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September 3, 2013

A farewell and a new beginning: War Eagle Extra is moving

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Nothing lasts forever.

This holds true for anything in life, and War Eagle Extra is no exception. The article you are reading is the final piece of content that will be posted to this blog. Have no fear, though. War Eagle Extra isn’t going away — it’s just moving. Yes, five years after staking out on its own, War Eagle Extra is being integrated back into the Ledger-Enquirer’s homepage.

It’s been quite a run, comprising five different beat writers (David Ching, Andy Bitter, Joel Erickson, Aaron Brenner and myself) and totaling close to 4,800 posts. Auburn is now working on its third different football coach during that span, which began in the final season of the Tommy Tuberville era, with a national title and a fired coach (Gene Chizik) bridging the gap to current head man Gus Malzahn.

Aside from the pages looking slightly different, you shouldn’t notice any variation as readers. The content won’t change. You’ll still be able to read the notebooks, features and other articles about Auburn’s football team as well as watch video of their interviews.

Don’t view this as an end as much as a new beginning.

In an ode to the blog’s past, I’m reminded how War Eagle Extra’s first reporter, Ching, ended his introductory post: “This should be a lot of fun…”

Click here to visit War Eagle Extra’s new home. Take a look around. Looks pretty similar, doesn’t it?

So join me as we begin our transition and begin to (literally) write the next chapter in War Eagle Extra’s history.

It should be a lot of fun.

August 27, 2013

7 at 7: A look around the NCAA

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — There have been both long and short versions of “7 at 7″ before.

Consider this one the latter. Starting this week and tentatively scheduled to run for the duration of the football season, Tuesday’s “7 at 7″ will have links from across the country, highlighting the biggest stories and (what I consider to be) the best pieces of writing. There should be a full schedule posted later today of what content to expect each day of the week.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reportedly met with NCAA investigators for six hours on Sunday. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reportedly met with NCAA investigators for six hours on Sunday. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Stay tuned.

1. The curious case of Johnny Manziel’s autograph odyssey could be coming closer to a resolution. According to a source close to the investigation, the NCAA met with the sophomore quarterback for six hours on Sunday.

2. Former Auburn running back Michael Dyer will likely get his fair share of carries at Louisville this season; however, he won’t be the starter in the Cardinals’ opening game. That honor goes to senior Senorise Perry.

3. A pair of teams finally named their starting quarterbacks on Monday:  Justin Worley will enter the year as Tennessee’s signal-caller, while Jake Waters will be the man running Kansas State’s offense this season.

4. Paul Myerberg of USA Today gives you five coaches to know heading into the season — that is, if you haven’t brushed up on them already.

5. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was one of the first people to reach out and aid Alabama in April 2011 following a string of tornadoes that ripped through the state.

6. Oklahoma is dealing with an array of arrests as it prepares for its season opener against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. Offensive lineman Jake Reed was arrested and charged with one count of first-degree burglary, one count of assault and battery and one count of domestic abuse after breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s home and threatening to kill another man. He has already been suspended from the team and the university while the case continues. Two other Sooners arrested during the offseason — starting cornerback Cortez Johnson and starting defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue — will sit out Saturday’s game as part of their punishment.

7. We end with a feature on former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, now the head man at Cincinnati. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports writes that the 59-year old is happier than he’s ever been. He also noted Tuberville’s personal golf cart — which he first used at Auburn and then took with him to Texas Tech and now Cincinnati — is still going strong.

August 2, 2013

Auburn notes: Tigers divvy up quarterback reps ‘pretty equal,’ tight end Ricky Parks dismissed

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — The only pause of Gus Malzahn’s press conference on Friday spoke volumes.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talked extensively about the team's quarterback battle following the first practice of the fall on Friday. (File photo)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talked extensively about the team’s quarterback battle following the first practice of the fall on Friday. (File photo)

Much like his hurry-up, no-huddle offense, the head coach breezed through every question of his media briefing following Auburn’s first practice of the fall. That is, until he was asked how well the four quarterbacks battling for the starting position fared on Friday.

Malzahn paused for six seconds before he finally responded.

“There were a few mishaps,” he said, “but that’s to be expected.”

The reps were divvied up “pretty equal,” with Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace taking the snaps in the first portion of the practice. In doing so, Malzahn wanted newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson to “sit back and watch and see how everything went.”

They got their turn soon enough, however.

