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Auburn A.D. Jacobs Says Last Year Was Tough, But He’s Been Through Worse

jay-jacobs-newerA football program that surprisingly cratered.  A head coach that had to be fired.  A basketball program that took zero steps forward and continued to lose players via transfer.  Fans angered.  An outside panel reviewing and commenting on your job performance.  Toss in the unceasing rumors of NCAA investigations and the past year has been a rough one for Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs:

 

“It was tough.  But my toughest year since I’ve been here was when I walked on (to the football team) in 1981.  That was the toughest year and I learned from that.  Perseverance and hard work and going what’s right pays off…

It was tough for everybody, but I was able to draw back on what Auburn taught me as a walk-on football player here 30 years ago.  Tough times don’t last, tough people do.  If you do what’s right and you stay focused on what’s important, and that’s those student-athletes and doing what’s right for Auburn, you persevere and you keep fighting through it.”

 

Asked by Al.com why he’s been opening up more to the press (and therefore the fans) more in recent months, Jacobs said that he is still a “work-in-progress” as an AD:  “I would guess any time a leader stops learning, they’ve probably hit the ceiling.  I’ve learned a lot over the last nine years as athletics director.  Number One, I’m tired of playing defense.  When those articles (alleging improprieties in the AU’s football program) came out, enough was enough.  I just had to stand up and play offense.  I’m an offensive tackle.  It’s a lot easier to play offense.”

If Gus Malzahn’s troops find it easy to play in his offense this fall, it should help to take some of the fan- and booster-generated heat off Jacobs.

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AU’s Jacobs Says He’s Ready To Fix Things (With The Help Of A Consulting Firm)

jay-jacobs-newer Earlier today we told you that Auburn’s six-person panel looking into the the school’s athletic department had generally given AD Jay Jacobs good marks, though they did find “room for substantial improvement.”  With the backing of the committee and president Jay Gogue, Jacobs now says he’s ready to start fixing an athletic department that’s recently suffered through a shocking drop in football, ongoing struggles in basketball, and a barrage of bad press off the field.

Speaking yesterday, Jacobs said Gogue’s “expectations are high” but that he intends to meet them:

 

“What comes next sits squarely on my shoulders…

I think that in the business we’re in, your job is always on the line.  I think I’m going to be here for a while, and I look forward to the challenge of taking this program where Dr. Gogue and I and all the Auburn fans expect it to be.  I’m up for the challenge.  I’m ready to move forward.”

 

He won’t be moving forward alone.

Not only did his boss put together a panel to review Jacobs’ running of the AU athletic department, it turns out he also hired JMI Sports as consultants to aid Jacobs.  That hire was made back in December.

JMI Sports says its company mission is to “increase revenue, reduce costs, recruit and retain top coaches and administrators, mitigate risk by identifying and implementing innovative solutions to the issues facing collegiate athletics today.”  In other words, JMI Sports do what an athletic director and his staff are supposed to do.

As we noted earlier today, it’s better to get a vote of confidence (even if it comes with a team of consultants to help you do your job) than it is to receive your termination papers.  But Auburn’s athletic director — as well as anyone in the state of Alabama who can read between all these lines — must know that Jacobs is treading on shaky ground heading into the 2013-14 academic year.

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WOW Headlines – 5/14/13

New Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson says last year’s AU team was “a lot better than a three-win team”
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis says that his rebuilt defense has “got to build depth”
Georgia OL Chris Burnette says the Bulldogs’ offensive line can be one of the greatest in school history
Florida G DeVon Walker has changed his mind and decided not to transfer
Auburn president Jay Gogue has written a letter to Auburn fans supporting AD Jay Jacobs
Tennessee has fired its director of the Office of Student Judicial Affairs after reports surfaced of inappropriate relationships between the director and student-athletes
Tennessee is investigating the situation
Follow SEC football, basketball and recruiting all year long at MrSEC.com

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Auburn: “No Evidence Academic Fraud Occurred,” But The Court Of Public Opinion Has Already Ruled

gfx - honest opinionOn April 3rd, Selena Roberts posted a story titled, “Auburn’s Tainted Title” on the website Roopstigo.com.  In it she alleged that sources within the Tiger football program — including ex-players — had revealed to her that academic fraud and bribery had taken place on the campus of Auburn University.

The national media flew into a frenzy and just one day later, ESPN released a story claiming that AU officials had also looked the other way regarding synthetic marijuana use on the Tigers’ BCS champion 2010 squad.  The two stories back-to-back left the school and its football program with two black eyes.  And as one of the most sanctioned schools in NCAA history, many media members and fans chose to believe those stories.  (Ironically, the NCAA has since found “major” violations at Oregon — the team Auburn played in the BCS Championship Game in January of 2011 — but the Ducks have avoided the spotlight that’s been pointed toward the Plains.)

