Guerry Clegg commentary: Winners create their own luck

sports@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 6, 2013 

Luck? Well, sure. When an ill-advised, overthrown desperation pass bounces off of the defensive players hands and has enough hang time for the receiver to run under it, yeah, what else do you call it but luck?

Just as it was luck that an official ruled that Georgia's Aaron Murray cracked the goal line -- a call so close that no even reply could settle definitely.

Just as it was luck when Alabama's Terrence Cody stuck his huge hand in the air and blocked a field goal against Tennessee four years ago.

Just as it was luck that Georgia's Chris Conley instinctively caught a pass not even intended for him on the final play of the SEC championship game last year against Alabama.

Luck is part of sports.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were lucky that Juan Uribe twice failed to get a bunt down in the playoffs against the Braves. Moments later, Uribe was the hero after drilling a hanging breaking ball into the left field seats.

Luck happens.

To suggest that Auburn won the SEC West this year, completing the greatest turnaround in conference history history, on the mere good fortune of a couple of plays is an injustice. The Tigers went 11-1 in the same manner in which they went winless in the SEC last year. They earned it.

If Auburn beats Missouri today at the Georgia Dome, the Tigers will be champions of the toughest conference in college football, one that has produced seven consecutive national champions and more NFL players than any other league. You don't luck into that.

In any other year, we would be talking about Missouri's turnaround as the most improbably route to the SEC championship game.

Gary Pinkel would be a slam-dunk choice as SEC Coach of the Year, and a strong contender for the national award. From a losing season and 2-6 record in their SEC maiden voyage to East champs was quite impressive.

But what Auburn has done under Gus Malzahn is nothing short of miraculous. It's the greatest single-season turnaround that I've ever seen.

There may be others to rival it statistically. But the scene on Pat Dye Field at Jordan-Hare Stadium a week ago was surreal. Chris Davis's field-goal return with no time left on the clock when he caught the ball 9 yards deep in his end zone did more than give Auburn a shocking 34-28 victory over Alabama. It set off a celebration unlike we've ever seen on that historic field.

It was such a stark contrast to the mass exoduses of disgusted fans that became the last image of the 2012 season.

It would have been daunting enough if Malzahn just had to rebuild a program.

But he had to do something far more difficult.

He had to change a culture of losing. He also had to unify the factions at Auburn, which no one -- not even Dye himself -- has ever been able to accomplish.

There was a faction that said more or less, integrity be damned, let's hire Bobby Petrino.

For all of his reputation as a brilliant offensive mind, Malzahn possessed a resume that was sparse on college experience.

Even so, he reached out to former Tigers Dameyune Craig and Rodney Garner, plucking them away from Florida State and Georgia. He turned the defense over to Ellis Johnson, an experienced and respected defensive coordinator, who was the absolute perfect choice.

Inside the locker room, Malzahn changed attitudes from Day 1. The Gus Bus was open to anyone who wanted to board, but it waited for no one.

Finally, he identified the single most important recruiting need -- finding a quarterback who could run his system without a huge learning curve. He also adapted his play-calling to take advantage of Nick Marshall's strengths.

Luck? Yeah, Auburn got lucky. Really lucky.

The Tigers were lucky to pluck Gus Malzahn out of his home state of Arkansas while the Razorbacks decided to hire a "name" coach in Bret Bielema. As long as the Tigers can keep Malzahn, the luck will follow.

Funny how that corresponds.

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

Ledger-Enquirer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service