“The second part, the two new guys got all the reps in the rotation,” Malzahn said. “So I’d say overall, it was very equal between the four of them all day.”

Making sure every member of the quartet receives approximately same number of snaps is quite a challenge, Malzahn said, but he’s comfortable with the strategy the coaching staff designed.

“There’s a lot that has to do with our offense (that involves) communication from the sideline before the play starts,” he said. (So) it’s good for them to get the reps.”

The Tigers divided the whole of their first fall practice much the same way they allocated quarterback reps, breaking it into two parts. In the first half, the team’s experienced players took precedence, as coaches wanted them “to show the younger guys the pace, the expectations.”

At the halfway point, the team slowed things down to allow the coaching staff to spend more time with younger players at every position.

“It just felt like we needed to do that, and we’ll do the same thing tomorrow,” Malzahn said. “Then we’ll see where we’re at.”

All in all, Malzahn believed it was a successful first day of fall camp. He wasn’t surprised by anything that occurred — and that’s exactly how Malzahn wanted it.

“It was hot out there outside early, (so) it was good to be out in the heat to see how they reacted,” he said. “I really expected them to be ready to practice and for the most part, they were.”

McNeal sits out practice, Parks dismissed

Safety Demetruce McNeal, the team’s top returning tackler, was at practice Friday but did not participate. Malzahn said the reason for the senior’s absence could be blamed on an undisclosed illness.

Auburn’s coach downplayed the severity of it, though.

“He’s got a medical issue he’s working through,” Malzahn said. “It shouldn’t be much longer and we really expect him to make a full recovery.”

While McNeal will return at some point in the near future, Malzahn announced that another player is no longer a member of the Tigers. Tight end/H-back Ricky Parks was dismissed for what Malzahn called “a violation of team rules.”

“It’s like I’ve said before — we have high expectations for our players on and off the field,” he said. “We wish (Parks) nothing but the best.”

Another Tuberville on the Plains

Malzahn was pleased to have walk-on quarterback Tucker Tuberville make his Auburn debut Friday after redshirting at Texas Tech last season. He’s the son of former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville, who led the Tigers from 1999-2008.

“He wants to be a coach. He’s a coach’s son,” Malzahn said. “Great kid and loves Auburn. We’re glad to have him back.”

July 30, 2013

4 at 4: Counting down the days until real, live football gets here

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Two days.

Just two more days until Auburn players report. Three days until fall camp opens. And we’re just a month away from the season kicking off, when the Tigers welcome the Washington State Cougars to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Aug. 31. It seems so close — and it is. But the closer it gets, the more anxious I am for it to finally begin. Of course, coaches, players and fans share in the excitement of a coming season every bit as much as media members do.

Ellis Johnson

Ellis Johnson

It reminds me of something defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said when he sat down for an interview with beat writers exactly one week ago today. In fact, it was the very first thing Johnson was asked: “How ready are you to get things started?”

It was a simple question, but the veteran coach gave a wonderfully detailed answer.

“We’ve kept away from them so much during this time of the year, and although they never leave, it’s not like the old reporting dates in the old days where they used to go home for the summer and you couldn’t wait to see them when they got back. At the same time, it’s still a time when you can get your hands back on them and get back on the field and get rolling again. You kind of get in these days right here, I can’t stand them. I either want to go back on vacation or I want to start practice. That in-between time is kind of hard to hold yourself back.”

Believe me, Coach, we all feel the same way.

In the meantime, let’s hit on a few small items in today’s edition of “4 at 4.”

1. A few tweets regarding myriad former members of Auburn’s football program have made the rounds on Twitter in the last 24 hours. The first, as was discussed in this space Monday, was in reference to former Tigers running back Michael Dyer. According to this tweet from Drew Deener, the play-by-play voice of the Louisville Cardinals, Dyer has not yet joined their program, per head coach Charlie Strong.

Speaking of head coaches, former Tigers head man Tommy Tuberville has not returned to Auburn since 2008, if this tweet from CBS Sports national college football reporter Jeremy Fowler is taken as fact.

It would probably be smart for former offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to stay away from Auburn for a few years, too. Take a look at some of the comments he made at the Roanoke Valley Sports Club on Monday night, which were tweeted out by former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter, now covering Virginia Tech football for the Roanoke Times and Virginian-Pilot.

