Joe Medley: For Jacobs, AU's second act has begun
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Jun 22, 2013 | 3375 views |  0 comments | 101 101 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s been almost five years since a heckler greeted Jay Jacobs at the airport, and it seems the Auburn athletics director is finally listening.

Based on what’s knowable before any of Jacobs’ latest hires coaches a game at Auburn, he hired winners, not losers.

The hires and Jacobs’ spirited defense of Auburn against the last round of negative national media stories in March also changed the subject. Just a few months ago, as Jacobs was not firing men’s basketball coach Tony Barbee, talk was more the disastrous last round of hires.

Time will tell if Jacobs’ second act turns out better than his first, but it’s hard to argue that he has given Auburn fans reason to look forward in football, baseball and softball.

Those dozen or so Auburn fans who care about men’s basketball may find consolation from shared misery, thanks to rival Alabama’s recent run of player defections.

It’ll take a lot more to get Auburn fans over the worst sports year in recent memory. The football team won as many games (three) as the men’s basketball team won SEC games. The baseball team got left out of the NCAA tourney again, after losing an SEC play-in game to rival Alabama, which made the NCAA field.

Two of the three coaches are gone with the firings of former football coach Gene Chizik and baseball coach John Pawlowski. Barbee remains, which is remarkable until one considers adding his $3 million buyout to the $11 million Auburn paid Chizik and his staff.

Try to fathom $14 million in coaching buyouts in one school year, and that would have come before Jacobs fired Pawlowski and Tina Deese, the only softball coach Auburn had ever had.

Enter new football coach Gus Malzahn, new baseball coach Sunny Golloway and softball coach Clint Myers — all either proven winners or high-ethos commodities with Auburn fans.

Malzahn is the coach many Auburn fans consider as Chizik’s brain during a national-title run in 2010 and eight-win seasons of 2009 and 2011.

There’s reason to believe that Malzahn will bring immediate improvement. His fast-paced, spread system will fit Auburn’s personnel, and just a little more offense could have made the difference in near-misses against Clemson, LSU and Vanderbilt in 2012.

Aftera 3-9 season, a 6-6 record would count as major improvement.

Malzahn’s staff hires and a better-than-expected first signing class helped Auburn outdraw Alabama for A-Day, which is an accomplishment in Alabama’s Nick Saban era.

Now, if only Malzahn can just make Auburn look competitive on the field against Alabama. The Tigers have lost the last two Iron Bowls by a combined score of 91-14 and failed to score an offensive touchdown in either game.

Alabama has won three of the past four national titles. Auburn won three games last season. Anyone who measures Malazhn by wins and losses against Saban-led Alabama is delusional about the current gulf between those programs.

Malzahn is a hurry-up coach, but he must think process and long game, like Saban. He must position Auburn football for the inevitable day when Saban leaves, and Saban has been at Alabama longer than anywhere else.

Everything we’ve seen out of Malzahn indicates he’s more likely to do the smart thing than the short-sighted thing. If Auburn fans are real with him, then he’ll have the time to make Jacobs’ most important recent hire pay off.

As for the others, Golloway was a regular 40-game winner at Oral Roberts and Oklahoma. His teams made the NCAA tournament and advanced.

Myers won two national championships at Arizona State and would seem to know what it takes to get Auburn’s softball program on competitive footing with Alabama’s, which won a national title a year ago.

If it all pans out, then Auburn’s biggest coaching turnover since 2004 will firm up Jacobs’ footing. He already has turned Auburn eyes forward after a brutal school year in the most high-profile sports, and that was quite a feat.

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
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