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July 18, 2013

Gene Chizik joins SiriusXM Radio in analyst role

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

Gene Chizik has landed a new gig.

Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik will join SiriusXM next week, serving in an analyst role on multiple shows.

Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik will join SiriusXM Radio next week, serving in an analyst role on multiple shows.

The former Auburn football coach will join SiriusXM Radio, serving in an analyst role on its college sports channel. The announcement came in a press release on Thursday. Chizik will host multiple shows each week on the SiriusXM College Sports Nation, which is channel 91 on the satellite network. He will make his debut next week, getting on the air for the first time on July 23 alongside host Mark Packer on “College Sports Today.” The show airs from 3-6 p.m. ET.

“SiriusXM College Sports Nation is a tremendous source of information for college football fans and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Chizik said in a statement. “We’ve got a lot to talk about with the season approaching, from the standout teams and players to watch to realignment and the college football playoffs.”

Chizik was fired as the Tigers’ head coach last November after posting a 3-9 record in his final season. He went 33-19 overall in four seasons at Auburn and won the BCS National Championship with the Tigers in 2010.

April 23, 2013

Gene Chizik feels “no remorse, no regrets and no bitterness” after 2012 downfall

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – History shows nobody’s experienced the extreme emotions of college football coaching – specifically, the plunge from high to low – like Gene Chizik.

National champion to unemployed, bridged by just one Christmas, Chizik finally spoke publicly Monday, an opportunity to contemplate a wild four-year term as Auburn’s head coach.

On the Tigers’ staff for two undefeated seasons in the past decade yet taking the fall for an unprecedented plunge to 3-9, Chizik was asked, point-blank: how does he look back on his time at Auburn?

“I’m very appreciative that we were able, in our first three years, to accomplish a lot of memorable moments. That’s something that I’ll always look back on very fondly,” Chizik said. “We had an SEC championship, a national championship, a Heisman Trophy winner (Cam Newton), and a Lombardi Award winner (Nick Fairley). There’s a lot of people that can wear the Auburn colors, they can wear that shirt that says national championship on it, and I’m very proud of that.

“Obviously, I don’t want to go into detail about last year, but it was very disappointing for myself as a coach, and anybody that loves Auburn.”

AUBURN Miss StateThe school’s defensive coordinator from 2002-04, Chizik returned to Auburn after floundering in his first crack at head coaching, going 5-19 from 2007-08 at Iowa State. The former Florida linebacker quieted doubters with a 30-10 mark his first three years, highlighted clearly by the 2011 BCS championship victory over Oregon.

But when he lost all eight SEC games in 2012, along with fan support and firm control of the program (with abundant player attrition and reported curfews enforced), Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs had no choice but to make a change.

“I’m a big boy, and I understand the business. Whether it’s the SEC or the NFL, the bottom line is you have to win,” Chizik said. “In 27 years, I’ve never been dismissed from a job. So I’m in unchartered waters and unchartered territory.

“I have no remorse, no regrets and no bitterness. … It’s water under the bridge. Auburn did what they had to do.”

Chizik, his wife Jonna (the daughter of Gene’s high school coach) and their three children still live in Auburn, five months after being fired Nov. 25 – the day after a 49-0 loss to rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl, the final straw of a horrendous season.

“People have been very positive,” Chizik said of his interactions with the public. “This is a great community, and that’s why we chose to stay in it.”

Per his contract, Chizik is being paid out monthly installments of a $7.5 million buyout lasting through 2015 – banking more than $200,000 each month while he remains out of work.

Other than serving as a guest analyst on Feb. 6 during ESPNU’s National Signing Day coverage, Chizik said he has been “consulting with different teams.”

“Certainly we’ve looked at different possibilities job-wise, not just in football but in other arenas as well,” Chizik said. “But there’s no decisions definitively that have been made.”

At the same time, the refueled 51-year-old adds he’s got much to add in coaching. He wouldn’t dictate a preference between returning as a head coach or defensive coordinator.

“It’s been a time of reflection,” Chizik said. “I’m not one to dwell on the past and look at all the ‘what-ifs’ … but naturally, you reflect. I’ve spent a lot of quality time with my children and my wife, which I needed to do, and will continue to do.

“But I’ve also stayed busy. I’m in a place right now where I’m continuing to map out a plan.”