Needless to say, the current offensive coordinator of the Hokies didn’t think very much of the hand he was dealt last season.

Oh, and he thinks Nick Saban is smart. (Then again, what is he supposed to say when he couldn’t put a single point on the board against Alabama’s defense last year?)

Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for an Auburn player to respond, as backup center Tunde Fariyike did the honors — with an edge.

And how about one more Fariyike tweet to top it off?

2. Gus Malzahn will be making his last stop on the 2013 Tiger Trek this evening. It will be in Montgomery at Riverwalk Stadium starting at 6 p.m. ET. James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser has all the details for those who might be interested.

3. At the risk of possible Johnny Manziel overload, I cannot recommend this article by ESPN The Magazine senior writer Wright Thompson enough. While reading it, I went through every emotion possibly toward “Johnny Football.” Anger. Pity. Fascination. Bewilderment. (One thing I must note about the story: It contains some graphic language and subject matter.)

Frankly, all you really need to know is that Thompson wrote it — for my money, one of the top sports journalists in the country without question. Read it for yourself and see how you feel about Manziel. Maybe it will cement your preconceived notions about him. Or maybe you’ll end up feeling differently about the 20-year-old lightning rod known as much for off-the-field controversies as his incredible on-the-field accomplishments.

4. Just in case you’re in Auburn this weekend, take heart: Parking will be free.

Via the Opelika-Auburn News article: “In conjunction with this weekend’s sales tax holiday weekend and Auburn University’s semester break, the Auburn City Council has suspended parking meter operations in downtown from Aug. 3-20.”

Most importantly, for you fellow football-lovers out there, yes, fall camp will have already started by this weekend.

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.

February 9, 2013

Signing Day was a dog-eat-dog wild ride

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. — One of the southeast’s most experienced recruiting gurus will remember this particular football offseason — or, this “on-season,” if you follow recruiting closely — for a long, long time.

“There was a lot of crazy stuff this year,” said Chad Simmons, Fox Sports South and Scout.com national recruiting analyst. “This 2013 class, the numerous top uncommitted players, so many kids that decommitted, recommitted, opened up, so much chatter about kids flipping on signing day.”

The wild ride slowed to a crawl Wednesday, and as usual, the SEC dominates the team rankings as a few stragglers continue to make their final decisions in the aftermath of national signing day.

Recruiting, as it stands in the NCAA’s current landscape, is very much a dog-eat-dog world. The conflict was magnified for any school going through a sudden change of regime, notably Auburn for the past two months.

“With a coaching change, kids are a little more vulnerable, and coaches try to take advantage of that,” Simmons said. “At the same time, kids aren’t very shy about listening and taking other visits. Kids aren’t done with the process until they sign that letter of intent on signing day or enroll early.

“Especially in the south, it’s very cutthroat.”

Auburn has survived and thrived through the war of attrition. The Tigers managed to flip six players from commitments to other schools in the final few weeks, and only losing one themselves on signing day while recovering from other decommitments much earlier in the process.

“I’d really like to compliment our staff; they did a wonderful job on a short period of time,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Wednesday. “We had a lot of obstacles as far as trying to develop relationships and a lot of different things. Any time you’re coming in this thing, and you’re four or five weeks in, and you don’t have the foundation of relationships, stuff can happen.

“But our coaching staff did a wonderful job developing those relationships in a short period of time. Pretty much went as planned today when we got up.”

It helped Malzahn having three years as Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11, so he knew what he was getting into going against the likes of Nick Saban, Les Miles and Mark Richt. Certainly, luring Rodney Garner from Georgia and Dameyune Craig from Florida State had a positive impact too.

“The fact that we didn’t have a full year to recruit against a lot of these guys that had a full year to recruit,” Malzahn said, “and to get the players signed like we did, I’m just very pleased and tickled to death with our staff.”

Now comes the long, hard journey of work to recover from a dreadful 3-9 season, and quickly. One man who knows what it’s like to live through a coaching change — from Tommy Tuberville to Gene Chizik — is a firm believer in his alma mater.

“I’m confident the program will get back to where it should be,” said Josh Bynes, a four-year linebacker from 2007-10 and newly-minted Super Bowl champion with the Baltimore Ravens. “I think this coaching staff they’re putting together, what coach Malzahn’s doing, it’s going to be amazing.”

