Thursday, January 22, 2009

Willis aftershocks

I've never followed professional wrestling, but I believe this is what's known in the business as a "heel turn."

All right, so, Auburn's linebackers coach and this particular class's lead recruiter has joined the coaching staff at Alabama two weeks before Signing Day. This, to use use the technical terminology for such a situation, completely blows.

The JCCW's various responses are as follows:

Remember to say to yourself "It's just a linebackers coach." Take a deep breath. Repeat. Breathe. Repeat. Yes, Willis was a fine coach in many respects and it's more than a little embarrassing for him to sign up with The Enemy just at the moment when Auburn needs him more than ever. That said, it's wasn't very long ago when Auburn had just hired a 5-19 head coach, Patrick Nix was the consensus front-runner for the offensive coordinator's chair, and the school's most prominent alumnus in the sports world had just made himself the correct answer to the SAT analogy "George W. Bush : Kanye West :: Auburn administration : ???". Things not only have been so much worse, they've been so much worse in the very recent past. If Willis's departure is a big stock arrow down, it hardly cancels out all the giant stock arrows of Malzahn and Taylor and Roof all pointing up. Willis was important, but the most important assistants on the staff are always the two coordinators, and Chizik made an outstanding hire with both. Willis or no Willis, Chizik's staff is still going to be one of the best in the league. In the long-term, optimism still makes much, much more logical sense than the alternative.

The recruiting fallout won't be as harsh as you might think. Yeah, Terrence Coleman is suddenly a pretty severe flight risk, but look over the rest of Auburn's commitment list ... how many other defensive recruits is Auburn really going to lose over Willis's departure? Ford is solid. Pilson is solid. Gaston is solid. Roof was already hitting it off with Taylor. Freeman and Fairley are already on campus. So that leaves ... Jonathan Evans. That's it. Certainly Willis's departure won't help with Petey Smith or a handful of other uncommitted recruits, I suppose, but was Willis really about to singlehandedly reel in some superstud that would make the defensive class all on its own? No. If anyone seems capable of doing that at this point, it seems to be Roof.

Now, looking at recruiting in the long-term, what hurts isn't so much that Willis is gone. Chizik has filled his staff with the kind of recruiters who should be able to make up for his absence. It's that he's now recruiting head-to-head against Auburn that's the problem, the destination of his defection that's the issue. Kind of like the proverbial "four-point swing" in hoops where a missed layup on one end leads to a quick two the other way.

That said: it's not like recruiting against Alabama was ever going to be be easy anyway. Either Chizik and crew are up to it or they aren't, and Willis lining up on the other side doesn't dramatically change the equation from where I sit.

Willis's position coaching is a non-issue. Roof has coached linebackers for most of his career, and looking at how much of an impact he has on his team's run defense, I'd wager he's good at it. I'm not worried about our linebackers suddenly forgetting how to tackle, particularly since the linebackers were, frankly, the weakest unit the 2008 Auburn defense had.

OK, that's the sunny side. Here's the darker side: Chizik and most likely Jacobs have to bear some responsibility for this situation. When Chizik issued the blanket firings of Tubby's staff, pretty much everyone responded with some form of "Wow, that sure seems rash." Guess what: it was rash. Clearly, rehire or no rehire, Willis didn't feel any kind of loyalty or connection to his new head coach, and seeing as how Chizik had worked with Willis before and tossed him out with the bathwater all the same, on some level it's hard to blame him. Chizik should have been more cautious.

And while the "Fail Jacobs forced Willis to pay back his severance bonus" HOT RUMOR is still just a rumor for the time being, there's such thick, billowing smoke coming from it I have to think there's fire here. Jacobs already has a history of alienating Auburn's coaches, and it's not difficult at all to see him tactlessly pinching pennies when trying to keep the staff salary books in some kind of balance. I'm hoping we'll find out the severance thing is all talk, but if I had to guess I'd say it's just one more example of Jacobs being--to borrow a phrase--as clumsy as he is stupid*.

However: most of the responsibility falls on Willis alone. As I said yesterday: if you're that unhappy, if your heart's not in it, if you no longer want to be at Auburn any longer ... fine. OK. Man up, admit it, and resign. It would hurt, but we would understand.

But Willis is an alum, a former player, a long-time coach, an Auburn lifer--was it really asking so much that if he had to leave, he leave in a way that damaged Auburn the least? That made it as easy to deal with his departure as possible? Instead, he has done the exact opposite--he has left in a way that damages the school he professed to love the most, that makes it as difficult to deal with his departure as possible.

It's not that he signed on at Alabama. It's really not. If he'd never rejoined Chizik's staff and then jumped at this opportunity, it would sting, and a certain portion of Auburn's fanbase would be up in arms, but I think most of us would simply call it unfortunate and move on. But he didn't do that. He re-committed to Auburn. He joined the staff. He started recruiting again, no doubt bad-mouthing Alabama and his new head coach every step of the way. He sat in Terrence Coleman's living room just a few days ago and told him if he came to Auburn, Coleman could play for him.

