray Cotton, you want to reconsider?

All in all--this is a smash hire, and provided (again) that Chizik leaves Malzahn alone and lets him do his Malzahn thing, one that's taken a supreme amount of smash-mouth guts on Chizik's part. Full kudos. Spread Eagle forever, baby.

UPDATE: Auburn makes it official, via press release. The attribution of Arkansas's 2006 numbers to Malzahn strikes me a little disingenuous--I think we all know by now there were a lot more Houston Nutt fingerprints on that offense than Malzahn's, and obviously the floor for those Hogs' numbers with the likes of McFadden and Jones were always going to be pretty high regardless--but nonetheless consider me encouraged that Chizik sees "the great offensive minds in college football" and not "guy who runs spread do not want."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Merry Christmas

OK, so, this may seem a bit early, but ... the Mrs. JCCW and yours truly are taking off tomorrow for a Christmas holiday with family on the East coast, and I have no idea how much blogging there's going to be between now and our return on the 26th. My guess is: maybe some, especially if/when the coaching staff fills out. But not a lot.

This will be your country mouse Auburn Blogger's first trip to New York, so wish me luck I don't get myself hit by a bus or anything. Actually, don't do that: we're getting there by driving through Canada and down past Niagara Falls. In December. Canada. So skip the wish-lucking, and pray we don't freeze to death in a ditch somewhere. That would be better.

OK, three things I need you to do for me while I'm gone:

1. Don't you dare fall for that big-media line about there being "too many bowls." These are the last crumbs, the final few morsels of college football we get until going without for eight freaking months, and you should love all of them unconditionally. OK, so even I wouldn't carve out any plans to watch Louisiana Tech-Northern Illinois, but no one's strapping you down Clockwork-Orange-style and forcing you to watch, are they? I say if a bunch of nutso civic-minded businessmen want to blow a wad of cash on a game no will watch but that will feel like a reward to two bunches of kids who have worked their tails off all season and deserve some kind of thanks for it, by all means, be my guest.

2. Understand, dearest readers, how much your support means to me and this weblog. As you might imagine, the last couple of weeks have been very good for the JCCW's traffic numbers, but even better has been the seasonlong flow of unnecessarily kind comments and e-mails and even, for a little while there, ticket offers. (Speaking of e-mails, I have a metric ton of them in my inbox I swear I'll get to over the next few weeks. If you're expecting to hear from me: Sorry. It'll happen.) The goal here is just to give you one more place to read something worthwhile, or maybe sometimes better than worthwhile, about this cra-hay-hayzy Auburn football team we all love so much for reasons none of us can really explain--that so many of you seem to think I'm doing something sorta right in regards to that goal is humbling. Every last one of you is awesome. Even the Tide fans. Some of them.

3. If you're not watching the entire 30-minute version at some point this holiday season, spend 10 minutes--or at the very least five minutes picking it up at the 4:00 mark--watching this:

Merry Christmas, everyone. See you soon.

The Works, Dye Hard-style

Dude, photographer, I know you're trying to find an interesting angle to shoot from ... but this isn't working.

Pat Dye. I love him. Even if he hadn't accomplished what he accomplished as my football team's head coach, it's pretty much impossible for me to dislike anyone who loves Auburn with same kind of lifelong glee Dye has always shown. Sure, I wish he hadn't been so hard on Tubby at times, the same way I wish Barkley hadn't opened his large and thoroughly entertaining mouth this week, but both spoke out because they love Auburn, saw the Auburn they love hurting, and couldn't help but say something*. It's a problem--obviously--at times, but there are times when it helps, too. Like yesterday--I'd have rather Dye responded to Finebaum's comments by ignoring his show completely, but having him show up to call him out in person isn't a bad runner-up prize, either.

Still, as much as I like having Dye around ... I don't know how I feel about having him around around. If he's serving the football program as anything more than a kind of folksy, talkative media mascot, it's just not the best idea. For two handy examples, check out these takes from yesterday:
"I probably would have gone and hired Rodney Garner or Patrick Nix -- two of my former players."