November 25, 2012

Who Could Be Auburn’s Next Football Coach? Check Out 30 Names To Keep Your Eye On

AUBURN, Ala. – Here’s what we can safely assume Auburn would look for in a new head coach:

- Somebody with SEC roots, or at least strong southern ties. Every Auburn head coach since 1950 either went to Auburn (Ralph “Shug” Jordan), served as an assistant at Auburn (Doug Barfield, Gene Chizik), played football in the SEC (Pat Dye) came directly from an SEC program (Tommy Tuberville) or came directly from an in-state program (Terry Bowden).

- Somebody who can recruit. Hard. That’s what Chizik hung his hat on, and what’s necessary of whoever has to coach the other major program in this state alongside the Sabanator.

- Somebody relatively young, but not exactly a spring chicken. Pat Dye was 41 when he started at Auburn. Bowden was 37. Tuberville was 44, Chizik was 47.

- Somebody with previous head coaching experience. The last four hires did – Tuberville had four years at Ole Miss under his belt, Chizik was taken straight from Iowa State while Dye and Bowden cut their teeth at non-BCS programs. This rule might be a little more negotiable; Will Muschamp, Dabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher, Bret Bielema, Bo Pelini and Paul Rhoads (to name six) are getting along fine in their first head jobs.

Here’s a short list of five hot candidates (with ages in parentheses) which make the most sense in orange and blue. Then follows a longer list of 25 secondary people to keep in mind as well. 30 names in all.

THE AUBURN TIES

JIMBO FISHER (47), Florida State

Auburn’d love to have him back – he was QBs coach from 1993-98, Terry Bowden’s entire tenure. Question is whether Jimbo would leave what he’s got in Tallahassee for a school which broke it off with Bowden on awkward terms.

GUS MALZAHN (46), Arkansas State

Sexy name. Auburn knows if he’s really, really ready to take on the big, bad SEC. Would he bolt the Red Wolves after one year, with many of his former Auburn recruits on this roster?

THE RIVAL’S DISCIPLE

KIRBY SMART (36), defensive coordinator, Alabama

Jumping ship directly from the Jets to the Sharks? From the Montagues to the Capulets? Weirder things have happened, I suppose. Saban has all but guaranteed he’ll be leading a major program sooner rather than later.

Smart has no head coaching experience. But his credentials speak for themselves. The Saban Way works. Now, how responsible has Smart been for the wild success at Alabama? Might be a reasonably price-efficient risk to find out.

THE UNEMPLOYED

BOBBY PETRINO (51), former head coach, Arkansas.

Talk about a firestorm. Talk about rolling the dice. He’d be one of the most polarizing possible picks not only among the Auburn Family, but fan bases across the SEC.

His glittering 75-26 college record as a head coach is a factor, but so is his involvement in ‘Jetgate’ from Tommy Tuberville’s ouster, and the way he basically quit on the Atlanta Falcons to flee for Arkansas. Then he was involved in a motorcycle accident and his unsavory relationship with a young woman he hired to the athletic department was uncovered. That might be too much for the three SEC schools seeking a head coach besides Arkansas to overlook.

But then again. 75-26. 

THE ROUND PEG IN A ROUND HOLE

CHARLIE STRONG (52), Louisville

In his 30 years of coaching, 21 have been with SEC schools – including 2002-09 as Florida’s defensive coordinator. What Steve Kragthorpe couldn’t clean up from the Petrino mess, Strong has done impeccably. There’s absolutely no question if Strong wants to leave, now’s the time to do so … like, about five seconds after the Cardinals play their bowl game . When Louisville was 8-0, it was only ranked 10th in the BCS standings because the Big East is the Big East. And that’s the long-term crutch.

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich would lead you to believe his school will pull out all the stops to keep their man.

But it’s not like SEC schools will nickel-and-dime their coaches. Six of the 14 highest-paid coaches entering this year in college football are in this conference, including Chizik. Strong’s contract explicitly states his salary (before bonuses) is $1.6 million a year, a below-average figure in the SEC.

So Louisville’s honchos might be ready for a financial fight, and good on them. But they might lose. Question will be, which SEC school will win? 

THE DREAMY NAMES

CHRIS PETERSEN (48), Boise State

Okay, that 82-8 career record’s pretty ridiculous. But he has zero southeast connections. None. Not happening. That said, he has been hotly-rumored to be headed to Arkansas, or perhaps Oregon if Chip Kelly leaves for the NFL.

