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May 30, 2009

A smorgasbord of football notes

After spending the latter part of Friday dealing with a pesky car battery that required AAA assistance not once but twice, I finally got around to getting these Auburn football notes up on the blog.

It’s kind of a hectic weekend on the Plains. Let’s get to the news ….

BIG RECRUITING WEEKEND PLANNED

About 25 recruits will be in town this weekend for what Auburn coaches are terming a “The Big Cat Weekend,” according to our good friends who are all over the recruiting scoop at AuburnSports.com. Topping the list are the nation’s top two ranked running backs — Lache Seastrunk of Temple, Texas, and Marcus Lattimore of Duncan, S.C. Here is a list of some of the highest-ranked players expected to be in town, courtesy of Rivals.com:
  • RB Lache Seastrunk, 5-11, 192, Temple, Texas, 5-star
  • RB Marcus Lattimore, 5-11, 210, Duncan, S.C., 5-star
  • WR Trovon Reed, 6-0, 173, Thibodaux, La., 4-star
  • WR Jeremy Richardson, 6-4, 190, Springville, Ala., 4-star
  • WR Antonio Goodwin, 6-2, 170, Atlanta, Ga., 4-star
  • OG Eric Mack, 6-4, 315, St. Matthews, S.C., 4-star
  • OT James Stone, 6-5, 297, Nashville, Tenn., 4-star
  • OLB Khairi Fortt, 6-3, 220, Stamford, Conn., 4-star
  • DE J.C. Copeland, 6-2, 240, LaGrange, Ga., 4-star (a Tennessee commit)
  • CB Ryan Ayers, 5-10, 175, Douglasville, Ga., 4-star

McNEIL LEAVES FOR BIRMINGHAM-SOUTHERN JOB

DeMarco McNeil, who stayed on from Gene Chizik‘s staff as a defensive graduate assistant after working two years under Tommy Tuberville, has left Auburn to coach defensive line at Division III Birmingham-Southern. McNeil, who played for the Tigers from 1999-2003, first joined the Auburn staff as a student assistant in 2007.

SEC SCHOOLS GET BIG PAYOUT THIS YEAR

There was plenty of news coming out of the annual SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., where the conference announced a combined payout of $132.5 million among the 12 schools. That’s $11.1 million per school for you non-math majors. That’s the most the conference has ever paid out, topping the the previous best of $127.6 million last year. This year’s breakdown was as follows:
  • $52 million: Football television
  • $25.4 million: Bowl games
  • $23.1 million: NCAA championships
  • $14.3 million: SEC football championship
  • $13.6 million: SEC basketball television
  • $4.1 million: SEC men’s basketball tournament

The SEC also limited the size of signing classes to 28 per year, a rule that will go into affect next year. Auburn signed 28 exactly last year. Ole Miss signed 37, prompting the change.

JACOBS TALKS TV TIMES

In a rare blog update on the Auburn athletic Web site, athletic director Jay Jacobs outlined some of the changes to the SEC’s football TV schedule now that it has new deals with CBS and ESPN. Here are the finer points:
  • Eleven of Auburn’s 12 games will be televised in 2009. The 12th game will be available on pay-per-view.
  • The majority of the season, CBS will get first choice to televise a game of the week at 3:30 p.m. ET.
  • ESPN has the rights to every other SEC home game, giving the conference three channels where games can be found if they are not on CBS — ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU.
  • Most ESPN and ESPN2 games will be in primetime on Saturday nights. ESPN will also televise two Thursday night games.
  • ESPN Regional Television replaces Raycom and will televise games on affiliates like Raycom did in the past with early kickoffs.
  • CBS will air the SEC championship game on Dec. 5, 2009.

May 29, 2009

Lowder retiring from post at Colonial BancGroup

Not sure what affect, if any, this will have on Auburn athletics, but when the most influential member of the Board of Trustees resigns from his day job, it’s probably newsworthy.

