#PMARSHONAU: A new direction

In May of 2008, I drove to Biloxi, Miss., to visit with two people I’d never met face-to-face. Ronnie Sanders, to whom I had talked several times on the telephone, and Jamie Sablich were waiting with an offer I never would have imagined just a few weeks earlier. They wanted me to be the lead writer for a startup Auburn web site that didn’t even have a name.

I was intrigued but cautious. After all, I was in my 18th year at The Huntsville Times and had a very good job. After 39 years in the newspaper business, I had not imagined myself doing anything else. But I knew the newspaper business was heading for rocky times. I liked what I heard. I was very impressed by Ronnie and Jamie. By the time I left, I was thinking I might just do it. And a week or so later, I did.

Thus began one of the more interesting, challenging, maddening, exhilarating, frustrating, satisfying times of my career. And now the time has come to go in another direction, to turn over to others my part of the day-to-day challenge of trying to make AuburnUndercover.com the very best it can be.

June 15 will be my last day as Senior Editor at AuburnUndercover.com. I’ll continue to write two columns per week, but other than that, I’ll leave it in the very capable hands of Bryan Matthews, Keith Niebuhr, Austin Penny and, of course, Ronnie. I’ll be 64 years old in December. It’s time for someone younger to take over.

I won’t be going away. Besides writing two columns a week here, I will be telling the stories of Auburn athletes in all sports as an independent contractor for AuburnTigers.com, working with my long-time pal Charles Goldberg. I look forward to that, too.

When AuburnUndercover.com went online for the first time on July 1, 2008, none of us really knew what we were getting into. I was excited by our relationship with ESPN, only to learn ESPN was ill-prepared for the team web site business. I thought I could do this job the same way I did my job at newspapers for all those years, only to learn I was wrong.

Slowly but surely, I began to figure it out. I came to understand the importance of having fresh stories throughout the day. I came to understand the importance of being part of the community on the message board. I always knew the importance of trying to have the news first and, more importantly, for it to be right. It wasn’t always an easy ride.

As I’ve told Ronnie many times, I was convinced when I left The Huntsville Times that the risk I was taking was minimal. As I look back, it was a much bigger risk than I knew.

The ESPN experience was nothing if not frustrating. Despite 39 years as a journalist, I was told I had to prove myself. In December of 2008, when we were the first to report that Gene Chizik had interviewed with Auburn and the first to report that he had been hired, ESPN.com gave us no credit. As I said earlier, maddening.

Then came a shining light of hope and the turning point for AuburnUndercover.com. The decision was made to dump the ESPN relationship and to join 247Sports, the new network that Shannon Terry was starting. Everything changed that day.

Not long after the decision was made, Bryan joined us as Senior Writer and our main recruiting guy. That, too, was a big, big day. Now we sit in a place that no one could have imagined in July 2008, when we had no subscribers, no experience in this industry, nothing but the willingness to work hard and figure it out as we went. The growth of 247Sports has been phenomenal, due mainly to Shannon’s vision and never-ending enthusiasm.
I am immensely proud of what has happened over these past five years. We’ve broken lots of significant stories. We’ve provided lots of information and have done lots of quality stuff that I’m proud to have been associated with. We’ve made our share of mistakes, but I like to think we’ve learned from every one of them.

The future for this web site and the 247Sports network is exceedingly bright. Shannon and his crew know this business, know how to make it work and they’ve done it. Bryan, Keith and Austin are as good as any team around covering any school.

I’m proud of what we’ve done and I’m excited about how far what we started can go. I’m glad I’ll still be a part of it, though in only a small way. I am grateful to Jamie, who is no longer associated with our business, and Ronnie for allowing me the opportunity. Most of all, I’m grateful for all those who came here and did all of us the honor of being part of what truly has become the AuburnUndercover.com family.

God bless you all.

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