GARY PATTERSON (52), TCU

Perpetually a target of coaching rumors. TCU’s less obscure than Boise State – geographically and by new conference affiliation – but Patterson seems content in Fort Worth. 

DANA HOLGORSEN (41), West Virginia

Amazing first half to 2012 went awry with a five-game losing streak. It’d be a total blindside to the Mountaineers. But you never know. Rich Rodriguez has set a precedent for these types of things.

THE CURRENT HEAD COACHES

SONNY DYKES (42), Louisiana Tech

WAC champs last year, logged time ranked this year. Spent two one-year stints as an assistant at Kentucky.

DAVID CUTCLIFFE (58), Duke

Born and raised in Birmingham. Alabama grad. Bear Bryant disciple. Manning brothers mentor. Spent six years at Banks (Ala.), followed by the next 17 years at Tennessee (an eternity as an assistant) and then seven fine seasons at Ole Miss. He’s 21-36 at Duke, but 6-3 this year. On paper, makes a lot of sense. Again, the two unknown factors are a) Auburn’s interest in bringing him to his home state, and b) Cutcliffe’s interest in leaving Duke for a new job in his late 50s. Cutcliffe’s already shot down rumors of him going back to Tennessee, and he did recently sign a very long-term extension to stay with the Blue Devils until the end of this decade.

MIKE MACINTYRE (47), San Jose State

Miami native played two years each at Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, has spent time on Georgia, Ole Miss staffs.  Spartans are 10-2, no easy feat for a program which has gone bowling once in 22 years. MacIntyre just signed a long-term extension in January.

TODD BERRY (51), Louisiana-Monroe

Moderate success throughout his career … at 46-78, that’s being kind. But he has shown some guts this season with the Warhawks.

SKIP HOLTZ (48), South Florida

Six years at South Carolina, from 1999-2004. Not a good year for the Bulls, at 3-8. Record of 88-70 as a collegiate head coach at UConn, East Carolina and USF. Son of Lou, who previously insisted Auburn couldn’t fire Chizik.

STEVE ADDAZIO (53), Temple

Was on offensive staff at Florida from 2005-10. They did okay. Has a 12-11 record in two years with the Owls, beat Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl last year.

MARIO CRISTOBAL (42), Florida International

Stock was probably higher the past couple years, as surprise co-Sun Belt champs in 2010 and 8-5 last year. Now the Panthers went meek 3-9 in 2012.

RICK STOCKSTILL (54), Middle Tennessee

Former Florida State quarterback stopped for two years in the SEC (South Carolina WR coach, 2004-05) before his first head gig with the Blue Raiders. An even 43-43 in seven years, but he went 10-3 in 2009 and they’re 8-3 today.

WILLIE TAGGART (35), Western Kentucky

Would he leave his alma mater? He’s a bright young coaching prospect.

KEVIN WILSON (51), Indiana

Hey, he’s got to be considered. Auburn clearly has a thing for Big Ten coaches with experience in Florida and a 5-19 lifetime record.

TIM BECKMAN (47), Illinois

Waaaaaaaay back in 1988-89, he was a grad assistant under Pat Dye. Hasn’t been in SEC country since. And he just started with the Illini this year. And he’s 2-10. But hey, he’s got Auburn ties, darn it.

TIM STOWERS (54), former head coach, Georgia Southern/Rhode Island

Currently an assistant at Central Connecticut, his resume doesn’t scream SEC coach in the making. But he is from Union Springs, Ala. … he was a two-year letterman for Auburn, as a linebacker and two-way lineman … served five years on the Auburn staff after college … has an 84-80 record in 14 years as a head coach, but none at the Division I level. It’s an outside-the-box thought.

THE CONFERENCE FOES

DAN MULLEN (40), Mississippi State

Fifteen years ago, Auburn poached Tuberville from Ole Miss after four years and a 25-20 record, including 12-20 in the SEC. Mullen is 28-18 in his fourth season, including 12-16 in the SEC. Just saying. Granted, they’d have to bury the hatchet, since Mullen was rumored to tattle on Auburn during the Cam Newton recruiting investigation saga.

JAMES FRANKLIN (40), Vanderbilt

Did some impressive things with this 8-win squad in Nashville. Funny thing is, his win over Auburn wasn’t particularly well-coached.

WILL MUSCHAMP (41), Florida

If Florida’s 2012 was like its 2011, this might have been a serious consideration, since Gators fans would’ve been anxious for a change. Not anymore.