Bobby Lowder announced yesterday that he is retiring after 27 years from Colonial BancGroup. As you know, Lowder was at one point widely considered one of the most powerful college boosters in the nation. He is on Auburn’s Board of Trustees until April 21, 2011.

Just for kicks, here’s an ESPN story from a couple years ago about Lowder’s influence on everything athletics related at Auburn, back before Lowder’s role on the Board of Trustees diminished and Colonial BancGroup took a financial punch in the mouth.

Baseball assistant Heath steps down

Auburn hitting coach Matt Heath resigned from the baseball team’s coaching staff on Wednesday, the school announced today.

In Heath’s one season at Auburn, the Tigers hit a school record 103 home runs and 218 extra-base hits. They also set the school mark in strikeouts with 484.

“Matt felt it was in his best interests to resign from his position with our club,” head coach John Pawlowski said. “I am very grateful for all of his hard work and dedication to not only this program this past season but also for the years we spent together at the College of Charleston. Matt had tremendous success and his contributions will be missed.”

Heath followed Pawlowski to Auburn from College of Charleston, where he coached for two years.

May 28, 2009

Luper pleased with spring recruiting effort

I got a chance to sit down with Auburn running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Curtis Luper this week to discuss the Tigers’ recruiting efforts this spring.

He talked about limos, perception, not getting caught up in a commitment race and going after some top-notch players. I wrote about it in today’s newspaper here.

A couple things that struck me:

  • Luper said head coach Gene Chizik was concerned about the perception of sending the entire coaching staff around the state in limos. But ultimately, it was a far more economical thing to do than the usual method of sending seven coaches in seven different directions, with seven flights, hotels and rental cars.
  • He was not concerned about the fact that Auburn only has four commitments right now (at this time last year, Auburn had 10). Alabama and Florida, by comparison, each has 12. “We’re not in a commitment race,” he said. “People in their haste to get early commitments, may not evaluate as thoroughly as they should. So we want to thoroughly evaluate every aspect of every potential student athlete. And we’re not going to make any mistakes in character and some of the other intangibles that we can find out.’
  • And by far my favorite quote was when I asked about Auburn going after some top-notch names in its recruiting quest. “It’s just like the pretty girl, you know?” Luper said. “Most guys won’t approach her because she’s beautiful. So when someone does, she may be taken by it.”

May 26, 2009

Chizik unplugged, from lovely Florida

It’s a slow time for football news, so naturally we’ll gobble up every bit of information that we can. And while we at the War Eagle Extra did not attend the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., this week, friend of the blog David Hale, who covers Georgia for the Ledger-Enquirer’s sister paper, the Macon Telegraph, is live on the scene (catch all of his blog postings here and his tweets here).

He caught up with Auburn coach Gene Chizik briefly this afternoon. Here’s what Chizik had to say:

On Lane Kiffin’s statement that his job requires him to be outspoken …

“I can only comment from me. When things need to be said, I say them. When they don’t need to be said, I keep quiet. I just call it like it is when I need to call it. I don’t feel like things always need to be said on my behalf so I choose my words. That’s the way I’ve always been. I’ve got so much more to worry about on my plate, I can’t worry about what anybody else is saying. I don’t pay attention to what’s going on out there. I don’t get validated by other people, outside resources. I can’t speak intelligently about anybody except for Auburn.”

On his biggest worries for ’09 …

“I feel like our offensive line right now is a position we don’t have a lot of depth at and we’ve got to get better at, no question about it. Wide receiver is a position that’s been down. I feel they’ve responded well to the offense, but when you look at production, we’ve got to have more production at those two positions for sure. Linebacker on defense is a position we’re very, very thin right now. Those three areas are the most glaring that we’ve got to shore up.”

