In the first installment of an exclusive two-part AuburnUndercover.com report, Rich McGlynn, Auburn's senior associate athletics director for compliance, goes on the record about the controversy that surrounded Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton.
Associate athletics director Rich McGlynn
AUBURN – It was Tuesday, Nov. 30, and championship fever was running high at Auburn. Still basking in the glow of a historic comeback for a 28-27 win at Alabama, the unbeaten Tigers were four days away from playing South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. A trip to the BCS Championship Game hung in the balance.
But in his office at the Auburn Football Complex, Rich McGlynn wasn’t in a celebratory mood. After weeks of fighting to keep star quarterback Cam Newton on the field, McGlynn was writing a letter he’d hoped not to write. The NCAA had reached the conclusion that Mississippi State booster Kenny Rogers acted as a scholarship agent for Newton when Newton was being recruited out of Blinn College. It had recommended that Newton, the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, be declared ineligible.
McGlynn, Auburn’s senior associate athletics director in charge of compliance, didn’t agree with that decision. But it was up to him to make it official by writing a letter to the NCAA and informing Newton and Auburn’s football coaches.
“When that advice came from the NCAA, he was declared ineligible,” McGlynn said in an exclusive interview with AuburnUndercover.com. “You want to talk about a difficult letter to write? I wrote that letter because it becomes an institutional decision. Although I disagreed that he had a scholarship agent, I understood the decision because of the intent behind the rule. But writing that letter, stating he was ineligible, around here, at Auburn, that was no fun.”
Newton, who had been under intense scrutiny since early November, had his eligibility restored less than 24 hours later and went on to lead Auburn to the national championship and win virtually every major award available to him.
Even as he wrote the letter, McGlynn believed Newton’s eligibility would be restored because he was convinced that Newton had done nothing wrong. But he says there was no guarantee, no agreement. All he could do was submit an appeal requesting reinstatement and hope the NCAA saw it the same way.
“I knew we had a pretty good argument that Cam had very little culpability,” McGlynn said. “In fact, none. I think we put a really strong argument together that, although technically this bylaw might have been violated, it does not warrant withholding an individual from competition, especially when he had no knowledge it was going on. That, I think, is ultimately what the NCAA agreed with. Thank goodness it did.”
A firestorm started with an ESPN.com report on Nov. 4 that the NCAA was investigating accusations that Newton’s father, Cecil, had sought, through Rogers, $180,000 for his son to sign with Mississippi State. Erroneous reports said that Auburn had defied an NCAA recommendation that Newton be held out of competition. Newton’s character was called into question.
As the weeks went by, the harsh criticism of Newton and his family intensified. Through it all, McGlynn was convinced that Auburn’s star quarterback would be exonerated.
“I never once had any belief that Cam was ineligible,” McGlynn said. “But under the bylaw, they said he was ineligible because he had an athletic scholarship agent. Cam was the No. 1 prospect coming out of junior college. He didn’t need an agent.
“I completely understand when you step back and say, ‘Someone soliciting $180,000 from somewhere, there is no place for that in college athletics.’ But the rule isn’t written to cover that situation. There were times we went back and forth and had a very open dialogue about the whole process. If I'd had a concern about eligibility, he wouldn’t have played.”
Through it all, McGlynn marveled at Newton’s ability to continue to play the game at the level that made him the best player in the country and to remain outwardly unchanged off the field.
“I was so impressed with Cam, just the way he handled the situation,” McGlynn said. “I was mesmerized by the manner in which he handled himself.
“The kid doesn’t drink. He doesn’t go out. He doesn’t party. He didn’t have Facebook or Twitter. I don’t think there are many people – professional athletes included – that could have gone through what he’s gone through and played at such a level.”
McGlynn says the strength of Newton’s family was on display almost on a daily basis. It wasn’t widely known, but Cecil Jr., the oldest son of Cecil and Jackie Newton, spent much of the season at his younger brother’s side.
“Cecil Jr. is top-notch,” McGlynn said. “He was around Cam a lot last fall. People didn’t know that. He was protecting his little brother. He’s just a great human being. I was just thoroughly impressed with the family unit. They went through struggles. I saw them in highs and I saw them in lows, but one thing never changed: That was the love and honor and respect they had for each other.
“… I think that falls back to their fundamental belief in God. They always went back to ‘We’re going to stand on the Rock.’ Does that mean people are perfect? No. Does that mean they didn’t make mistakes? No. I think they would come back and admit to their mistakes. But we’re all human and all make mistakes.”
As the process unfolded, Auburn officials went for weeks without public comment. McGlynn, who has a law degree, says it was the way it had to be.
“It is the standard criminal law theory,” McGlynn said. “Anything you say can and will be used against you. We felt like the loudest statement we could make would be having Cam run out of the tunnel and play while eligible every Saturday. Every week he played solidified our strategy.
“Our actions spoke louder than our words. Anything we said was not going to change those who believed what we said versus those who did not or will not believe anything we ever say.”
Tomorrow: McGlynn on his journey to Auburn, the state or college athletics, his role as Auburn's top compliance officer and more