THE HOT ASSISTANTS

Note: None have ever been a collegiate head coach

MANNY DIAZ (38), defensive coordinator, Texas

This season hasn’t gone as the Longhorns would have hoped, but like Smart, he’s a future head coach. Future could be now. Diaz – yet another Miami-born member of this list – has spent basically his whole career in the southeast at NC State, Middle Tennessee and Mississippi State.

LORENZO WARD (45), defensive coordinator, South Carolina

Another guy who’s been successful in and out of the SEC that makes sense on paper. But would Auburn want him, and would he want Auburn (or, for that matter, a head coaching opportunity in general)? All about fitting a round peg into a round hole.

DAN ROUSHAR (49), offensive coordinator, Michigan State

PAT NARDUZZI (46), defensive coordinator, Michigan State

Mark Dantonio’s signed a contract for life in East Lansing, but he won’t be able to hold onto his coordinators forever. Neither guy has much experience in SEC country.

TODD MONKEN (45), offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State

Can I interest you in the No. 3 offense in the country? He stepped in for Dana Holgorsen, and that’s worked out okay for West Virginia. Monken logged a combined six years in Louisiana (La Tech, LSU) coaching receivers.

KLIFF KINGSBURY (33), offensive coordinator, Texas A&M

He is but four years older than a current rookie quarterback in the NFL. He’s three months older than Toledo’s Matt Campbell, currently the youngest Division I head coach. But he’s already got four full years at Houston as a quality control, QB coach and coordinator, and Johnny Manziel’s breakout has landed Kingsbury on the Broyles Award short list. Why not?

MARK STOOPS (45), defensive coordinator, Florida State

Younger brother of Bob. If Jimbo’s not interested in Auburn, maybe just go a couple offices down the hall and knock on that door.

November 20, 2012

History not on Coach Chizik’s side

AUBURN, Ala. — One of Gene Chizik’s go-to mottos when asked on a weekly basis about his job security as Auburn’s head coach is, “it’s not about me.”

Chizik, the eighth-highest paid college football coach in the country ($3,577,500 salary) per USA Today’s annual survey Tuesday, prefers to place the focus on grooming his players, giving and receiving support from the Auburn fan base, and gameplanning for the Tigers’ next opponent.

This week, there’s a high emphasis on all three phases. Auburn (3-8, 0-7 SEC) will need nothing short of a miraculous 60-minute effort to compete with second-ranked Alabama (10-1, 6-1) in the Iron Bowl Saturday, one of college football’s most intense rivalries.

A look at history says there’s even more than that on the line for Chizik, who is widely presumed to be out the door shortly following the Tigers’ final regular season game of his fourth season Saturday.

Chizik is on record as believing this bounce-back project starts with him. That he should have an opportunity to fix this.

However, if the Tigers can’t upset Alabama — favored by more than four touchdowns in the Iron Bowl — they’ll be losers of all eight SEC games for the first time in school history.

That bodes far from well for Chizik’s job security, though athletic director Jay Jacobs has been silent on the subject and university president Jay Gogue has maintained he’ll make no decisions until after Saturday.

In the five seasons preceding this one, three SEC coaches went 0-8. None of them lasted another game.

Ole Miss’s Ed Orgeron (2007) was dismissed on Nov. 24 of that year, the final straw served by blowing a 14-point lead to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

Vanderbilt’s Bobby Johnson (2009) retired the following July from coaching.

Ole Miss’s Houston Nutt (2011) resigned Nov. 7, sticking around for the final three games.

Fast forward to this season, with two SEC teams besides Auburn currently winless in league play. Since Kentucky (2-9, 0-7) visits Tennessee (4-7, 0-7) Saturday, one of them will definitely get on the board.

Both head coaches, however, have been told they will not return — Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, fired Nov. 4, agreed to finish out the year, while Tennessee’s Derek Dooley was ushered out Sunday and will not coach Saturday’s game.

Auburn’s history is just as ominous for Chizik, who won National Coach of the Year accolades just two years ago.

Since Ralph “Shug” Jordan’s retirement in 1975, the Tigers have won less than three SEC games in a season eight times in 37 seasons. Two of those tough years were part of rebuilding projects under first-year coaches Pat Dye and Tommy Tuberville.