April 22, 2013

SPLASH ZONE: Jacobs, Chizik ardently defend Auburn from ongoing allegations (w/ video)

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

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.

AUBURN FOOTBALLThen 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.”

AUBURN FOOTBALLPatient 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.

Chizik “100 percent confident we did it right” | Former coach adds he’ll return to sideline

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Photo by Todd Van Emst

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – For four months after being fired, former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik remained almost completely silent.

For 19 days after his an incriminating report of how he ran the program, specifically during the 2010 national championship season, Chizik’s response was relegated to a two-page statement released by his representation.

Finally, Chizik let his voice be heard Monday afternoon on WJOX radio in Birmingham. And oh, was there fury in that voice – a polar opposite of Chizik’s demeanor throughout the 3-9 season that lost his job on Nov. 25, 2012.

“It’s a shame that it was a season that was so miraculous, and there were so many magical moments in the season for coaches and players … for anybody to have to even put an asterisk by that and say, ‘let’s defend ourselves,’ it’s a shame,” Chizik said.

“Simply to the Auburn people, it’s not fair. It’s not right. But it is what it is. That’s why I’m here today. I care about my reputation, I care about the integrity of who I am and what I do. I’m 100 percent confident we did it right.”

Chizik’s radio appearance, breaking a nearly five-month silence with the exception of serving as guest analyst during ESPNU’s National Signing Day coverage, came a few hours after Auburn University declared its internal investigation found no academic fraud or other wrongdoings as alleged in an April 3 article posted by Selena Roberts on her web site, Roopstigo.com.

When Auburn officials reached out to Chizik to convene about the report, he was reportedly livid, but agreed to allow the university time to conduct its review.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs has routinely praised Chizik for how he carried himself, both through the thrills of 2010 and the rigors of 2012.

“It makes me feel good, because Auburn obviously feels the same way,” said Chizik, who still lives in Auburn. “We had a lot of accusations and allegations thrown our way. Jay did exactly what he should have done, which is come back with facts, with data, because we’re about truth.”

During the 25-minute segment, Chizik was asked numerous times about the prior investigation regarding Cam Newton – which Chizik again pointed out facts, that Auburn has not faced major NCAA punishment in 20 years.

“It started out as a Mississippi State problem, then after 13 months, it became an Auburn problem,” Chizik said. “Without question, it’d have to be the most scrutinized program in the country. But I still go back to: what are the facts? The NCAA’s been in there almost two years. They found no major violations.”

Chizik also responded for the first time to questions about being dismissed after four years as Auburn’s head coach, and just two years removed from a national title.

“The bottom line is we had a 3-9 season, I’m not the coach anymore. I understand the business. I understand what people have to do,” Chizik said. “Am I bitter? No. Do I wish I was still the coach at Auburn? I would love it because I love the place. You asked me how I am with the university and Jay Jacobs … you know what? It’s business. If you get your feelings hurt because of business decisions people have to make, then apparently you don’t really understand the business.

“Hey, I love football, I love coaching, I love being around the kids. But the bottom line is, they made a change and I’m moving forward.”

Chizik, 51, added he’s not finished with his coaching career. He was Iowa State’s head coach from 2007-08, following numerous defensive coordinator positions – including undefeated seasons at Auburn (2004) and Texas (2005).

“I definitely want to have those options available for myself. I still feel like I have a lot to offer to young men, I feel like I have a lot to offer to the coaching profession,” Chizik said. “Right now we’re weighing out different options with different people. We’re just going to see where we land next.”

April 4, 2013

Chizik statement calls Roberts report “outrageous”, “absurd” and “a travesty” | AD Jacobs says of allegations “we take them seriously; we are reviewing them carefully”

Gene-Chizik-7642 (1)BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

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.

AUBURN FOOTBALLJacobs’ statement followed Chizik’s by a couple of hours, indicating Auburn will review the allegations carefully “as a matter of procedure.”

“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.

Full statement by former coach Gene Chizik calls Roberts report “outrageous” & “absurd”

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Photo by Todd Van Emst

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – The complete statement from Gene Chizik, Former Auburn Head Football Coach, released by his representation Thursday, April 4, 2013:

“During my tenure at Auburn, the NCAA conducted a multi-year investigation into the Auburn football program that they called ‘fair and thorough.’ The NCAA focused intently on widespread accusations about Auburn players being paid and other alleged recruiting violations. The NCAA conducted 80 interviews. In October 2011, the NCAA rejected ‘rampant public speculation online and in the media.’ Unfortunately, the recent story published by Selena Roberts is more of the same. It once again portrays Auburn University, current and former coaches, professors, fans, supporters and community officials in a false light.”