"If you're going to coach at Auburn and everything is equal, I think it would be smart to have someone who loves Auburn on your staff. That would be a tremendous advantage. That's Gene Chizik's decision. I haven't recommended one person to him."
See, this is the sort of mentality Auburn's got the get away from--when you think that having been at Auburn before is a "tremendous advantage," you can't accurately judge when "everything is equal" in the first place. If everything is equal, would I prefer someone with close ties to Auburn? You betcha. But if we're so enamored by those ties or some '80s-esque vision of what Auburn ought to be that we're hiring Chizik just for the smashing of mouths and talking seriously about hiring Pat Nix in any capacity other than Designated Signal-Signaller (and even that might not be a good idea), then clearly the decision-makers aren't capable of detecting said equality. It's going to take more than Joe Whitt Sr. being sent on a recruiting errand for me to believe Dye is suddenly wielding some sort of sinister backroom influence, but if too many of these names get hired--Garner, Searels, and Rocker are welcome, but I'll acknowledge their service to Auburn and pass on the rest, thanks--I'll be more than a bit troubled. We'll see.

Davis? Your HOT RUMOR of the day, or, rather, yesterday, is Texas's Greg Davis coming to Auburn as the new offensive coordinator. It popped up at Wayne's Hobbes's place and appeared to be just random Internet rumor-milling ... until Goldberg mentioned Davis's name yesterday as well for no apparent reason whatsoever. I give this HOT RUMOR about a 1.2 percent chance of having legs, but obviously it would be a mindblowing coup for Chizik. And hey, if you were Davis, and you'd been quietly doing your job very, very well for years--as in "won a national championship and should maybe be playing for another one this year" well--and then some other hotshot waltzes in and gets handed the keys to the program before the end of his very first season in Austin, I think you might be a little on the cheesed-off side as well. Like I said, 1.2 percent. But it's fun to dream even when it's not Optimism Day.

It sure is nice when other people do my job for me. So when Dr. Saturday linked up this little bit of scurrilous Internet trash** yesterday, my first reaction was "Who's writing this? Because Bleacher Report is mostly*** a collection of random hacks you shouldn't trust further than you can spit that's gained some sort of weird credibility via a fancy site, their Foxsports affiliation, and nothing that really ought to give them credibility." But I was spared from having to turn that reaction into any kind of coherent rebuttal, because MGoBlog's Brian did exactly that, and probably did it better than I would have done anyway. So go read that. (Though I would add one other thing to Brian's response: this guy claims Tubby went in on Monday fully planning to resign. So why did he send his assistants out to recruit two days later? There's nothing to see here, folks.)

Hey, another random MGoBlog link. Auburn WR commit Travante Stallworth gave them an interview and frankly it's not easy reading: he says he's "highly interested" in Michigan, excited about the possibility of having a go at QB (I can't imagine he'd stick there, but it's not surprising to hear), committed in part because of the Franklin offense, and is apparently less-than-enthused about Chizik. Yay.

Non-sarcastic Yay! JUCO linebacker Eltoro Freeman--who you know is going to be good because is his name is "Eltoro"--is expected to re-sign with Auburn today, and though I think the quotes are still hidden behind the guru paywalls for the moment, he had some very nice things to say about his meeting with Chizik. If every recruit responds as positively to the Chiznick, we'll be getting somewhere.

And oh, one other weird thing from the link above, which is an OA-News notebook: does Dr. James Andrews, Noted Orthopedist to the Athletic Stars, always hang out on Auburn's sideline? Here's Tommy trott's tale of the injury that ended his season:
“I went out to block a cornerback on a stretch play and he cut me down trying to make a pile in the backfield. I took a helmet there,” Trott said. “I got off the field, Dr. (James) Andrews looked at it and said I might have sprained my MCL … but that I ought to be able to play.

“I went back out there someone bumped it and it gave a little bit more. After that, I was just blocking somebody and it blew out.