Auburn officials immediately shot down the ESPN story with the help of phone records and several ex-players and their parents.  Now the school has released the findings of two reviews of the Roopstigo.com story conducted by Auburn Athletics and Auburn University Internal Auditing.  Their findings:

 

“There is no evidence academic fraud occurred.  The article alleges improper grade changes took place to make nine student-athletes eligible for the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.  That is false.  In fact, six players were academically ineligible for the BCS National Championship Game, and none of them made the trip to Arizona with the team.”

 

Among the other accusations rebuffed by AU:

 

1.  Former Auburn running back Mike Dyer was never even in danger of academic ineligibility, having passed 15 hours in the fall of 2010 with a GPA of 2.8.

2.  While former Auburn defensive back Mike McNeil did have a grade changed from an F to a C, the internal audit showed that all AU policies were followed and documented reasons for the change had been provided (excused absences from classes for medical reasons).

3.  McNeil — who has since been sentenced to three years in prison for his involvement in a robbery — claimed that former AU assistant and current Florida head coach Will Muschamp paid him cash during the 2007 season, but “Coach Muschamp immediately and publicly denied the allegations, as was widely reported throughout the media.”

4.  McNeil also claimed that he received $500 to be used to entertain then-prospect Dre Kirkpatrick — who later signed with Alabama — during his official on-campus visit to AU.  However, “Mr. Kirkpatrick never took an official visit to Auburn.”  Kirkpatrick has also said that no one spent money on him or game money to him during his unofficial visits to Auburn.

 

In summary, Auburn AD Jay Jacobs stated in today’s release that the facts demonstrate that “the article is clearly flawed.”  He added: “I want you to know that I will always act on the basis of facts.  I will continue to fight for Auburn University, and I will continue to defense this great institution against such attacks.”

Jacobs also took the time to back the “character and integrity” and compliance history of former coach Gene Chizik.

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Former Auburn DB McNeil Receives 3-Year Jail Sentence

mike-mcneilNormally, we don’t spend time here at MrSEC.com cataloguing the prison sentences and punishments of ex-SEC athletes.  Doing so would require a lot more manpower.

However, since former Auburn safety Mike McNeil has been in the news due to recent allegations made against his old football program in the past week, we thought we’d make a quick exception.

McNeil — who recorded 14 tackles against Oregon in the Tigers’ January 2011 BCS Championship Game win — pled guilty today in the first-degree robbery case that led to his dismissal from Auburn’s team.  Three other player were also charged and dismissed in March of 2011.

As part of today’s plea deal, McNeil will be required to serve at least three years in prison, followed by three years on probation.  He will also have to pay $2,000 in restitution costs.

McNeil said in a report by Selena Roberts on the website Roopstigo.com last week that grades were changed during the 2010 season to keep him eligible and that he received $400 from former AU assistant Will Muschamp.

Muschamp, now Florida’s head coach, has denied paying McNeil.

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A Plainsman’s Plight: Where Have All The Good Times Gone?

gfx - honest opinion“Here we go again,” the Auburn fan must be thinking today.  From the fall of 2010 through the spring of 2013, the AU football program has been the target of numerous media investigations, a lengthy NCAA investigation, and multiple rumors, innuendos, claims, and accusations.

Just this week, the school has been the focus of two investigative pieces that have gained national attention.  Selena Roberts’ allegations of grade-changing, paying players, and recruiting violations came first.  A day later, ESPN decided to unveil “a six-month investigation by ESPN The Magazine and ‘E:60′ into the spread of synthetic marijuana at Auburn.”

In the case of the ESPN probe, why Auburn?  LSU Heisman candidate Tyrann Mathieu became the poster boy for synthetic weed — “spice” — late last summer when he was booted from the Tiger team.  Yet ESPN decided to investigate AU instead.  Why?  And why now?

The second question can be answered first.  ESPN wanted to cash in on the national spotlight already being aimed on the Plains.  No one’s talking about Roberts and the site Roopstigo.com now.  They’re talking about ESPN.  You can trust the network decided to push up the release of its story to take full advantage of the Auburn buzz already created by Roberts.

The answer is simple on the “Why Auburn?” front, too.  Because AU’s athletic department is near the top of the NCAA’s all-time most wanted list.  Its seven all-time major infractions cases rank behind only Arizona State and SMU in terms of repeated bad behavior.  Also, Auburn is one of the traditional power schools in what’s currently the best conference for football in America.  An SEC scandal?  That’s worth a lot of pageviews and eyeballs as so many people across the country want to see the king’s crown tarnished.