“Unfortunately, Ms. Roberts’ story is long on accusation and inference, but short on facts and logic. It is noteworthy that the story comes just days before a player mentioned most prominently in the article is set to go to trial for felony armed robbery. The statements are very generalized accusations devoid of substance. During my time as Auburn’s head coach, I never authorized, instructed or directed anyone to change any player’s grade or provide any type of illegal payment by any member of my coaching staff, support staff or anyone else.”

“As for logic, the notion that the conduct inferred by Ms. Roberts was occurring under the NCAA’s nose, at the very same time the NCAA is conducting its thorough investigation, lacks merit. Further, the notion that there was ever an attempt to sabotage any Auburn student-athlete’s attempt to play professional football is outrageous. Auburn’s success in transitioning student-athletes to the NFL benefits both the student-athlete and the Auburn program.”

“I remain part of the Auburn family and take these attacks on myself, the University and community seriously. 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. As an Auburn resident, I take great pride in the quality and integrity of our police department. They enforce the law equally and fairly and my dealings with police Chief Tommy Dawson and his staff have been nothing short of excellent. He has handled many high profile cases with the (utmost) integrity and professionalism. To imply anything otherwise is simply wrong.”

“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.”

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. I stand firm in my statements, my support of Auburn University, its student-athletes (present and former), faculty, staff and community officials. As I stated during the NCAA investigation, I am comforted knowing that the truth always prevails.”

April 3, 2013

Report by former SI, New York Times writer alleges Auburn wrongdoings; Thorpe, other ex-Tigers quoted vehemently condemn article

Neiko Thorpe2

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. — A report published Wednesday by Selena Roberts, a former Sports Illustrated and New York Times reporter, took more than 4,000 words to lob exhaustive charges toward the Auburn football program.

Multiple quoted ex-Tigers required much less verbiage to swiftly condemn how their remarks were used contextually in response.

“I can’t,” said former defensive back Neiko Thorpe, asked to make sense of the report as one of six former Tigers quoted. “I’m just trying to clear my name up and let Auburn fans and Auburn nation know the things that were said in that report were not my words.”

The narrative “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas” was posted Wednesday by Roopstigo.com. Roberts, the website’s founder and CEO and an Auburn graduate, is notable for previous SI and NYT work on Alex Rodriguez’s steroid usage and the Duke lacrosse team’s sexual assault scandal of 2006.

Wednesday’s report focuses on former Auburn safety Mike McNeil, who faces robbery charges stemming from a March 2011 arrest, two months after Auburn won the BCS national championship.

McNeil’s family presents its description of the circumstances involving McNeil’s role in the incident, including an account of Auburn University’s and then-head coach Gene Chizik’s handling of the matter.

The report went on to allege academic fraud, pay-for-play incentives and positive drug testing via conversations with players, both named and unnamed.

Former Auburn players Thorpe, Daren Bates, Mike Blanc, Darvin Adams and Antoine Carter are quoted in the story along with McNeil.

Neiko Thorpe

Thorpe, entering his second year with the Kansas City Chiefs and the only active NFL player of the bunch, told the Ledger-Enquirer Wednesday night he spoke with Roberts “a couple weeks ago” and was misled as to the article’s intent.

“She explained to me she was doing a story on Mike McNeil, and basically it was a story trying to be good information about him, just telling what a good person he was,” Thorpe said. “She told me she was just trying to do a good story on Mike – a character story, letting people know what kind of person he was.”

Thorpe – who said he hasn’t kept in touch with McNeil while focusing on his NFL career – denounced Roberts’ use of multiple quotes.

Adams said he was offered an undisclosed amount of “financial incentives,” and McNeil said he was given $500 to “entertain blue-chip (recruit) Dre Kirkpatrick.” (Kirkpatrick signed and play for Alabama.) Thorpe was quoted as saying “A special recruit was treated like a king.”

thorpe_neikoThorpe told the Ledger-Enquirer, “I was talking to her about recruits, and she asked me personally about my recruiting process. I let her know that you can’t just base your recruiting off just a visit – you’ve got to look at other things, such as being around the players, because that’s who you’re going to be around the most, and not just the coaching, because coaches can switch up at any time or any year. So that’s why going through my recruiting process I chose Auburn.”

