BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – So much for a culture of silence.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs and former head coach Gene Chizik, splintered in working relationship but united as men hell-bent on preserving their reputation, individually unleashed powerful resistances to widely-distributed reports earlier this month by ESPN.com and Roopstigo.com filled with negative accusations and would-be NCAA violations.
An internal investigation lasting nineteen days resulted in a hefty response by Jacobs and his team Monday morning, thoroughly dismantling reports by Roopstigo.com’s Selena Roberts with a nearly 1,000-word letter and official comment on 11 different allegations.
Then Chizik, who since his firing Nov. 25 only had surfaced once publically (as part of ESPNU’s National Signing Day coverage), finally let his voice be heard. And oh, was there fury in that voice – a polar opposite of Chizik’s demeanor throughout the 3-9 season that cost him his job.
“The way I saw it, it’s very frustrating because you know you’re operating this football program exactly the way you need to do it,” Chizik said to local beat reporters in an impassioned 34-minute on-campus interview.
“It’s really hard to operate day-by-day with what I consider to be the most scrutinized, and sometimes villainized, program in the country. I just didn’t see the facts and the data that ever indicated it should have been. I still don’t.”
In the past, Auburn opted for canned statements and rare direct response to constant scrutiny, be it the Cam Newton investigation in 2010, rumors of recruiting transgressions and other reported misdeeds.
In a short video released by Auburn University explaining why speak up now, Jacobs said it best: “I’m tired of it. I’m tired of these attacks on Auburn, and when people attack Auburn, I’m going to fight for Auburn as strongly as I possibly can.
“If we make a mistake, we’re going to admit it. But when people say things that aren’t true, we’re going to set the record straight.”
During an earlier radio appearance on WJOX in Birmingham, Chizik asserted, “we want to make as big a splash as we can with the truth.”
Patient and firm, Jacobs swore he’d get to the bottom of an avalanche of allegations hurled at his football program in “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory”, posted April 3 on Roberts’ six-month-old web site.
The most serious accusation in the Roopstigo.com report alleged academic fraud, when three players said the university changed grades for up to nine players, including star tailback Michael Dyer, to keep them eligible for the 2011 BCS championship game. Defensive end Mike Blanc was quoted as saying “Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible,” but immediately disputed his involvement in the article following its publication.
According to Jacobs, “Auburn Athletics and Auburn University Internal Auditing have completed independent reviews of the academic allegations. There is no evidence academic fraud occurred.”
Specifically on Dyer, Auburn stated he passed 15 credit hours in the fall of 2010 – the NCAA student-athlete minimum is six – and carried a 2.8 GPA at the end of the semester.
An Auburn spokesperson confirmed the university worked in conjunction with the NCAA on investigating the academic fraud allegations.
Later in his letter, Jacobs acknowledged the Tigers’ brutal athletic year – 0-8 in SEC football, and last place in men’s basketball and baseball division standings.
Jacobs, largely unpopular among fans during the on-field struggles, announced university president Jay Gogue’s plan for a committee to check on all elements of the department, adding “We welcome this review.”
“As part of our efforts to get better, we are also committed to being as transparent as possible with our stakeholders,” Jacobs wrote. “That is why I wanted to let you know that a top-notch team of current and former coaches, athletics administrators, student-athletes and business executives will be coming in to give us a comprehensive evaluation.”
Gogue, according to Jacobs, has tasked the review committee with “a top-to-bottom review” of the same five factors listed as Jacobs’ specific objectives.
Those five areas are, listed in order: academics, finances, fan experience on gameday, competition and management/leadership structure.
Numerous media reports already had poked holes in the Roopstigo report – mostly when several players quoted by Roberts retracted their involvement.
The lone named source who had yet to respond, former receiver Darvin Adams, broke his silence Monday. Via Chizik’s representation, Adams stated: “I never took any improper money from anyone at Auburn – coach or booster. I was never offered any money by anyone to stay at Auburn for my senior year.”
When requested for comment by the Ledger-Enquirer, Roberts made a brief response, saying “I’m working on a story on it. It’s a work-in-progress (and) I will address some of the issues Auburn raised.” adding Auburn’s Monday statement was “self-revealing.”
This week’s edition of ESPN the Magazine has a 9-page story delving into Auburn players’ involvement with synthetic marijuana, otherwise known as “spice.” While the university responded April 4 with facts debunking that narrative, Chizik added a separate viewpoint Monday.
“The notion that 50 percent of our football team was smoking it: let me tell you this. This is not a performance-enhancing drug. It’s a performance-debilitating drug,” Chizik said. “So if half of our football team is on it during our 2010 national championship run, how were we performing at a level that was the best football team in the country? That doesn’t even make sense.”
The university did work with Chizik and his reps over the past 19 days to craft a response.
“Coach Chizik came to Auburn with a strong record of rules compliance and a reputation as a man of the utmost character and integrity,” Jacobs said. “I have enormous respect for Coach Chizik, the way he ran his program throughout his entire tenure at Auburn and also the way he left – with dignity and class.”
Jacobs has released three statements this month on the matter, but has not been made available to answer questions.