Auburn’s repeat offender status ensures that the Tigers will always be a suspect.  Like an ex-con who’s turned to every time a watch goes missing, AU will always have to deal with raised eyebrows and suspicious glances.  The school’s athletic department has made that bed and fair or not it will always have to lie in it.

According to ESPN’s latest piece, “The 2010 national champion Auburn Tigers were gripped by an epidemic of synthetic marijuana use that led to a rash of failed drug tests and a decision at the highest levels of the university’s athletic department to keep the results confidential.”  ESPN claims no parents were notified of their sons’ positive tests.

Not to be AU’s defense attorney, but let’s look at a couple of issues here.  First, neither the public nor the media knew very much about the rise of synthetic marijuana use in college athletics before the aforementioned Mathieu and two other LSU players got in trouble with the stuff last summer.  Yet AuburnSports.com – the Rivals site covering Auburn — reports that “sources” have confirmed to the site that “the athletic department quickly partnered with its drug-testing company to create new tests to identify the substance in athletes’ bloodstreams” back in 2010, years prior to Mathieu’s issues.  At that time, Aegis Sciences Corporation of Nashville “hadn’t yet developed a test for the then-legal substance.”

Granted, a pro-Auburn site is hardly the place to turn for objective news coverage, but the site goes on to claim that a parent of a Tiger football player says he was notified when his son tested positive for the drug in 2011.  Of course, the player and the parent aren’t named, so many will ignore AuburnSports.com’s “source” altogether.  (Like an ex-convict or a program that’s been in NCAA trouble time and again, a website that is constantly positive in its coverage of a team won’t be trusted by non-fans.)

A second issue is the fact that schools across the country were trying to come to grips with spice in 2010 and 2011.  To pick out Auburn for investigation seems — as we suggested earlier — sales- and ratings-driven.

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Another Day, Another Scandal: Claims About Auburn’s Program, Florida’s Coach Bring Fresh Headaches To SEC

scandalThere’s a running gag in the Ron Howard/Tom Hanks movie, “Splash,” that features Eugene Levy’s character repeatedly stating: “What a week I’m having.”

Somewhere, the great God of College Athletics must be muttering that line himself today.

Already this week we’ve had one of the worst sports injuries you’ll ever see traumatize an entire arena’s worth of people during Sunday’s Louisville/Duke basketball game.  The Pac-12′s head of officials was then exposed for “joking” about rewarding his refs if they would lob technical fouls at Arizona coach Sean Miller.  Then Rutgers’ hoops coach, Mike Rice, was canned after video emerged of him shoving and throwing basketballs at his players during practice sessions.  Yesterday, USA Today took aim at the background of NCAA president Mark Emmert, bringing up his potential wrongs and cover-ups at UConn and LSU.

Now this.  Auburn grad and blogger Selena Roberts has levied charge after charge against her alma mater’s football program.  One of the allegations involves then-AU assistant and current UF head coach Will Muschamp.  It’s rough stuff, not that Auburn officials or fans should be surprised by that anymore.  No school has been through the NCAA wringer more than AU and the string of alleged scandals in recent years is longer than a Tiger’s tail.

Roberts alleges that nine football players’ grades were changed to keep them eligible during the school’s 2010 BCS championship run.  Going back further, she claims money was offered to certain star underclassmen to keep them from turning pro early.  Florida’s Muschamp allegedly handed $400 over to a player at one point.  It’s also alleged that then-head coach Gene Chizik spent well over the NCAA’s cash limit on recruiting visits.

Roberts’ allegations all tie back to ex-Auburn players, but many of the key figures have since claimed they were misquoted, claimed they were quoted out of context, or claimed someone else might have inaccurately quoted them to the reporter.

Asked about the denials, Roberts said her facts are buttoned-up and that the reversals just show how much pressure there is for Auburn athletes to keep their mouths shut about wrongdoing within the Tiger athletic department.  Roberts herself was formerly employed by both Sports Illustrated and The New York Times, so she’s got some good names on her resume.

A spokesperson for the Auburn athletic department declined a request from The Birmingham News for a comment.  Gene Chizik’s agent refused to comment, too.  In Gainesville, Will Muschamp isn’t scheduled to go before the media until Saturday, but a Florida spokesperson has denied the allegation that the current Gator coach paid a player while on Tommy Tuberville’s Auburn staff.

That’s the gist of the story, here are the questions raised by it:

 

*  Did the NCAA just ask the wrong people the wrong questions while investigating AU’s program again and again over the past couple of years?  For a body accused of going too far in its investigation at Miami, the NCAA sure came up empty time and again in Auburn’s case.

*  Did players speak more honestly to Roberts because more time has passed or because Chizik and Tuberville and a number of ex-assistants are now out of the picture?  Unless Roberts is trying to commit career hari-kari, her story can’t be the complete fabrication it’s being portrayed as.  So how much of it is true, who said what, and for what purpose?