In the framework of Roberts describing the university’s “underground society beneath the NCAA’s radar”, Thorpe was quoted as saying “Auburn does whatever Auburn wants.”

To that, Thorpe rebuked, “No. I don’t recall saying that. I don’t even know what kind of question would make me say that.”

The opening segment details a timeline presented by McNeil’s mother and grandfather the afternoon of March 11, 2011, when Chizik kicked McNeil and three teammates off the team for robbery charges. A starting safety for the championship squad, McNeil has maintained his innocence throughout, awaiting his trial scheduled to begin Monday — though the Opelika-Auburn News reported Wednesday his attorney, Ben Hand, has filed to withdraw from representation.

According to Roberts, coaches told Auburn players they could lose their scholarship if they contacted any of the accused players. Thorpe was quoted as saying, “Mike was like a brother. I wanted to talk to my brother. I’m sure with all that was going on, he felt betrayed.”

Thorpe said he was napping when Roberts’ report came out, and after an evening workout was stunned to be made aware of how his interview was used.

“She just took what I said, I guess, and tried to … make it to a story she wanted,” Thorpe said, “because it wasn’t even the story she told me what she was reporting about. It was kind of crazy when I had a chance to read it and see what she put wasn’t true.”

Thorpe was named Auburn’s “Defensive Most Valuable Player” in 2011. He was bestowed that same year with the Shug Jordan Award, which reads, “Down through the years, outstanding Auburn football players have become outstanding citizens. Knowing this truth, and having a deep abiding faith in these men, I am proud to honor Auburn University’s outstanding senior football player with this award.”

Asked if he had any reason to scath his alma mater, Thorpe insisted, “I don’t. That’s why I’m trying to clear my name up because I had a great time at Auburn my four years, and I have memories I’ll never forget.”

Gene ChizikAn Auburn spokesperson stated to the Ledger-Enquirer on behalf of the athletic department, “We will not have a comment regarding the claims in the story.”

Chizik, Auburn University and Auburn police all declined to comment.

Former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp (now Florida’s head coach) is reported to have offered McNeil $400 cash after a 2007 practice. A Florida spokesperson Wednesday evening reiterated the university’s denial of Muschamp’s alleged payment from the article.

Bates, who graduates this year, had only one quote in the report, regarding McNeil: “He was the best teammate you could imagine. He took me under his wing. He would draw up defenses. And we’d watch film. He was a mentor to everyone.”

Bates initially responded to a Twitter follower’s question about Roberts, “I don’t even know who that is.” An hour later, Bates tweeted, “The one thing that is quoted by me is what I said, no more no less..END OF STORY”

Roberts made other allegations leading up to the 2010 season, including:

• Three players were told before the BCS championship victory over Oregon that up to nine teammates would be ruled academically ineligible, including star running back Michael Dyer, before unnamed school counselors fixed transcripts to keep them on the field. Said Blanc, “We thought we would be without Mike Dyer because he said he was one of them, but Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible.”

• Several players indicated Chizik asked them to cut their dreadlocks in fear of being targeted by police.

• A trailer home on Wire Road was a frequent source of synthetic marijuana distributed to players, the scene of the crime scene involving McNeil, Antonio Goodwin (since found guilty and jailed 15 years), Dakota Mosley and Shaun Kitchens. The article stated “more than 40 players tested positive for recreational drugs after the national championship.”

A couple hours after the article’s release, Blanc tweeted, “Man this article is outrageous and isn’t true. The media will do anything for a juicy story smh #sad”

This is not Roberts’ first story regarding Auburn football. In January 2005 — shortly following Auburn’s undefeated season led by then-coach Tommy Tuberville — she penned a New York Times article reporting team chaplain Chette Williams (still working for the Auburn support staff) was paid by boosters in addition to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

The entire report can be found here.

March 12, 2013

How much do Malzahn’s assistants bank? Just a little bit less than their Auburn predecessors, and less than Tennessee & Arkansas staffs

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – As much experience and star power Auburn’s esteemed group of assistant football coaches bring to their new school, it’s still a less pricey bunch than its predecessors and a couple of conference rivals.

