June 29, 2013
In 62 days, Gus Malzahn will lead the Auburn team out of the tunnel for his first game as the Tigers’ head coach. What is reasonable to expect as the season unfolds?
Auburn history has something for the most optimistic and most pessimistic fans.
In 1951, Shug Jordan took over an Auburn team that had gone 0-10 the previous season and upset heavily Vanderbilt 24-14 in his first game. He went on to win his first five games before losing his last five. Six years later, he won the national championship.
In 1976, Doug Barfield took over a team that had gone 3-6-2 the previous season. He inherited precious few SEC caliber players and went 3-8 in his first season. His best season came three years later when the Tigers went 8-3.
In 1981, Pat Dye took over a team that had gone 5-6 the previous season. He went 5-6 again, but signs were everywhere that better days were ahead. His second team was 9-3 and his third team was 11-1 and won the SEC championship.
In 1993, Terry Bowden just hoped to find a way to win more than he lost. Instead, he made history by taking the Tigers to an 11-0 record. He won his first 20 games before finally being tied by Georgia in 1994 and losing a heartbreaker, 21-14 to Alabama.
In 1999, Tommy Tuberville inherited a team that had been gosh awful the previous season. Bowden had been fired at midseason and replaced on an interim basis by Bill Oliver. The final record was 3-8. Tuberville went 5-6, then won nine games and played in the SEC Championship Game in 2000.
In 2009, Gene Chizik inherited a team that had gone 5-7 the season before. His first team went 8-5, taking eventual national championship to the final minute at Jordan-Hare Stadium. That set the stage for a 14-0 run to the national championship in 2010.
One thing is certain. Whatever happens in the 2013 season, it will be only the first chapter in the story of Malzahn’s time at Auburn.
The obsessive need to find someone to blame when bad things happen knows no bounds, especially in college football.
New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, a former Florida Gator, was arrested and charged with murder. Then came breathless revelations that he tested positive for marijuana while playing for Urban Meyer at Florida.
Clearly, it is all Meyer’s fault.
Four Vanderbilt players are being investigated for an alleged rape in a campus dormitory and have been kicked off the team.
Clearly, head coach James Franklin shouldn’t have recruited players who might do such a thing.
Four Alabama players were charged last February with assaulting and robbing a defenseless student.
Must be Nick Saban’s fault.
Four former Auburn players were charged with armed robbery in the spring of 2011, and three of them are convicted with one yet to stand trial. Must be Gene Chizik’s fault. Or maybe it was synthetic marijuana’s fault.
I have an idea for your consideration: Maybe all these things are the players’ fault. Maybe they are responsible for their own actions.
The notion has grown over the years that college coaches, particularly college football coaches, are responsible for everything every player does. A player doesn’t graduate? It’s the coach’s fault. A player breaks the law? It’s the coach’s fault. A player has substance abuse problems? It’s the coach’s fault.
The truth is no college coach in any sport wants to deal with those issues. If the four Vanderbilt players did what they are accused of doing, they didn’t represent their school or even their families. They represented themselves. If Hernandez really executed a former friend, it wasn’t because he smoked marijuana at Florida. It was because he is an evil person.
Some 10,000 football players are on scholarship in Division I. Somewhere around twice that many are on scholarship in other sports. Guess what? Out of all those thousands, most are good people but some aren’t. Some are dishonest. Some are prone to violence. So it is with any group of thousands of young adults.
Coaches are obligated to create an atmosphere that fosters doing the right things – working hard, succeeding in school, participating in the community, treating people the way you’d want to be treated.
They can do their best not to sign people likely to have problems. They can lecture. They can provide mentors and bring in motivational speakers. But in the end, it’s up to each individual to be a good person or not, to choose to do the right things or choose to do the wrong things. Bad choices have consequences. Really bad choices have really bad consequences. Evil choices destroy lives.
It’s very sad when a young person gets so badly off track that there can be no recovery. Former Auburn defensive tackle Tommy Jackson, who I profiled here last week, puts it bluntly. Don’t blame the coach. Don’t blame the circumstances. Blame the person who didn’t do the right thing.
“I have to explain to guys on a regular basis that I grew up in a single-parent household in probably the rougher part of Opelika,” Jackson said. “People assume it’s harder for you to make it. It would be a lot easier with a two-parent income and all those things, but that wasn’t our situation. You are faced with obstacles you have to deal with, but you press on and you go.”
In the end, the choices facing a college athlete are the same as those facing anyone else. Either do the right thing or don’t.
No coach can make that choice for the young men who come his way. It’s their choice and they alone are responsible for the consequences.
Until next time ...
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: