Guerry Clegg commentary: What's wrong with this picture of Auburn basketball?

sports@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 16, 2013 

Gene Chizik wins just three football games -- just two years after winning a national championship -- and gets fired almost as soon as the team bus rolls back into the Auburn parking lot.

Tony Barbee wins just three conference basketball games -- his third consecutive losing season -- and gets … a vote of confidence from his athletic director, Jay Jacobs.

And that speaks volumes to what is wrong with Auburn basketball.

Nobody really cares.

You could make the case that Chizik's firing illustrates that SEC fans care too much about football. Well, except Kentucky and Vanderbilt fans. But one bad season -- OK, one train-wreck of a season -- cost Chizik his job. He was fired not so much because he had lost the confidence of his AD. Rather, he lost the confidence -- what little he ever had -- of the Auburn fans, specifically those who write the big checks.

The men's basketball season that just ended was every bit as horrendous as the football season. The 23 losses tied a record for any SEC team. Despite playing in the sparkling Auburn Arena, the Tigers ranked 12th out of 14 SEC schools in attendance, averaging 7,788 fans per game.

Yet, Jacobs offered this support of Barbee, as reported by the Ledger-Enquirer's Aaron Brenner:

"My expectation is for our program to show significant improvement under Coach Barbee's leadership. Coach Barbee and I will continue to work together to support our basketball program at the highest level so we can give our fans the kind of program they expect and deserve."

Significant improvement … where have we heard those words before.

Ah, yes. That was the mandate after the 1994 football season from then-Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley for Ray Goff. A year later, after failing to achieve any improvement, let alone significant, Goff was fired.

On what basis does Jacobs think the Tigers will improve under Barbee? The Tigers have taken significant steps backward since Barbee's arrival. They are 35-59 under Barbee. They were 96-93 in six seasons under Jeff Lebo. They have 12 conference wins in that span. Only South Carolina with 11 has fewer, other than conference newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri.

After getting bounced from the tournament, Barbee said he took "full responsibility" for the season.

"I told the guys, I didn't coach them very well this year. So I apologized to them," Barbee said.

Apologized. Really? Barbee's bravado is on par with Chizik's "we're going to own this" statements after every loss.

The bottom line, of course, is the financial bottom line. It would cost Auburn $3 million to buy out Barbee's contract -- four years at $750,000 per year. Maybe the checkbooks are running low after Chizik's costly buyout. But where there's a will when it comes to firing a coach, there's a financial way.

On a tangential note: If Jacobs even hints giving any more crippling buyouts to coaches, the next contract buyout should be his.

Jacobs was almost right about one thing. If the Auburn fans -- again, the ones who write the big checks -- don't care enough to put the heat on Jacobs, maybe this is the kind of program they can expect.

And if that's the case, if the root of the problem is apathy or low expectations, then they are already getting the program they deserve.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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