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Nell Fortner: An Auburn person

Some coaches take jobs, succeed or don't and leave without developing an emotional attachment to their places of employment.

Senior Editor Phillip Marshall

Not Nell Fortner.

Fortner, who announced Tuesday she will resign at the end of the season, her eighth as Auburn's women's basketball coach, came to town with no real connection and limited knowledge about Auburn. She won a championship, made friends and impacted lives of the young ladies who played for her.

And she became an Auburn person.

"I love this community, and I plan on being here and being a big Auburn fan," Fortner said Tuesday. " love the Auburn family, and I’ll stay in the Auburn family that way."

When she said, you believed it. Because she's shown that love for Auburn for eight years. It might sound trite to say she's been a goodwill ambassador, but that's what she's been.

I will always remember when Fortner had a press conference in November 2010 to talk about her upcoming season-opener. She showed up wearing a Cam Newton football jersey. The controversy surrounding his recruitment was just beginning and she wanted to show her support.

"I think he has represented this university well,'' Fortner said that day. "At Auburn, this is our athletic family. It's our family, and it's time to step up and it's time for everybody else to start stepping up and say, 'Hey, man... I think this story, it has no legs, and it's just ridiculous that is has gone on this far. So that's my opinion, and I'm just ready to step up and say enough's enough."

In 2010, Fortner put together one of the great teams in the history of Auburn basketball. Though that season ended in disappointment with a blowout loss in the second of the NCAA Tournament, that team went 30-4 and won Auburn's first regular-season SEC championship in 20 years. The 2009 team might have been as good, or close to it, had point guard Whitney Boddie not missed the entire conference season.

The past three seasons have been tough. No doubt about it. With two games left in the regular season, the team that will be Fortner's last is 11-16 overall and 3-11 in the SEC. But Fortner and athletic director Jay Jacobs made it clear that Fortner made the decision to leave on her own.

"Nell, thank you for what you’ve done for women’s basketball here at Auburn," Jacobs said as he sat beside Fortner at Auburn Arena. "... A lot of times in life, you make decisions for yourself. This is probably the most selfless decision that’s ever been made."

Fortner told her players in an emotional meeting Tuesday that this season will be her last. They vowed to do all they can to make it have a memorable ending.

"We all came here to play for her," junior guard Blanche Alverson said. They'll play for her a few more times - at home against Alabama and Ole Miss and at least one game in the SEC Tournament.

When it's over, Fortner will move on to whatever adventure awaits.

"I absolutely love Auburn," Fortner said. "It has been a great place for me for the past eight years, and I have enjoyed every minute here."

And she showed it.

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