“When it blew out, that was bad.”
I guess this begs another question: should Dr. James Andrews, Noted Orthopedist to the Athletic Stars, be hanging out on Auburn's sideline? (Yes, yes he should. He should be our Snoop Dogg or Matthew McConaughey. You think recruits won't want to hang with the guy NFL stars come running to whenever their knee twinges up?)

Hmmm. Why is someone who's allegedly willing to do whatever he can to help Auburn and promised to stay out of the media appearing in a New York Times article that details his vacation plans to Aspen? Oh well, it's not like I ever really expected Tubby to do either of those things anyway. Enjoy your vacay, Tubby.

blAUgosphere. TWER brings you another awesome Thom Gossom guest post, and it is awesome. Money grafs, emphasis added:
Most Auburn people are upset. They should be. We are all stained by the alleged racism. Our university is stained. We are being dragged through the mud because a few good ole boys, a few gatekeepers, feel they know what’s best for us all. And what they think is best is to go backwards, to the good old days, a time gone by.

They are counting on the Auburn Nation being good Auburn people and falling in line and supporting the new coach and team. We will. That’s what Auburn people do. We support our team in good times and bad.
Yes, we will. Also recommended: J.M.'s Poe parody, which is funny and grim and ultimately clear-eyed about where Auburn stands at the moment, I think.

Also, via the Auburner, this:

I can't say I'm really that fired up about Utah's chances, but the wild mood swings are awfully accurate.

Once in a blue Moon. Forgive the pun, but that's about how often I agree with the columns written by a certain Josh at the Advertiser. Nonetheless, this one--while not a good for Optimism Day--is a cracker:
(T)hat sentiment -- that everyone was more comfortable with Chizik -- is exactly the problem with this hire.

Forget their coaching records, where Gill clearly has an edge. Forget fan sentiment, where Gill clearly has an edge. And forget recruiting prowess, where Gill clearly has an edge.

The higher-ups at AU disregarded all of that and picked Chizik for one simple reason: That's the guy they felt comfortable with.

And that's a problem. A big one.
Word. (I do disagree with Moon that race had anything to do with said comfort, but the point stands.)

Etc. Third-string punter Patrick Tatum has moved on ... Mr. SEC has an interesting statistical breakdown of the national title game.

*For an opposing viewpoint, you can check this out.

**Positive rumor = HOT RUMOR, negative rumor = "scurrilous Internet trash." Just so we're clear.

***There's also some very good bloggers who double-post their stuff there in an effort to broaden their readership, but of course those posts are almost universally ignored while the likes of Lisa Horne's garbage float to the top. Bleccch.


I'll start by saying this: Kevin Scarbinsky was correct the other day when he said Jay Gogue should have been at Gene Chizik's introductory press conference. If the education meeting was that important--and, frankly, as soon as we're talking about pro-ration, it probably was--the press conference should have been postponed until Gogue could make it. Dog-and-pony show as it may be, it's an important dog-and-pony show for the Auburn community, and it's not like we didn't know who the new coach was going to be by then. It could have waited.

However--and I know I'm the vast minority here and in stark disagreement with my fellow esteemed Auburn Bloggers over at Track'Em--I think this is Gogue's only real misstep during Coachapalooza. When Scarbinsky writes ...
No matter how many good things he does for the school, the success of Gogue's tenure now will be judged in large part on the success of the head coach chosen on his watch.
... I'm hoping like hell he's wrong and dead about that. The idea that the President of Auburn University could be judged by Auburn people not on what he accomplishes for Auburn University's academics but for Auburn University's varsity football team is nauseating. Gogue is the President of the University. It is not his job to hire a football coach. It is not his job to babysit the athletics department. His job is to keep Auburn University--a much, much larger and much, much more important enterprise than its football team, however easy that is for some of us, yours truly included, to forget--running smoothly and moving forward.