Former head coach Gene Chizik ($3.5 million) led a nine-man staff with annual salaries combining for $3.635 million, which translated to the sixth-most expensive coaching crew in America per USA Today’s salary database.

New head coach Gus Malzahn ($2.3 million) has hauled in big names like seasoned defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson ($800,000), Auburn lettermen Rodney Garner ($500,000) and Dameyune Craig ($350,000), and former recruiting coordinators Charlie Harbison ($425,000) and Tim Horton ($250,000).

The nine new coordinators and position coaches will make approximately $3.41 million, according to figures obtained through Open Alabama Financial Reports. Adding Malzahn’s deal, the total price of Auburn’s 2013 coaching staff settles in at roughly $5.71 million.

That would mean Malzahn’s assistants bring in $225,000 less per year than the previous staff.

Gus Malzahn 9

Auburn has yet to release official contracts for seven co-coordinators and position coaches, despite the other three SEC institutions with new regimes (Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas) doing so in January.

Tennessee and Arkansas, led respectively by Butch Jones and Bret Bielema, are paying their entire staffs (head and assistants) more than $6 million, while Kentucky’s price tag for Mark Stoops and company is just under $4.7 million.

Rich Bisaccia, who was hired Jan. 3 to coach Auburn running backs and special teams, banked $38,044 for three weeks of work before leaving to coach the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams. The NFL coaching veteran stood to make half a million dollars this year had he stayed.

Bisaccia’s spot was replaced by the promotion of Scott Fountain from support staff to an on-field coaching position, though Fountain does not appear to have received a raise from last year’s $210,000 salary based on the financial report.

29-year-old offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s salary is $350,000. The staff is completed by offensive line coach J.B. Grimes ($275,000) and cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith ($250,000).

The Tigers’ ten coaches have been in college coaching for a combined 197 years, including 99 in the SEC in some capacity.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Of course, Auburn University still owes hefty buyouts to Chizik and his assistants after firing them in early December. Via their contracts, any income earned through coaching, broadcasting, publishing media or any other type of football-related endeavors through the expiration of those contracts will be subsidized from Auburn’s financial commitment.

Chizik and ex-assistant head coach Trooper Taylor remain unemployed, though Chizik was part of ESPNU’s National Signing Day coverage as a guest analyst.

The other eight Chizik assistants have found full-time jobs: defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is coaching New York Jets linebackers, Scot Loeffler (offensive coordinator) and Jeff Grimes (offensive line) are at Virginia Tech, Tommy Thigpen (linebackers) and Willie Martinez (defensive backs) are with Tennessee, Curtis Luper (running backs) is at TCU, Mike Pelton (defensive line) is with Georgia Tech and Jay Boulware (special teams/tight ends) made his way to Oklahoma after initially being hired by Wisconsin.

Some but not all of their new contracts have been released. Based on Open Alabama Financial Reports released for the month of February, those eight coaches figure to subtract upwards of $1.5 million per year from Auburn’s buyout as long as they remain employed.

Chizik’s buyout, which opened at $7.7 million when he was terminated Nov. 25, will be paid in monthly installments through Dec. 31, 2015. The Loeffler, VanGorder and Taylor buyouts last through June 30, 2014, while the other six assistants are off the books on June 30 of this year.

February 7, 2013

Who needs sleep? Malzahn cranks out class impressing Chizik; 2014 offers already out

AUBURN FOOTBALL

AUBURN, Ala. – Two hours, and good to go.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn admitted he didn’t get much more sleep than that going into Wednesday; partially due to his typically heavy workload, partially to a can’t-wait thrill awaiting on national signing day.

“Sometimes I work best when I don’t have much sleep,” Malzahn said, still cheery Wednesday afternoon. “I was extremely excited. We’ve been gearing up for this day, and I’m gonna bet our staff didn’t get much sleep either.”

Auburn associate athletic director Kirk Sampson attested Malzahn gulped down five cups of coffee before 7 a.m. local time.

Hey, whatever works. Auburn ended up with its fourth consecutive top-ten class, aided by the surprise signings of defensive tackle Montravius Adams and defensive end Elijah Daniel, who along with blue-chip end Carl Lawson should beef up last year’s inconsistent defense.

