When Auburn announced that it was putting together a blue ribbon panel to look into the operations of the school’s athletic department, it didn’t appear to be good news for Tiger AD Jay Jacobs. After all, what embattled manager would want a group of outsiders to come in and grade the way he’s running his department?
But yesterday, Auburn president Jay Gogue wrote an open letter to the “Auburn family” stating that the six-man committee was A-OK with most of what it found in Jacobs’ athletic department:
“Dear Auburn Family,
The committee I appointed to review operations of Auburn Athletics as part of the Department’s annual evaluation has provided its findings. I’m grateful to members of the committee for their hard work, good thinking and dedication to help Auburn Athletics move forward.
We asked the committee to review the Department’s total body of work with a focus on five areas: academic and support services for student-athletes; financial management; customer service; competition, including winning, sportsmanship and compliance; and management structure.
Athletics Director Jay Jacobs and I have talked in length about their recommendations. In general, they center on steps to improve overall operations of the Department, upgrade how we interact and communicate with fans and alumni, and enhance the game-day experience, on and off the field. Jay will talk in more detail about what’s in store, and I’m confident he will move forward to put in place a plan to give the Auburn family what we all expect.
There’s much to celebrate about Auburn Athletics, but there’s also room for substantial improvement. I look forward to Jay providing the leadership needed to make the necessary improvements.
Translation: “We hear ya, but Jay’s our guy.”
Committee member Mac Crawford — a man some have mentioned as a potential replacement for Jacobs — put out a statement supporting Auburn’s AD as well: “Our review shows that overall, the Athletics Department is in good shape, but there are some areas where improvements can be made and our committee believes Jay Jacobs knows how to make those improvements.”
The situation on the Plains is beginning to remind this writer of what went down at Ole Miss before Rebel AD Pete Boone stepped down (and new AD Ross Bjork was hired). Repeatedly, UM chancellor Daniel Jones backed Boone against critical fans. Eventually, however, the grassroots movement to oust Boone led to change anyway.
Ironically, Boone was a member of the six-man team appointed to look into Jacobs’ performance at Auburn.
For Jacobs, receiving the backing of Gogue, Crawford and the panel is a plus… even if there is “room for substantial improvement.” Better to receive a vote of confidence than a pink slip.
But regardless of the panel’s findings and the president’s email, Jacobs still has to win over a large number of Tiger fans. In January of 2011 he was hailed as the genius who’d found Gene Chizik and helped lead AU to the BCS title. Just 28 months later, his football program has a new coach trying to fix what went wrong during the Tigers’ worst season in 60 years. His basketball coach, Tony Barbee, has failed to make progress during his first three seasons and players have spoken about a lack of connection between themselves and their leader.
Gogue’s letter tried to explain to Auburn fans that there’s more to Jacobs’ job than just hiring winning coaches:
“We asked the committee to review the Department’s total body of work with a focus on five areas: academic and support services for student-athletes; financial management; customer service; competition, including winning, sportsmanship and compliance; and management structure.”
But of all the things on that list, “competition, including winning” are the only three words that matter to most fans. Especially to the so-called sidewalk alumni.
If Auburn continues to struggle in football and in basketball donations to the athletic department will likely decline. If that happens, Jacobs will find himself in the same situation at Auburn that Boone experienced at Ole Miss.
No panels, letters or votes of confidence can outweigh a drop in cash. Jacobs had better hope Gus Malzahn and Barbee can fix what’s recently ailed the Tigers’ two main revenue sports. Or else.