Just two Decembers ago, Jay Jacobs stood on the winners' platform in the Georgia Dome, savoring the moment as confetti rained on the Auburn Tigers. Still, not even the euphoria of the moment or understandable human pride compelled Jacobs to gloat as Gene Chizik, the man he came under intense criticism for hiring, hoisted the SEC championship trophy.
"It's not about who is right," Jacobs said. "It's about getting it right."
Two years later, as the football program under Chizik has done a shocking nose dive, those words ring true. It's not about who was or is right. It's about getting it right. That is why the question is no longer if Chizik will survive this collapse, but whether Jacobs will go down with him.
If Jacobs wants to avoid taking the fall, he needs to develop a plan to replace Chizik while he still has anything to do with the decision.
It's generally my policy not to advocate a coach's firing merely for losing games -- or failing to win enough to satisfy the extremists among the fan base. Now, advocating firing a coach for having an affair with a subordinate -- be it a secretary (Mike DuBose) or a student-athlete development coordinator (Bobby Petrino) -- that's a pig of a different color.
And to be technically correct, this isn't a "Fire Gene Chizik" column. At least not per se. That decision rests with Jay Gogue, the university president.
But that decision seems inevitable, just as it was inevitable for Derek Dooley after Tennessee lost consecutively to Missouri and to Vanderbilt.
It's bad enough that Auburn will finish winless in the SEC for the first time since 1980. But bad seasons -- sometimes even horrendous seasons -- can be forgiven.
What has doomed Chizik is the growing despondency among the fan base. Paid attendance dropped by 10,000 as the season spiraled downward. Actual attendance plummeted even more. The majority of those who did show up for the Georgia game were in the parking lot by the fourth quarter. That is, except for the thousands of Georgia fans who turned Jordan-Hare Stadium into Sanford West.
It's expensive to fire coaches these days. Dooley's buyout was reported to be $5 million. Chizik's contract, amended June 9, 2011, is confusing. It states that his buyout after the second season would be $7.5 million. But then it states the following:
"Any partial years shall be calculated on a pro rated basis. For example, the $10 million Buyout Amount following Season 1 will decrease to $7.5 million on a prorated basis beginning December 1, 2011, so that each month between December 1, 2011 and December 1, 2012, the amount of the buyout will decrease by $208,334."
This would be offset marginally by the cancellation of a loan of $150,000 a year from Auburn to Chizik to pay for his contract buyout from Iowa State.
So is it $7.5 million or $5 million? Whatever, we'll
let the lawyers haggle over the sloppy language and money.
Either way, the cost of firing Chizik would be about $2.5 million a year. The cost of not firing him could be even greater. If they sell 10,000 fewer season tickets, at an average of $70 a ticket, that's a loss of $700,000.
That doesn't include lost revenue to the Tigers Unlimited Fund, which could range from $100 per season ticket package to $2,500.
Lower attendance means lower concessions and paraphernalia sales and seat chair rentals.
What you can't put a price on is school pride. Seeing fans leave by the thousands during the games or the sections of empty seats Saturday for the Alabama A&M game certainly got Gogue's attention.
Technically, the decision regarding Chizik is made by Gogue. But in reality, it already has been made for him.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org