“It’s all about the front seven,” Daniel said in a phone interview, after flipping his commitment from Ole Miss. “Every great SEC school, if they’re good, they have a great front seven with the pass rush, and the linebackers hitting their gaps and tacklers.”

Even one of Malzahn’s mentors and his predecessor came away impressed with the new Auburn coaches’ efforts in identifying a significant need.

“When you look at a defensive line class,” said Gene Chizik, working for ESPNU as a guest analyst, “yes, Gus is an offensive-minded coach, there’s no question about that. But here’s what he knows: with the spread offense age, with offenses running 80 and 90 plays per game, you better have some defensive linemen.

“They’ve gotten two really, really good inside guys, two really good outside guys. You have to be able to have that when you’re going to play Texas A&M (and) all of the different spread offenses at a fast pace.”

Get this: with the three-headed monster he recruited enrolling soon, Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner now has eleven scholarship ends and seven scholarship tackles on the roster, competing for a total of four starting spots (though rotation will likely occur.)

“Most definitely, I look forward to that,” Daniel said. “I feel like competition is going to make you better. I feel good about that.”

Gene and Gus chat

Speaking of Chizik, who won the 2011 BCS National Championship with Malzahn as his offensive coordinator: Gene and Gus still do converse.

“I talked to him a few times,” Malzahn said. “It wasn’t always about recruiting. I was just checking on him and see how he’s doing.”

Chizik was fired Nov. 25 for overseeing a 3-9 season and Malzahn was brought back from Arkansas State nine days later.

Four more years

Malzahn did indicate all scholarships offered to Wednesday’s 23 signees are four-year offers, as has been the norm in the past.

No rest for the weary 

Now begins the hunt for class of 2014 recruits.

Two juniors of note have picked up offers from Auburn: four-star athlete Myles Autry (from Norcross, Ga., same as new Tigers defensive tackle Ben Bradley), per AuburnUndercover.com; and Blaise Taylor, an Auburn High School receiver and the son of former Auburn assistant head coach Trooper Taylor who tweeted news of his offer.

Malzahn tweeted Thursday, “Great day yesterday. No time to rest. Spring preparation and 2014 recruiting!”

February 3, 2013

THEN AND NOW: How Auburn’s Class of 2013 recruits have evolved from Gene to Gus

BY AARON BRENNER
abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. – In the current landscape of college football recruiting, a healthy percentage of high school seniors will flip enough to make a gymnast blush.

Those insecurities are magnified even more when brand-new coaching faces enter the fray, with little choice but to convince the existing verbal commits to remember why they picked the school.

“Yeah, I think anytime a completely new staff comes in, you’re going to play catch-up,” first-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said Jan. 19. “But our coaching staff’s done a great job of identifying the guys and really recruiting them hard, so I’m very pleased with our staff.”

As soon as Gene Chizik, Malzahn’s predecessor and former boss, was fired Nov. 25, some pledges immediately bolted. Some took their time to check out the new staff, then decided to evaluate their options. Some stuck around through thick and thin (or Gene and Gus.)

How did the class look 10 weeks ago, compared to today? Have a look:

*****************

Foster

THEN AND NOW

How Auburn’s class looked the morning of Nov. 25 (current commits in bold):

ESPN.com’s national class ranking: No. 7

5* DE Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.)
4* WR Earnest Robinson (Pinson, Ala.)
4* LB Cameron Toney (Huntsville, Ala.)
4* QB Jeremy Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.)
4* DE Tashawn Bower (Somerville, N.J.)
4* ATH Jason Smith (Mobile, Ala.)
4* WR Ja’Quay Williams (Tyrone, Ga.)
4* LB Trey Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga.)
4* LB Reuben Foster (Auburn, Ala.)
4* DT Dee Liner (Muscle Shoals, Ala.)
4* RB Jordan Wilkins (Cordova, Tenn.)
3* P Jimmy Hutchinson (Kennesaw, Ga.)
3* CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.)
3* K Daniel Carlson (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
3* CB Jahmere Irvin-Sills (Elkton, Md.)
3* LB Jarrad Davis (Kingsland, Ga.)
3* WR Lemond Johnson (Cooper City, Fla.)
3* TE Arshad Jackson (Lovejoy, Ga.)