His job during Coachapalooza, as I saw/see it, was to make sure Jacobs didn't hire a mercenary who doesn't give a crap about our academics, and make sure the trustees didn't meddle in such a fashion that it would get us in hot water. And that's it: no recommendations, no phone calls to gauge interest, no hassling Jacobs to hurry things along. On the former point, I'd say that's exactly what he did:
I asked the athletic director to go out and look at a host of different coaches and be sure they brought back to me the one that I wanted to interview before a final decision was made.

I guess the discussions I have with him that I got to have a coach that will live within the rules of the NCAA, graduate their athletes, a coach that has a good record of off-field experiences for athletes, not only in the classroom but out of the classroom, that they’re good citizens. Those are some of the basic guidelines that I gave Jay Jacobs ...

I had a chance to sit down with Gene and his wife (Jonna) and spent about an hour with them. The kind of questions that were important to me were the academics of our students, ‘What are you going to do with kids that have verbally committed to Auburn that may not fit your scheme or whatever?‘ I wanted to make sure we honored those commitments. To me that’s important for integrity to make sure if we’ve talked to a kid somewhere and that kid is interested in Auburn that we don’t somehow lose that kid because we don’t wonder about their abilities.

He seems like a very nice gentleman. He was very forthright, very honest in his discussions. As far as X’s and O’s and football coach, I trust Jay Jacobs on that. As far as the integrity in the role and the expectations I had at Auburn, I feel good with Jay’s recommendation to me and I concurred to him that recommendation.
What else do Auburn fans really want our President to do? I guess the answer would be "cut the Trustees out of the process completely," but that's so much easier said than done. I don't see how it's possible to keep Lowder or Rane or whoever from picking up the phone and offering some, ahem, unsolicited advice to Jacobs if that's what they want to do. Sure, maybe Gogue could stand up in public and shake his fist and threaten to resign and take God knows what other measures in the face of the Board ... but is that really what's best for Auburn? More bitter divisiveness and contention in a time plagued by it, the kind that would be much more likely to cost us the services of a solid, well-liked administrator like Gogue than cause any kind of actual change on the Board? No thank you. Not worth it.

Two other things:

1. There's a lot of anger being sent in Gogue's direction for not smoothing out some kind of peace accord between Tubby and the athletic department, I guess. But again, the timeline we have is that Tubby met with the Jays and was expected to come back--thus the "moving forward under his leadership" statement and the assistants being dispatched to their various recruiting stations. Then those fateful 100 minutes happen, and everything spirals into madness. So we're talking about Gogue being available and willing to swoop in and broker something, and forgive me if I don't hold that too much against him. If you would like to because the breakdown happened on "his watch," be my guest, but again, the job of the University President is not to sit around holding the hand of the athletic department.

2. Trust me, I'm not so naive as to believe Jacobs hired Chizik without a certain amount of approval and gentle or not-so-gentle nudges in Chizik's direction from the Board. There's a reason Fail Jacobs doesn't appear without The Powers That Be backing him up. But when even Scarbinsky is telling us it's not a total strong-arm job, well, I'm a lot more inclined to believe him than certain other media commentators who feel the need to break out the toilet humor on national TV to puff themselves up. Anger at the Board? Conspiracy talk? Sure, fine, whatever. But I don't think we can say definitively that Jacobs was nothing more than a marionette this go-round. There are always strings attached, sure, but maybe one or two of them have loosened up over the years? Maybe? Just a bit? It's worth considering.

The bottom line is this: the only way the University's president fails when it comes to athletic stewardship is if the coaches are cheating, or the players aren't graduating, or the athletic department is threatening the school's academics in some fashion. Wins and losses, coaches' hirings and firings, athletic revenues--these are all the responsibility of the AD. Auburn's coaches aren't cheating, its players are graduating at an acceptable rate, it doesn't appear any accusations of anything untoward in the coaching search are going to cause SACS-style problems again--if anything, there's a growing sense the search might have been too clean, if that's possible--and, most importantly, the University appears to be moving forward under Dr. Gogue's leadership. I'm an Auburn football fan, but I'm also an Auburn degree-holder and a former Auburn teacher, and I see no reason not to support him.