BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – Joining the chorus of former Auburn figures slamming Selena Roberts’ long-form report accusing the football program of misdeeds and NCAA violations, ex-head coach Gene Chizik released a two-page statement Thursday via his representation in response to the allegations levied against him.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs, a day after declining comment, also released a short statement declaring the university takes the accusations seriously and will review them carefully, while maintaining Roberts misled the university on her motives for writing the story.
Only adding to the firestorm surrounding Auburn football was ESPN the Magazine and E:60 Thursday afternoon, alleging the university kept positive drug tests secret during the 2010 championship season.
Roberts’ narrative, “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory,” was published Wednesday on her web site, Roopstigo.com. Roberts is a former Sports Illustrated and New York Times reporter, as well as an Auburn graduate who in 2005 reported Auburn team chaplain Chette Williams was paid by school boosters.
Her latest report accused the program of many wrongdoings under Chizik’s watch from 2009-2012, including and not limited to the school bullying counselors into fixing transcripts to keep football players academically eligible for the 2011 BCS National Championship, former coaches offering and giving players money both for personal use and entertainment for hosting recruits, and forcing Auburn city police to mislead parents of players charged with armed robbery in March 2011.
About 24 hours after the report’s publication, Chizik’s agents, Russ Campbell and Patrick Strong of Balch Sports, sent the Ledger-Enquirer among other media outlets a six-paragraph response from Chizik, who remains without a coaching position and living in Auburn since his firing Nov. 25 following a 3-9 season.
“Ms. Roberts’ story is long on accusation and inference, but short on facts and logic,” Chizik’s statement read. “The statements are very generalized accusations devoid of substance.”
Chizik’s statement begins by referring to a previous NCAA multi-year investigation into the recruitment of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, of which the NCAA found no violations for alleged pay-for-play schemes involving Newton.
“Unfortunately, the recent story published by Selena Roberts is more of the same,” Chizik said. “During my time at Auburn, the administrators, professors and academic staff were of the highest integrity. Additionally, the inference that there was academic support staff that worked together with professors to change grades is absurd.”
Chizik sticks up for the Auburn police department, which Roberts alleged had kept certain details hidden from the family of former safety Mike McNeil the day Chizik kicked him off the team for robbery charges. McNeil’s trial was scheduled for next week, before his attorney filed to withdraw from the case Wednesday.
“I remain part of the Auburn family and take these attacks on myself, the University and community seriously,” Chizik said.
Former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was accused in the story of giving McNeil $400 following a team practice. The story indicated Florida denied the payment, a Florida spokesman reiterated the denial when contacted Wednesday, and Muschamp directly told the Gainesville Sun, “Totally deny it. I don’t know where this is coming from” on Thursday.
“If there is a sad truth here, it is that there is no repercussions for bloggers who blast out widespread, venomous allegations and inferences in such an irresponsible manner. To make bold and outrageous conclusions on such thin support is a travesty,” Chizik said.
His statement concluded: “During my tenure as Auburn’s head coach, we kept the well-being of our student-athletes at the forefront of every decision. We ran our program with the highest level of integrity and accountability. Period. I make absolutely no apologies for that … As I stated during the NCAA investigation, I am comforted knowing that the truth always prevails.”
The NCAA has declined comment regarding any potential investigations stemming from the reporting of Roberts, who on ESPN and radio appearances stand behind her story.
“Anytime accusations are made against Auburn, we take them seriously. We have no reason to believe these allegations are either accurate or credible.”
Jacobs pointed out Wednesday’s response by quoted players in Roberts’ story, when Neiko Thorpe, Mike Blanc, Daren Bates and Antoine publically rebuked how their interviews were used.
“Unfortunately, the reporter who published this story did not fully represent to us what the story was about when requesting an interview. We were only told that the reporter was working on a story about the alleged armed robbery involving four former football players, which occurred over two years ago.”
“We were never told the story would include allegations about academic fraud or improper benefits. Had we known that, we would have responded immediately with the statement above.”
ESPN and E:60 filmed an interview with former tight end Dakota Mosley, who was booted from the team along with McNeil for the same charges, speaking about the team’s use of a form of synthetic marijuana called “spice.”
“The whole time I was thinking, ‘They can’t do nothing about the spice’,” Mosley said, according to ESPN.
ESPN the Magazine, which reported about half the 2010 team used spice, also spoke with Jacobs about the designer drug.
“We did all we could do to educate our student-athletes until (we) could understand exactly what we’re dealing with,” Jacobs said. “I think just like the rest of the campus, and the nation, we were trying to figure out.”
Cam Newton’s name was only mentioned twice in Roberts’ story, neither in incendiary fashion regarding his own recruitment or behavior at Auburn.
The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner was quoted in an interview for his clothing line MADE Cam Newton as saying “I’m going to let the right people talk about it … of course I’m concerned, but I think the truth will come out”, according to AL.com.
Head coach Gus Malzahn, who was not mentioned in Roberts’ report and was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator during the title season, has not commented himself. Coordinators Ellis Johnson and Rhett Lashlee, but not Malzahn, are expected to be available to media following Friday’s spring football practice.