*****************

Courtesy Allan Hancock College

How Auburn’s class looks the morning of Feb. 3 (new commits in bold):

ESPN.com’s national class ranking: No. 15

5* DE Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.)
4* WR Earnest Robinson (Pinson, Ala.)
4* LB Cameron Toney (Huntsville, Ala.)
4* QB Jeremy Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.)
4* DE Tashawn Bower (Somerville, N.J.)
4* ATH Jason Smith (Mobile, Ala.)
4* juco RB Cameron Artis-Payne (Harrisburg, Pa.)
4* juco DT Ben Bradley (Norcross, Ga.)
4* juco LB Brandon King (Alabaster, Ala.)
4* juco QB Nick Marshall (Pineview, Ga.)
4* WR Tony Stevens (Orlando, Fla.)
4* WR Dominic Walker (Orlando, Fla.)
3* P Jimmy Hutchinson (Kennesaw, Ga.)
3* CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.)
3* K Daniel Carlson (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
3* juco OG Devonte Danzey (Tampa, Fla.)
3* S Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.)
3* juco LB Kenny Flowers (Lilburn, Ga.)
3* WR Marcus Davis (Delray Beach, Fla.)

*****************

Measurements, ratings from ESPNRecruiting

Commit date history from 247Sports.com

CHIZIK VERBALS WHO DECOMMITTED (post-firing)

4* WR Ja’Quay Williams (Tyrone, Ga.)
Fork Union Military Academy
6-3, 195
Commit date: June 1, 2012
Decommit date: Nov. 25
Signed with Texas A&M (Dec. 19)
Note: Adds to a top-flight WR class, giving Heisman winner Johnny Manziel more weapons

4* LB Trey Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga.)
Central Gwinnett HS
6-1, 215
Commit date: Aug. 15, 2011
Decommit date: Nov. 27
Committed to Ohio State (Jan. 4)
Note: Made late visit to Tennessee last weekend, but still strong to Buckeyes

4* LB Reuben Foster (Auburn, Ala.)
Auburn HS
6-2, 242
Commit date: July 12, 2012
Decommit date: Dec. 7
Announces decision Monday, still considering Auburn
Note: Original Alabama pledge, AU-tattooed star wants to stay close to home with mom and daughter. Former Troup County player

3* CB Jahmere Irvin-Sills (Elkton, Md.)
Eastern Christian Academy
5-9, 173
Commit date: June 1, 2012
Decommit date: Dec. 10
Undecided, no set announcement date
Note: In 2010-11, attended Red Lion Christian (Bear, Del.), same academy as Auburn DT Angelo Blackson

3* LB Jarrad Davis (Kingsland, Ga.)
Camden County HS
6-1, 210
Commit date: April 14, 2012
Decommit date: Dec. 15
Committed to Florida (Dec. 15)
Note: Became fourth player with Georgia ties to decommit from Tigers in three weeks

3* WR Lemond Johnson (Cooper City, Fla.)
Cooper City HS
6-0, 190
Commit date: June 13, 2012
Decommit date: Dec. 16
Signed with Tennessee (Dec. 16)
Note: Followed ex-Auburn DB coach Willie Martinez to Vols, enrolled for spring

3* TE Arshad Jackson (Lovejoy, Ga.)
Lovejoy HS
6-6, 235
Commit date: May 26, 2012
Decommit date: Dec. 18
Announces decision Wednesday, not considering Auburn
Note: Auburn’s tallest skill player in 2012, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, was 6-5

4* DT Dee Liner (Muscle Shoals, Ala.)
Muscle Shoals HS
6-3, 275
Commit date: June 11, 2011
Decommit date: Jan. 14
Announces decision Wednesday, not considering Auburn
Note: Picked Tigers at end of sophomore year, now appears headed to Alabama

4* RB Jordan Wilkins (Cordova, Tenn.)
St. Benedict School
6-2, 205
Commit date: July 18, 2012
Decommit date: Jan. 20
Committed to Ole Miss (Feb. 2)
Note: His late departure left Tigers coaches scrambling to woo more tailbacks

CHIZIK VERBALS WHO STAYED

3* P Jimmy Hutchinson (Kennesaw, Ga.)
Harrison HS
6-2, 175
Commit date: Feb. 21, 2012
Note: Named a first-team All-American by 247Sports.com, he should take over for Steven Clark in 2014

3* CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.)
Dothan HS
5-10, 170
Commit date: Feb. 25, 2012
Note: A similar mold as Auburn rookie Jonathan Jones, perhaps a special teams contributor right away