In short: James Willis is a liar. He lied to Coleman. He lied to Chizik. He lied to his players. He lied to us. No freaking wonder he's gone to go play for Nick Saban, huh?

Lastly, a nickname. I proposed yesterday that Willis be given a handy nickname from one of the many characters in sci-fi or fantasy who turn traitor in the face of seemingly overwhelming evil. Commenters mentioned Lando Calrissian, or Cypher from the Matrix. Another possibility is Peter "Wormtail" Pettigrew from the Harry Potter series.

I propose we call him "Bad Lando," so as to distinguish him from the real Lando, who ended up being OK. But other suggestions/feedback are welcome.

a p.s. to all those Tide trolls hanging around Auburn sites, this one included, going "hur hur just business hur why are you so mad hur we're just better hur hur hur": If you honestly look at Willis's timing and deception and say that Auburn fans should not be so pissed their hair catches on fire, you have the brains God gave the sea slug. The more likely explanation, of course, is that you are not honestly looking at anything, but simply taking the opportunity to gleefully rub our noses in it under the guise of honest "discussion." Either way: I hope you fall into an open sewer and die.

*I'm not sure I'd actually call Jacobs stupid. Consider this auto-redacted. But the line seemed too appropriate not to use.


What you talkin' 'bout Willis? (fka Min. of Silly Walks) said...

"Fall into an open sewer and die." I love the sentiment, but the results are not nearly painful enough. Can you add some flesh eating maggots that prefer genitalia and add a time quotient to it, e.g., eternity. Now, that's better.

Letting the bitterness flow is cathartic.

Jaiden said...

I'm with you, Jerry. It's not the leaving for bama that galls me -well, okay, that galls me a little- it's the timing of his departure. It's like he chose the absolute worst time to leave, and then did so in dramatic fashion. He sure burned the hell out of that bridge. I wonder if it will be worth it for him in the long run to sacrifice his good name and standing at his alma mater for a two year stint with Satan.

Alex P in Smyrna G said...

This from the Goldmine makes me (a) really like Terrance Coleman and (b) even more amazed that Willis has done this:

Terrance Coleman, defensive lineman, Williamson High of Mobile. He's very much one unhappy camper, according to Inside the Auburn Tigers. Of Willis, Coleman said, "He told me that he was going to be at Auburn when I came there. He was sitting in my living room two nights ago and told me that. He also told me some not-so-nice things about Alabama, so I am not happy about this. I didn't know he was like that. I am going to stay committed to Auburn, but I don't know for sure what I am going to do.

Hobbes said...

Grima Wormtongue. No redeeming qualities that I know of.

jrsuicide said...

although Bad Lando is ok, im sticking with historic traitors and calling him Benedict Arnold from here on out.

Anonymous said...

LOL I love this
Yes he did lie. Yes he did spit in your face. Yes you should be angry. Get pissed, buddy, get real pissed. I don't care how you feel.
"fall into an open sewer and die"
that makes me feel so good
have fun not qualifying for a bowl again next year

easyedwin said...

It would have been easier to accept if he had gone to work for Al Qaeda !

Sullivan013 said...

I don't blame James. This entire situation stinks of mismanagement of his 'rehire' in some fashion.

Just guessing at the reasons behind a former player going over to the dark side, forever, in the minds of many fans. He knew it before he did it and still went through with the deal. Professional job hunting or not, there was still a stigma he knew both he and his family would bear from the situation. That he felt it was better than staying speaks volumes about what he thought of his status at Auburn.

People make decisions for a reason, and economic decisions are some of the most compelling when you have a family. I say lay this mistake at the feet of one Jay Jacobs.

Granted, if he were to beg forgiveness, warmth and closeness I'd still tell him to light his head on fire and step into a closet, but that's just my inner-fan talking.

Mr. Shuler Goes to Washington said...

This is almost sad. Since when did Auburn become Mississippi State? Jacobs and Co. may make 5-7 look like a pretty nice record before it gets any better on the Plains. The bell tolls for the Cow College.

gene said...

Dawg fan and long time AU commingler here and I just can't help myself from commenting. I have the utmost respect for your blog JH, one of the best written I've ever seen btw. What I can't get over is what happened to Willis to make him do this. He is one of you, a died in the wool Tiger. Not taking up for him as he chose this poison. But he chose it for a reason. Like Sully03 said, this has got "fail jacobs" written all over it. A part of me is nitro incensed Willis was made to feel it was ok to make this decision. Just sayin.

Jan said...

aren't y'all a bit unnecessarily vituperative? Willis' leaving is sad & was probably handled poorly, but AU football is stronger than any one man, even the head coach. the program will go on & do well. eventually. :)

Moon Cricket said...

Who the hell uses the word "vituperative"??? Quit using obscure words to feign intelligence.

I think it is a terrible hire for Alabama other than the fact it hurts Auburn. Willis was a marginal at best coach and he has had a LOT of failures as a recruiter.

This wasn't worth your integrity James.