On reportedly turning down the chance to play UCLA in Atlanta in 2010 and non-conference scheduling …

“There’s nobody that we’re reluctant to play. That schedule had already been set, and I’m sure down the road we’ll find some other great competition outside our league to find someone to play. I think you’ve got to be smart. It’s good to schedule some out-of-conference big games, and I think you have to especially when you start talking BCS and possibilities of national championship implications. But you’ve got to balance it out with some other ones that aren’t necessarily to that degree.”

On the importance of finding one QB …

“It is important. We would definitively like to settle on one, there’s no question about that. That’s not writing off the possibility of us having to use more than one because I’m never going to back myself into the corner and say never, but if you ask me what we would like, we’d like to settle on one. There’s not one I could settle on right now. Obviously, Kodi Burns has more experience, and Kodi did some nice things last fall, but I’m not ready to name who would be starting if we played here tomorrow.”

May 25, 2009

Auburn baseball left out of NCAA tournament

Auburn’s slim postseason hopes were dashed on Selection Monday, when the Tigers were not one of 64 teams selected for the NCAA tournament field.

The Tigers (31-25) hoped a decent RPI and strength of schedule (34th and 9th nationally according to WarrenNolan.com) would overshadow a poor SEC record (11-19).

Auburn has not qualified for the NCAA tournament since 2005.

Top 8 seeds in the tournament

  1. Texas
  2. Cal-State Fullerton
  3. LSU
  4. North Carolina
  5. Arizona State
  6. UC Irvine
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Florida

Here’s the full field (the host school is listed first, followed by the second, third and fourth seeds)

  • Texas, Texas State, Boston College, Army
  • TCU, Texas A&M, Oregon State, Wright State
  • Georgia Tech, Elon, Southern Miss, Georgia State
  • Florida, Miami (Fla), Jacksonville, Bethune-Cookman
  • Arizona State, Oral Roberts, Cal Poly, Kent State
  • Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Tennessee Tech
  • East Carolina, South Carolina, George Mason, Binghamton
  • North Carolina, Coastal Carolina, Kansas, Dartmouth
  • Cal State Fullerton, Georgia Southern, Gonzaga, Utah
  • Louisville, Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Indiana
  • Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Marist
  • Oklahoma, Arkansas, Washington State, Wichita State
  • UC Irvine, Virginia, San Diego State, Fresno State
  • Ole Miss, Missouri, Western Kentucky, Monmouth
  • Rice, Kansas State, Xavier, Sam Houston State
  • LSU, Minnesota, Baylor, Southern

UPDATE: Just checked on some of the numbers, using WarrenNolan.com as my source. Auburn had the highest RPI (34) and strength of schedule (9) of any team left out of the tournament.

ESPN mentioned Baylor and Western Kentucky as two borderline teams to get in. Baylor went 29-24 overall, 10-16 in the Big 12 and had an RPI of 31 and SOS of 7. In other words, the Bears had an almost identical resume to the Tigers. Although it should be noted that Baylor had both a better RPI and SOS, however slight that advantage was.

Western Kentucky is harder to compare directly. The Hilltoppers went 37-18 overall and 14-8 in the Sun Belt. Their RPI (46) and strength of schedule (105) were nothing special, and they finished the season by going 4-6.

Bottom line: Auburn just didn’t do enough. It’s hard to justify an argument for making the NCAA field when you fail to qualify for your own conference tournament, even if the SEC, statistically, was the No. 1 conference nationally this season. Also consider this: fron April 11 to the end of the season, the Tigers went 8-15 overall and 4-13 in the conference. If you look at it that way, it’s easy to see why the committee didn’t choose Auburn.

May 21, 2009

Chizik speaks in Columbus

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend because of the high school baseball playoff series I was covering in Rome, Ga. But columnist Guerry Clegg was able to make it. Here‘s his take on the evening.

A couple other issues were addressed during Chizik’s stop, which fellow beat writer Evan Woodbery of the Mobile Press-Register chronicles well on his blog.

The big news? Tight end Gabe McKenzie is back on the team after missing the spring with undisclosed health issues. “Gabe’s going to be working out with us,” Chizik told the Press-Register. “There are some health issues and things, but I really feel like we’re on the right track in getting Gabe back to where he was. We’re excited about watching the progress of him and we’ll just continue to monitor that.”

