As Auburn's football team staggers and stumbles toward the end of its worst season since Harry Truman was in the White House, the search for blame goes on. Head coach Gene Chizik and athletics director Jay Jacobs are the prime targets.
By all accounts, it appears Jacobs will remain in his job.
The complaints about Jacobs have gone beyond anything to do with football. The four sports most people care about - football, baseball, men's basketball and women's basketball - are all struggling. But is it fair to hang those things on Jacobs, athletics director since January 2005? Has he really done a poor job?
To understand, you have to go back to 2004.
Jetgate was still fresh. The university had been placed on SACS probation. Though David Housel was still technically athletics director, Hal Baird was doing the job on a day-to-day basis. Ed Richardson, affectionately nicknamed "Chainsaw" because of his penchant for firing people, was the president.
Baird wanted to give baseball coach Steve Renfroe, who had missed going to a regional in his fourth season after going to three straight, another season. Richardson refused. Mike Anderson, then at UAB, wanted to be Auburn's basketball coach. Richardson wanted him to come to campus for an interview. Anderson didn't feel like he could, there was a standoff and he remained at UAB.
Against that backdrop, new head coaches were hired in baseball and men's and women's basketball. Few top candidates were interested. Jeff Lebo took over the men's basketball program and Nell Fortner the women's basketball program. Tom Slater took over the baseball program after Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin turned the job down at the last minute after giving every indication he would take it.
When Jacobs took over as athletics director, Lebo and Fortner were barely into their first seasons. Slater had yet to coach a game. Jacobs, clearly, had no choice but to give them their opportunities to build their programs. Along the way, Lebo had a 25-win season. Fortner won an SEC championship. Slater went to an NCAA regional in his first season. But all their tenures came to unhappy ends. Jacobs fired Lebo and Slater. Fortner resigned.
This year, for the first time, all those sports are coached by people Jacobs hired. Their stories are yet to be told.
And that bring us to football.
Jacobs made a bold move when he hired Chizik as head coach in December 2008. Though Chizik's tenure appears likely to end badly, Jacobs' decision resulted in a national championship. The pilgrimage of Auburn fans to Glendale, Ariz., in January 2010 for the BCS Championship Game will long live in Auburn lore. The disaster of 2012 also will be long remembered.
You can make the case that the buyout, starting at $10 million, Jacobs gave Chizik, who was going nowhere and had nowhere to go, in 2011 was ill-advised. If you don't think the national championship was worth it, you can make the case that hiring a coach with a 5-19 record was an ill-advised move. But does that mean the AD should be fired?
Florida's Jeremy Foley hired Ron Zook before he hired Urban Meyer. Alabama's Mal Moore hired Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula and tried to hire Rich Rodriguez before he hired Nick Saban. Georgia's Vince Dooley hired Ray Goff and Jim Donnan before he hired Mark Richt.
Jacobs has kept the athletic department in the black for all of his tenure. He's overseen an unprecedented boom in building and upgrading facilities. He's guided the department through some difficult times, not the least of which was the Cam Newton saga.
As I've said repeatedly, who stays and who, if anybody, is replaced is up to those charged with making those decisions. They don't want or need my input. But to say Jacobs is the cause for the lack of success by coaches he didn't hire, to portray his tenure as athletics director as some kind of colossal failure, is just wrong.
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