The other six? 1980, an 0-6 slate. Doug Barfield was fired … 1991-92, a pair of 2-win seasons. Dye was done after that … 1998, a 1-7 effort. Terry Bowden mysteriously resigned midway through the year … 2008, back to 2-6. Tuberville resigned.

The sixth is 2012. Time will tell — likely, within the next week to 10 days – what’s in store for the future of Auburn football.

NOTHING TO SHOW

Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt, 2002

Had inherited a 0-win team in 2002, his first year; remained coach until 2009

Jackie Sherrill, Mississippi State, 2002

Coached the 2003 Bulldogs to 1-7 in SEC, retired following that season

Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss, 2007

Fired on Nov. 24 after blowing 14-point lead to Mississippi State

Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt, 2009

Retired in July 2010 from coaching

Houston Nutt, Ole Miss, 2011

Resigned on Nov. 7, allowed to coach the rest of his fourth season

Joker Phillips, Kentucky, 2012

Fired on Nov. 4, allowed to coach the rest of his third season

Derek Dooley, Tennessee, 2012

Fired on Nov. 17, not allowed to coach final game of his third season

Gene Chizik, Auburn, 2012

Widely rumored to be dismissed at end of his fourth season

November 6, 2012

Philip Lutzenkirchen looks to the future

AUBURN, Ala. — Dining with his dad at The Hound on Friday night, Philip Lutzenkirchen was approached by a 50-ish woman, an Auburn fan who wanted to offer Lutzenkirchen her thanks for all the good things he’s done for the university — both on and off the football field.

“To me, it’s just, I play football,” Lutzenkirchen said, “and I’ve tried to live the right way and live how my parents raised me to put others first. It was very humbling and just awesome for someone to come up and say that to me.”

Lutzenkirchen is never quite sure how to handle the admiration, but he’s gotten used to it during a four-year ride as a Tigers tight end and fan favorite.

A guy who has never made it all about him has no other choice at this point. After undergoing season-ending hip surgery in late October — truncating his senior year and college eligibility — Lutzenkirchen faces three arduous months of rehabilitation in hopes of participating in the Senior Bowl, the NFL combine and possibly a professional career.

“I think for me the most important thing right now is to make sure I get back to 100 percent,” Lutzenkirchen said. “It’s my goal to be playing in one of those games come late January, but if I’m only 95 percent, I’m going to have to say no to it.”

Auburn’s all-time leading touchdown receiver among tight ends spoke with reporters Tuesday for the first time since the surgery, walking into the interview room without the support of crutches or a cane.

“I’ve had to step back from football and look at my future, not just hopefully playing at the next level, but even just trying to go throughout life without having a hip replacement,” Lutzenkirchen said.

He shared the dirty details of his long-standing injury, which first cropped up in two-a-days before the 2011 season on Auburn’s new indoor turf. Ultimately, Lutzenkirchen was playing with a torn labrum with three bone spurs floating around in his left hip.

“Whenever I was playing or walking, I could feel the labrum catching onto bone spurs and tearing a little bit each time. Certain positions, like my three-point stance, I could feel it a lot when I squatted down,” Lutzenkirchen said. “The doctors pretty much said if I didn’t get it fixed and kept playing on it, the bones were rubbing together and I probably would have had to have a hip replacement before I was 25 or 30.”

The injury became too much to bear after the Ole Miss game Oct. 13. He just got his stitches out from the surgery, which means he can start on the underwater treadmill and begin swimming in rehab.

He hopes to be running in 6-8 weeks, and he trusts his rehab director, David Walsh, who helped shave Lutzenkirchen’s recovery period from a shoulder injury earlier this year from six months to 3½.

“It just got to the point where I could tell in my strength and speed, it had declined a lot. I kept getting out of cuts, and my route-running, I felt slow,” Lutzenkirchen said. “It’s just really frustrating as a player, because you never want to admit that something like that is hindering you and making you not play to your full potential.”

He’s dealt with more than his share of adversity. As a verbal commit out of Marietta, Ga. in 2008, then-coach Tommy Tuberville was fired, leaving Lutzenkirchen and his classmates in limbo. The first living room Gene Chizik visited as Tuberville’s replacement was in Marietta.

“One of the best decisions I made in my life thus far was deciding to come to Auburn,” Lutzenkirchen said. “I know I went through a lot of hard times when coach Tuberville got fired, and trying to wait and see what coaches they were going to bring in.