*  Will the NCAA send a fresh team of investigators to the Plains to follow up on these accusations?  AU officials should be used to visits from the NCAA by now.  For that matter, will this scandal be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Auburn AD Jay Jacobs, a man already under fire from his fanbase?

*  Is the NCAA in any position to investigate or punish any school these days?  If its case against Miami’s athletic department and several former Hurricane coaches is thrown out — as those accused are pushing for — can the governing body wipe the egg from its face long enough to go after another school?

*  Will this all just go the way of Danny Sheridan’s bagman, Scott Moore’s secret audio tapes, and “the HBO Four?”  Auburn’s been smoky enough to give the Devil a cough in recent years, but to date no actual fire has ever been found.  Accusation after allegation after claim have been made, but nothing has stuck.  So will Roberts’ piece just get tossed onto the pile with the other unproven claims?

*  And just how much should Florida supporters be worrying today?  Fans can claim that the mere suggestion that something’s wrong is driven by anti-school bias — a few of them do so on this site every single day — but no school officials like reading anything about their coach paying a player.  Ever.  Whether it’s true or not.  And Gator fans might remember that the university initially stood by UF assistant Aubrey Hill.  A year later Hill resigned on his own.  And then the other shoe dropped as he was hit by the NCAA with charges that he’d provided misleading information to the body’s investigators during their look-see/witch-hunt at Miami.

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Thought Of The Day – 3/14/13

Mississippi State and Texas A&M live to dream another day… South Carolina and Auburn call it a season.  The SEC Tournament has put one day in the rearview mirror and the league’s hoops showcase — can we call it a showcase this year? — tips off in full today.  Good luck to the eight teams hitting the hardwood today and tonight.

Getting down to business, today’s thought of the day actually has an Auburn tie, at least for yours truly.  Back in my college days a girl I’d dated in high school wound up attending college on the Plains.  For those who don’t know it, they have quite a nice little nightlife at AU.  And more than once I received an alcohol-induced late night phone call asking me to play a particular song for her over the phone line.  This was back before you could just download a song and play it on your phone, of course.

What her connection to the requested song was, I can’t remember.  And why I first purchased a CD of Hank Williams Sr.’s greatest hits while I was in college, well, I can’t remember that, either.  (Lord knows all my taste in music wasn’t so good in those days or I wouldn’t have an “Snow” CD buried in a box somewhere.  I licky boom-boom down, indeed.)

But when this one popped up on the MrSEC.com iPod this morning, it took me back to those happy days.  Good memories.

 

“Dress in style, go hog wild, me oh my oh.”

 

Jambalaya on the Bayou – Hank Williams

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AU’s Malzahn: “We’re Moving Forward”

gfx - they said itAfter a shockingly disappointing 3-9 season in 2012, Auburn canned BCS title-winning coach Gene Chizik and brought back his old offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, to run the show.  Malzahn’s message to his players is clear — forget about last season:

 

“All I can tell you is we’re moving forward… I told the players: ‘I don’t care what you’ve done in the past.  I don’t care what happened last year.  We’re starting over.’ 

I promise you this: We’re going to get back to playing good, hard-nosed Auburn football… Our guys are excited.  They’re looking forward to spring practice, they’re looking forward to next year, and that really makes me feel good.”

 

If the Tigers show any improvement at all they should have four built-in non-conference wins.  AU will play Arkansas State (Malzahn’s last school), Western Carolina, Florida Atlantic, and they open the season at home against Washington State.  Expect the showdown between Malzahn’s offense and Mike Leach’s offense to get plenty of August pub.

Inside the league, AU will face the rough-and-tumble West Division schedule with permanent cross-over rival Georgia and rotating East Division team Tennessee.  With that slate, Malzahn will likely turn the Tigers in the right direction and get them back into a bowl game.  But unless he’s got another Cam Newton tucked away on the Tigers’ roster, his team probably won’t be getting all the way back in first year.

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Auburn Lands Lawson; Lawson Sounds Like A Winner

gfx - they said itHighly-recruited defensive end Carl Lawson has confirmed that he’ll ink with the Auburn Tigers.  He also came across as a very sharp, very well-grounded young man when asked about his first-year expectations:

 

“I just want to work hard and I just want to be a part of the team.  I would love to have a whole bunch of sacks and stuff, but I have yet to step on a college field and I have yet to prove my ability.”

 

Lawson also said that he signed with Auburn, not the coaching staff.  When Gene Chizik and crew left, it made his decision tougher, but again AU was his choice.

On a day filled with prima donnas, it’s good to see an intelligent kid who says “team” comes first.

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