Auburn AD Jacobs responds to criticism of search

Picked 'best fit for Auburn'

abitter@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 16, 2008 

— With the coaching search over and a large weight removed from his shoulders, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs spoke about the 10-day ordeal that ended in Gene Chizik’s hiring, revealing that he had no shortage of advisers throughout the process.

“Some requested and some unrequested,” he joked.

The levity came on the heels of the most important hire of Jacobs’ four years as athletic director, one that will undoubtedly define his tenure.

Jacobs expressed confidence that he got “the right guy,” but early reviews have not been favorable.

Auburn’s most visible alum, former NBA star Charles Barkley, told that he was disappointed by the hire.

“I think race was the No. 1 factor,” said Barkley, who supported Buffalo coach Turner Gill’s candidacy. “You can say it’s not about race, but you can’t compare the two résumés and say (Chizik) deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst résumé.”

Gill went 8-5 at Buffalo this year, winning the MAC championship. Chizik went 2-10 at Iowa State, losing his final 10 games.

“My reaction is I was picking the best fit for Auburn,” Jacobs said in response to Barkley’s comment.

The public response has been equally harsh. Internet message-board posters have been slow to warm to Chizik. One particularly vocal fan voiced his displeasure of the decision when Jacobs arrived at the Auburn-Opelika airport Saturday after news spread that a hire had been made. Jacobs shrugged it off.

“I’m not disappointed at all,” he said. “I mean, you know, football at Auburn is a great, unifying thing. So I don’t take anything from that.

“I’ve been involved in this business for 28 years as a former player and coach and I’ve seen a lot of things, but one thing that I love about this game that keeps all of us employed is passion.”

Jacobs was front and center throughout the search. He touted Auburn’s approach to go “through the front door” with its search, formally requesting permission from athletic directors to speak with every coach he interviewed.

“That’s just me,” Jacobs said. “We’re going to do things the right way, with integrity and class, and we’re going to treat people the way they like to be treated, and we’re going to tell the truth.

“And sometimes that doesn’t resonate with people, but, if your words and deeds match up at some point, everybody will catch on.”

Asked if that were a hindrance in trying to approach some coaches who preferred to keep a low profile, Jacobs had a quick response.

“Maybe we just weeded out some of the faint-hearted,” he said.

Jacobs relied on a close cadre of advisers. Former all-SEC linebacker Quentin Riggins, who serves as the Auburn radio sideline reporter, was prominently involved. He was on the flight to Fort Worth, Texas, where Auburn initially made contact with Chizik.

Ultimately, though, the decision was Jacobs’. Auburn president Jay Gogue, who was absent from Monday’s press conference, didn’t get involved until he flew to Memphis on Saturday to meet with Chizik.

Asked Monday what he thought of the perception that prominent trustee Bobby Lowder lords over the program and its decision-making, Jacobs protested.

“There is a chain of command,” Jacobs said. “And we’re going to operate in that chain of command. And we’re not going to operate outside of that. And that’s where we’re doing business.”

When pressed to clarify that order, Jacobs responded, “The head coach reports to me. And I report to the president.”

He closed his comment with one more bit of levity.

“Thank you for asking that,” he said with a wry smile.

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