“But in my heart, I knew I wanted to come to Auburn regardless.”

Lutzenkirchen’s off-field good deeds, particularly supporting children battling cancer, have been well-documented.

“I think he’s a very selfless guy,” Chizik said, “and I think that’s what’s going to make him be successful whatever he does after this because it’s never really been about him.”

Lutzenkirchen lists as top memories his first career touchdown against Mississippi State as a freshman, playing with Heisman winner Cam Newton and coming back from several deficits in 2010 (including Lutzenkirchen’s go-ahead touchdown at Alabama, which he celebrated with an improvised jig) and winning eight games his junior year with an under-the-radar squad.

This final season in Auburn didn’t go as he planned. But Lutzenkirchen has made his peace with that.

“I know that God has a plan for me and I’ll be alright in whatever I end up doing,” Lutzenkirchen said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to have played here.”

October 22, 2012

Revered to reviled? Former coaches Bowden, Tuberville have been there at Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. — Terry Bowden knows all too well the road from revered to repudiated in the blink of an eye. So does Tommy Tuberville.

Coach Gene Chizik has brought Auburn an undefeated season, same as his immediate long-term predecessors. Now Chizik, the 2010 AP National Coach of the Year and national championship ringbearer, hopes he won’t share something else with Bowden and Tuberville: an unceremonious exit from the program.

“You’ve got to remember, Auburn’s a very unique place,” Bowden, now the head coach at Akron, told the Ledger-Enquirer on Monday via the Mid-American Conference football teleconference.

“As much as it’s a wonderful place to stay, it’s probably the most political place as far as the infrastructure of their athletic department and university. You’ve got to handle it very gently.”

Pat Dye’s successor, Bowden bolted into unreached territory by winning his first 20 games at the Division I level. The National Championship Foundation named the Tigers 1993 titlists, though they finished fourth in the final Associated Press rankings.

Auburn completed each of Bowden’s five full seasons on the Plains ranked, compiling a 46-12-1 record up to that point. But when the Tigers started 1-5 in 1998, Bowden abruptly resigned, leaving the team to defensive coordinator Bill Oliver on an interim status for the rest of the year. In his statement 14 years ago, Bowden labeled “a very serious and divisive public debate about the certainty of my status at Auburn University” as his reasons for leaving midseason.

Because this year has plummeted Chizik’s four-year mark at Auburn, Bowden again owns the highest coaching winning percentage (.731) among Tigers head coaches with multiple years experience.

“There was a lot of politics going on behind that,” Bowden said Monday of his departure. “I think anytime that you’ve just got to stay the course. You know you’re doing the right thing, and continue to do it. Stay positive with your players.”

Tuberville took over for Bowden and Oliver beginning in 1999. During his ten years, Tuberville won five SEC West division titles and one SEC championship, being named AP Coach of the Year in 2004 when Auburn went 13-0.

The Tigers made a bowl in eight straight years under Tuberville, including five New Year’s Day appearances and victories in the Sugar and Cotton Bowls. But a losing year in 2008, including 2-6 in the SEC and a 36-0 loss at Alabama, was followed by Tuberville’s resignation at season’s end under peculiar circumstances, paving the way for Chizik’s hire.

After taking a year off, Tuberville now coaches No. 15-ranked Texas Tech (6-1).

“As a head coach, I’ve been through it, several times in different places. You can control what happens with your team, you can’t control what happens on the outside,” Tuberville said on Monday’s Big 12 teleconference. “You can’t worry about the fans, you can’t worry about administrations. You’ve got to worry about your football team. They’re the guys you’re responsible for.”

Both Bowden and Tuberville went out of their way to acknowledge the win-now mentality they faced throughout their tenure, regardless of past accolades.

“That’s part of the ‘what have you done for me lately’ part of college football,” Bowden said. “If you coach long enough, you’re likely to be fired or likely to have bad seasons. All coaches and all players go through difficult times, and you just have to overcome it. That’s what happened at Auburn.”

Tuberville’s advice to Chizik was short and sweet — “Just coach your team” — as the Tigers prepare for a four-game homestand starting Saturday against No. 22 Texas A&M at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“Right now, people want instant gratification — it’s not going to happen. You’ve got a lot of good teams out there, you’re going to have injuries, things are going to go wrong,” Tuberville said. “You hope people stand behind you when sometimes things don’t go quite as well as you would hope.”