4* WR Earnest Robinson (Pinson, Ala.)
Pinson Valley HS
6-2, 200
Commit date: Feb. 25, 2012
Note: Fielded offers from Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Florida State. Dameyune Craig was likely instrumental in keeping E-Rob’s word 

5* DE Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.)
Milton HS
6-3, 251
Commit date: Mar. 24, 2012
Note: ESPN tabs him the No. 2 overall prospect in the country. Auburn’s projected to keep him on board over Clemson and Tennessee

4* LB Cameron Toney (Huntsville, Ala.)
Huntsville HS
6-2, 225
Commit date: Apr. 14, 2012
Note: Former DC Brian VanGorder always wanted a bigger, stronger defense. Toney will help that cause 

4* QB Jeremy Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.)
Carver HS
6-5, 215
Commit date: May 20, 2012
Note: The centerpiece of this class; maybe not the highest-rated, but the most valuable player recruiter and face of the future

4* DE Tashawn Bower (Somerville, N.J.)
Immaculata HS
6-5, 241
Commit date: June 12, 2012
Note: Bower would bolster a potentially star-studded class of defensive ends, become Auburn’s first Jersey signee in two decades 

3* K Daniel Carlson (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Classical Academy
6-5, 195
Commit date: July 1, 2012
Note: ESPN’s top-ranked kicker in the class, should take over for Cody Parkey in 2014

4* ATH Jason Smith (Mobile, Ala.)
McGill Toolen HS
6-1, 180
Commit date: July 9, 2012
Note: A standout quarterback in high school, but proved he’s got the hands of a receiver at the AL-MS All-Star Classic in December

MALZAHN COMMITS

SIGNED

4* RB Cameron Artis-Payne (Harrisburg, Pa.)
Allan Hancock CC (Calif.)
5-11, 215
Sign date: Dec. 19
Note: The No. 1 juco back in the country, per 247Sports, rushed for 2,048 yards and 25 TDs in 10 games last fall. Ideal Tre Mason complement

3* OG Devonte Danzey (Tampa, Fla.)
Hutchinson CC (Kan.)
6-3, 303
Sign date: Dec. 25
Note: The No. 1 juco guard in the country, per 247Sports, could compete right away for one open spot along the Tigers’ line

4* DT Ben Bradley (Norcross, Ga.)
Hutchinson CC (Kan.)
6-3, 310
Sign date: Jan. 8
Note: Followed Danzey to the Plains, where both are already enrolled and prepping for spring practice

EXPECTED TO SIGN WEDNESDAY

4* LB Brandon King (Alabaster, Ala.)
Highland CC (Kan.)
6-2, 215
Commit date: Jan. 4
Note: If he can prove a sticky tackler, King will make it difficult for coaches to keep him on the sideline

4* QB Nick Marshall (Pineview, Ga.)
Garden City CC (Kan.)
6-2, 210
Commit date: Jan. 13
Note: A major point of intrigue going into the spring. He swears the coaches have promised him a shot in the starting quarterback derby 

3* S Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.)
Santa Fe HS
6-1, 205
Commit date: Jan. 20
Note: After committing to Arkansas, changed his mind following an official visit. DC Ellis Johnson needs more safety options

4* WR Tony Stevens (Orlando, Fla.)
Evans HS
6-4, 184
Commit date: Jan. 20
Note: Receptions by Auburn receivers taller than 6-2 in 2012; one, by 6-3 Jaylon Denson. Previously a Florida State and Texas A&M verbal

4* WR Dominic Walker (Orlando, Fla.)
Evans HS
6-2, 194
Commit date: Jan. 25
Note: Flipping Stevens paved the way to pair him with Walker, giving the Tigers’ pass-catchers some much-needed depth

3* LB Kenny Flowers (Lilburn, Ga.)
Hutchinson CC (Kan.)
6-2, 228
Commit date: Jan. 25
Note: Count ‘em, the third Hutchinson alum and fifth overall commit from a Kansas junior college. Like King, must tackle well to play

3* WR Marcus Davis (Delray Beach, Fla.)
American Heritage HS
5-10, 175
Commit date: Jan. 27
Note: Once upon a time, Emory Blake was an under-the-radar slot receiver prospect. Davis looks to pave the same path