As for wide receiver Montez Billings, who did not participate in the spring for academic reasons, Chizik said they are still working to resolve some things before Billings can get on the field. This whole situation is strange, since Billings was one of eight football players to walk in Auburn’s graduation ceremony earlier this month. How do you do that if you have academic issues?

May 19, 2009

Baseball adds Juco pitcher; Sanders makes All-SEC second team

John Pawlowski‘s beleaguered pitching staff just got a little bit of help for next season. Right-hander Drew Madrigal, a junior college All-American for Mt. San Jacinto in California, has signed a national letter of intent with Auburn.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Madrigal went 9-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 15 starts last year, earning conference MVP honors while leading Mt. San Jacinto to a Foothill Conference title. He struck out 138 batters in 106 1/3 innings, throwing seven complete games. Opponents batted .204 against him.

He also hit .404 with seven home runs and a team-best 48 runs in 166 at bats.

In other baseball news, Joseph Sanders made the All-SEC second team. Sanders led the team in doubles (14), home runs (19), RBIs (55) and slugging percentage (.737) despite missing three weeks after having his jaw broken by a pitch.

Auburn players also received the following honors by the SEC:

  • Ben Jones: Scholar-Athlete of the Year (3.84 GPA in mechanical engineering, 10 HR, 50 RBIs)
  • Trent Mummey: All-Defensive Team (.995 fielding percentage, team-high seven assists)
  • Kris West: Community Service Team (volunteer firefighter/EMT for Monrovia Fire/Resue)

Tierney-Walker leaving Auburn swimming for Arizona State

Dorsey Tierney-Walker, who spent the last four seasons as Auburn co-women’s swimming and diving coach, was named head coach of the Arizona State swimming and diving program Tuesday. She will direct both the men’s and women’s programs for the Sun Devils.

“I was incredibly impressed by the entire department’s professionalism and by their strong commitment and vision, not only for the elevation of the men and women’s swimming and diving program, but also of the entire athletic department,” Tierney-Walker said in an Arizona State release. “I am absolutely honored and thrilled to be a part of it.”

Tierney-Walker won NCAA championships in 2006 and 2007 in addition to two SEC titles in her four years at Auburn.

She and men’s assistant Brett Hawke oversaw the program last season while head coach Richard Quick sought treatment for an inoperable brain tumor. Hawke was named co-head coach of both the women’s and men’s programs on May 5, overseeing day-to-day operations while consulting with Quick.

Prior to Auburn, Tierney-Walker was the women’s head coach at Indiana for seven years. She had previous assistant stints at Southern Methodist (1996-98) and for the United States at the World University Games (2001).

May 18, 2009

Chizik to earn $1.9 million a year; contract still not signed

Gene Chizik has still not formally signed a contract five months after being hired by Auburn, but the football coach will earn $1.9 million a season according to documents released by the university Monday.

Chizik agreed to a five-year deal, according to a letter of agreement released by Auburn.

The $1.9 million annual figure consists of base salary, endorsements, radio, television and Internet rights and fund-raising and personal appearances. He’ll also be eligible for unspecified academic and performance bonuses.

The letter is signed Dec. 13, 2008, by Chizik, athletic director Jay Jacobs and university president Dr. Jay Gogue.

The letter of agreement is common in coaching hires while the involved parties and their legal representatives finalize the official contract. Chizik’s letter of understanding was only two pages long, providing an outline for a more comprehensive contract.

It did specify Chizik’s responsibility to assemble a coaching staff. The group he put together in the offseason will make $2.5 million this season. Open records requests for the assistant coaches’ contracts are pending.

The letter also specified that if Chizik is terminated without cause, he will be owed his base salary for the remainder of the contract. If he terminates the contract, he will owe an amount equal to the base salary for the remaining term.