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Players’ conduct cuts Auburn and Chizik adrift in uncharted seas
Posted by shane sez on Monday March 14 2011 @ 11:07AM CDT
[ Shane Sez ]
As I sat down to pen this week’s commentary, I rifled through the files of my mind searching for the right topic. Should I write about “March Madness”? After all, it’s college basketball’s better version of football’s BCS series, isn’t it? Or, maybe I should pontificate on the growing popularity of spring football? Amazingly, the annual inter-squad games have become huge public relations and recruiting events, serving a key role in promoting the “elite” status of a program. Honestly, the main topic – and I know this goes without saying - totally overshadows the first two. The startling revelation that four football players had been arrested for one of the most heinous crimes known to man – invading the privacy of an American home, armed with a gun, while taking the property of the victims using deadly force – has Auburn University caught on the horns of a dilemma.

Somebody said earlier - while referring to Auburn’s NCAA issues - that perception problems during the Cam Newton saga would be a footnote by the time the Tigers' troubles were over. Frankly, I didn’t believe it would happen, but this terrible crime has staggered my imagination. It boggles the normal mind. I’ve racked my brain searching for even a semi-rational explanation and it just leaves me at a loss.

Look, there’s no use beating around the bush. The eyes of the football world have been focused on Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers for at least the last four to five months. National titles tend to turn the winners into media magnets.

The potential fallout from a crime of this epic proportion occurring in such a relatively short period of time after hoisting THE trophy has to raise this question: Is Auburn its own worst enemy? Honestly, doesn’t it seem like every time Auburn reaches the summit it somehow ends up cutting off its nose to spite its face?

Nevertheless, as I watched the motley crew (I’ve nicknamed them “felony-four”) I began to understand that there will be a classic “moment of truth” coming for head coach Gene Chizik. His day of reckoning is fast approaching. There’s no need to mince words – you can throw out the credit Coach Chizik might get for immediately dismissing the “felony-four” in a case considered to be this egregious. Besides, I would think that it would be a mandatory move controlled by institutional policy.

Kevin Scarbinsky, the local print-media’s top opinion-maker almost got it right when he publicly acknowledged in print that Coach Chizik and his program have a serious public image problem, but I don’t think he went far enough. In no uncertain terms, Chizik – or any head football coach - will be held ultimately responsible for every aspect of the program. That’s why they pay him a fortune.

Has Chizik been too busy basking in his conquest - "fiddling while Rome burns"? Million-dollar head coaches are supposed to have the bull by the horns. Sure, Chizik has a large group of kids he is responsible for, but he also has nine highly-paid assistants and countless support staff to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Yet, somewhere along the line these players (Eric Smith included) have pulled the wool over Gene Chizik's and assistant head coach Trooper Taylor’s eyes. The dismissal of five players from the team for alleged involvement in violent crimes puts some credence to rumors of the “swag crew” and casts doubt about Chizik’s ability to control his players.

I wonder where the Auburn staff members - guys that could’ve helped prevent this horrible incident – like assistant head coach Trooper Taylor, Team Chaplin Chette Williams, or team consultant Pat Dye (has many year’s experience as head coach) - were before this happening. Why wasn’t at least one of these highly-trained men able to spot the probable troublemakers before they went "off the rails"?

From a distance it must appear that Auburn is like a house on fire. Coach Gene Chizik is definitely on the clock, and I’m not sure if he can put out the fire completely, mainly because the national press is about to throw the book at the Tiger football program.

I do think that time is of the essence. The powers-that-be must quickly make an agonizing reappraisal of the entire system in order to find out why these young men went berserk. Hopefully, the overall environment within the team isn’t conducive to this type of deranged anti-social behavior.

In fact, one would like to believe that the “felony-four” incident is isolated in nature, but Chizik’s controversial handling of former running-back Eric Smith’s case set a dangerous precedent. Smith committed a brutal attack on an Auburn student, yet he was allowed to remain on the football team. I think it’s interesting to note that a few weeks ago Chizik and Auburn had to finally distance themselves from Smith and take back his scholarship because he assaulted someone again.

In the final analysis, the problems at Auburn may be more than meets the eye. In the past, Auburn has been able to keep player transgressions under the cloak of secrecy. Those days are long gone. As a result, Gene Chizik is the "on point". In the end, he is going to ultimately be held accountable for everything that happens down at the loveliest village on the Plains. If Chizik is going to save Auburn’s reputation and clean up the war eagle’s image - especially for recruiting purposes - he needs to do it now. The coach needs to make sure all criminal-type activity ceases and somehow he must insure that nothing like last week’s travesty ever happens again.

< Absit invidia: My observations and criticisms from 2010 and more | Spring is Here >

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