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If Pearl Lands At Auburn, Get Ready For “Conflict Of Interest” Questions For The NCAA

dave-didionAs someone who covers SEC basketball, here’s hoping Bruce Pearl lands another coaching job if that is his desire.  Ole Miss, Eastern Connecticut State, wherever, Pearl is a larger than life character and a tremendous coach.  So bully for him if/when he coaches again.

Reports this morning suggest that Auburn has entered into negotiations with the ex-Tennessee coach and current NCAA analyst.  Auburn, huh?

About that whole “happy for him to coach anywhere” thing?  Let’s amend that.  How ’bout anywhere but Auburn?

No, this isn’t some “You guys hate Auburn” push.  It’s the situation that’s questionable, not the destination.

By now you know that Auburn senior associate athletic director Dave Didion (photo at left) was the lead NCAA investigator three years ago on the Tennessee case that ultimately led that school to fire Pearl and led to Pearl being handed a three-year show-cause penalty by Didion’s organization.  Last April, Didion resigned his post as the NCAA’s director of enforcement and accepted a job handling compliance issues for AU, a school he’d worked for once before.  At the time of his job switch, Didion had this to say:

 

“It’s personal, but I just wanted to go back to campus, and Auburn is one of the few places that I could go to.  I really enjoyed the people, and I enjoyed members of the coaching staff.  It’s a great community.  It’s a beautiful university.  No reason not to go back.”

 

And these comments were posted on Auburn’s website last June:

 

“I just told (AD Jay) Jacobs what the atmosphere was like at the national office but enforcement specifically, and told him I was looking for a different opportunity… He told me he was going to work on something…

“I’ve never lost my interest in Auburn University.  Jay can tell you that, because every time something good happened, I emailed him and congratulated him.  Every time something tragic happened, I emailed him.  I’ve always loved Auburn University — loved the campus, loved the people, loved the area.”

 

Interesting, no?

First, Didion was at/near the top of NCAA enforcement during the completely mishandled investigation into the University of Miami that led to an internal purge.  No wonder he didn’t like the atmosphere in his department, it was toxic.

Second, and most importantly, Didion’s comments about never losing his interest in Auburn open up a lot of questions about just how much he loved Auburn and how much he might have wanted to drive a winning coach from his job at one of Auburn’s rival.  To be fair, there’s no proof of a conspiracy and there’s no evidence that Didion always had his eyes set on an AU return.

But.

Didion worked at Auburn.  Didion says he never stopped loving Auburn.  Didion was the lead investigator on the Pearl case.  Pearl got iced.  Didion landed back at Auburn.  And if reports are true, Didion has now cleared Auburn to hire Pearl.  Can you say “conflict of interest?”

Pearl was show-cause’d because he provided false information to NCAA investigators.  Aside from playing players, that violation is the grand no-no in the organization’s rule book.  And with college sports’ governing body owning zero subpoena power, it’s a necessary rule.  Well, just listen to what Didion said about those types of violations last June:

 

“What I’ve always told coaches — and it remains true — is if you do something that is wrong and you come and talk with us about it, we can fix it, we can help you, no problem.  We might have to report a secondary violation, but that’s OK.  No problem.  But if you try to hide something or don’t tell us the truth about something it’s really, really bad.  We’re not going to tolerate it.  I don’t think Jay is going to tolerate it.  I don’t think President (Jay) Gogue is going to tolerate it.”

 

Well, if Pearl lands at Auburn, the school, Jacobs, Gogue and the very man who made those comments will be hiring someone who did that very thing to the man who made those comments.

News flash: People don’t like the NCAA.  People don’t trust the NCAA.  Pearl to Auburn probably won’t help matters.  Anyone looking for a new line of attack on the NCAA will have it.

Now, in South Alabama where Pearl has gone from “cheater” (at Tennessee) to a good man done wrong (if he lands at Auburn), Didion’s clearance makes AU the perfect spot for Pearl.  Who better to clear him?  Who better to say the NCAA overreacted?

And that will have to be the spin from Auburn, correct?  Either that or Didion and company will have to admit: “There equals bad; here equals good.”

For Auburn fans grumbling that anyone might question this whole Pearl/Didion/AU storyline, let’s try and provide some perspective.  Let’s say an Alabama associate AD goes to work for the NCAA.  He then investigates Auburn which leads to Gus Malzahn receiving a show-cause ban.  Then the same man returns to Tuscaloosa — admitting that he never took his eyes off the place — and Alabama hires Malzahn to replace Nick Saban as soon as his show-cause is up.  Ya know who’d be raising holy hell?  Auburn fans.  And all of you darn well know it.

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Auburn Ain’t Scared Of No “Death Valley” In Baton Rouge

Now here’s one you don’t see everyday.  The official Twitter feed for the Auburn University football program has posted a bit of smack talk leading into Saturday’s game at LSU:

 

au-tweet-lsu

 

There’s nothing wrong with confidence, but what exactly is the point of that tweet other than to tick off LSU?  The football coaches and players don’t need to read that to gain confidence.  Most fans will be confident as well.  We see no need for that post.  None.  Unless Auburn wanted to make sure LSU’s players had some bulletin board material.

Odd.

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AU Dismisses Hoopster Johnson After Arrest

mrsec-breaking-newsThe Auburn basketball team has dismissed sophomore guard Shaq Johnson following a recent arrest.  According to Al.com, details of the arrest are still sketchy, but “records show Johnson was recently booked in the Lee County Jail.”

It’s another bad twist for fourth-year coach Tony Barbee, a man in need of a good season to save his job.  Johnson was considered a potential starter for the Tigers.

“We hold our student-athletes to a high standard at Auburn University in the way that they conduct themselves off the court,” Barbee said in an official release.  “I am very disappointed in Shaq’s choices and actions, and they won’t be tolerated.  This decision is not one that I take lightly, but it is in the best interest of both the program and the student-athlete.”

Barbee is 35-59 overall and just 12-38 in the SEC during his Auburn tenure.

 

UPDATE – Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com is reporting that a source has told his organization Johnson was charged with possession of marijuana.

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WOW Headlines – 6/13/13

Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith is scheduled to meet with the NCAA Committee on Infractions Thursday…
Haith is charged with failure to create an atmosphere of compliance while coaching at Miami (FL)
Auburn University spent more than $1 million trying to save the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner and the school wants restitution from Harvey Updyke, the man who poisoned the trees
The state of Kentucky will use coal tax money to pay for renovations to Rupp Arena
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin reportedly turned down head coaching offers from NFL franchises this past offseason
Follow the SEC each day at MrSEC.com and at twitter.com/mrsec

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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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SEC Headlines 11/4/2012

1. SEC championship game matchup could be decided Saturday.

2. Should A.D. Mitch Barnhart be on the hot seat at Kentucky?

3. Does Joker Phillips think he deserves to be back: “That’s not for me to decide, but we’ve tried to do this thing the right way.”

4. Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles: “I’m not going anywhere.”

5. “Barring a miracle roughly equal to a sea parting, Gene Chizik will not be employed at Auburn University in 2013. Nor should he be.”

6. Kevin Sumlin on the Aggies all-black uniforms Saturday: “Created an energy I hadn’t seen from this team in a while.”

7. Possible for Texas A&M and Texas to meet in the Cotton Bowl?

8. Alabama-LSU and a breakdown of the numbers.

9. How close was LSU to winning?  One first down away.

10. LSU’s Jeremy Hill only the 11th running back to eclipse 100 yards rushing  against Alabama since 2005.

11. Four turnovers in four plays in the Ole Miss-Georgia game.

12. Ole Miss plays Vanderbilt Saturday - whoever wins is going bowling.

13. Will Muschamp on Florida’s victory Saturday:  ”I’m a realist and I’m honest and I call it the way it is. When it stinks, it stinks.”

14. Another injury along Missouri’s offensive line.  Left tackle Justin Britt left in the first half.  ”They think it’s the ACL,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “Real unfortunate.”

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Warp Speed: In 16 Months AU Has Gone From The Best To A Mess

Gene Chizik is overseeing a team that’s just an overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe away from being 0-8 at the moment.  Last week, Auburn president Jay Gogue said a thorough examination of the football program would come at season’s end.  That was followed by a longtime Alabama-based columnist suggesting it might be time for Auburn to find a new coach and a new athletic director.  This week, oddsmaker Danny Sheridan piled on by telling an Alabama booster group that Auburn’s football program was again under NCAA investigation.

Amazingly, things are getting more negative still.

Now the aforementioned columnist is flat-out calling for heads and suggesting that a search for a new AD is already in motion.  And Chizik is having to “no comment” his way past questions regarding the NCAA.

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Mother Of AU Coach Chizik Passes Away

It’s been a terrible year at Auburn for head coach Gene Chizik.  But what he’s dealing with today probably puts the rest of his woes/issues in perspective.

Auburn University has confirmed that Rita Chizik — the 86-year-old mother of the coach — passed away this morning:

 

“The Chiziks appreciate the prayers and support that have been sent from the Auburn family.  We ask that everyone respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time.”

 

Our condolences go out to Chizik and his family today.  Sad story.

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Auburn Names Trotter Starter At QB

Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn have made their decision — Barrett Trotter will be the man to replace Cam Newton as Auburn’s starting quarterback.  The junior beat out sophomore Clint Moseley and true freshman Kiehl Frazier.

Chizik released the following statement this afternoon:


“Barrett has worked extremely hard to earn the starting quarterback job at Auburn University.  I’m very proud of him for the leadership and hard work he has shown not only during camp, but also during his three years at Auburn.  Barrett has a great opportunity to represent and lead this football team moving forward.  Barrett understands the huge responsibility that comes with being the starting quarterback at Auburn and we are confident in his ability to lead this team.”


Chizik also had praise for Moseley and Frazier.

The Tigers open the season against Utah State.  Games versus Mississippi State, at Clemson, and against Florida Atlantic follow before an October stretch features South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and LSU in consecutive weeks.

It is our belief that if Frazier picks up the offense, his dual-threat ability will lead to his insertion into the Tiger lineup sometime in October. 

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Chizik’s New Pact Provides Security Along With Cash

Last week, Auburn University announced a new $3.5 million-per-year contract for head coach Gene Chizik.  As the details of the agreement have become public, it’s clear that the third-year coach has benefited on the security front as much as on the monetary front.

First, his buyout — if fired this year without cause — would be a whopping $10 million.  That buyout drops by $2.5 million per year through 2015.  That happens to be one of the highest buyouts in college sports.

On the flipside, if Chizik were to leave Auburn, he would owe the school $3.5 million.

Another clause was removed from Chizik’s previous contract and that move, too, benefits the coach.  AU no longer has the right to suspend Chizik’s pay if an SEC or NCAA investigation is opened into the Tiger program. 

Auburn is clearly giving Chizik the keys to the kingdom after last season’s national title run.  They’re all in.  Money, security, you name it, AU is providing it.  But as we noted last week, there is a Charlie Weis-ian danger here.

Chizik had an incredible season in 2010.  And if he’s the best coach in the country — as AD Jay Jacobs said last week — this contract will prove to be a smart move by Auburn.  If, however, Chizik’s success had more to do with Cam Newton than his own coaching and recruiting abilities, then the money AU is spending could come back to bite them.

There’s a danger in handing out a massive contract early in a coach’s tenure.  Ask the folks in South Bend, Indiana.

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