Joe Medley: Decision time for Jacobs, and he needs to get this one right
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Mar 13, 2013 | 4841 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The year in high-profile sports is over for Auburn, mercifully.

The men’s basketball team, which bowed out of the SEC tournament with a 71-62 loss to Texas A&M on Wednesday, won three games against league competition.

The football team won three games all season in 2012, none against SEC competition.

It was nothing like 1998-99, when the basketball team got Auburn fans over a 3-win football season by winning an SEC title and earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Far from it.

How far?

Almost as far apart as Tony Barbee and a .500 record as Auburn’s basketball coach. He’s 35-59.

Almost as far apart as Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs and that 2010 national title in football. Auburn is 11-14 since.

The football team just suffered its worst season in 60 years. The basketball team just suffered a program-worst 23 losses with single-digit victories.

For Auburn fans, that amounts to six miserable months with about six more to go before Gus Malzahn coaches his first football game with the Tigers.

Maybe the baseball team, off to a 13-3 start, can recover some sports dignity, but the Tigers will have to earn their first College World Series berth since 1997 for anyone to notice. That’s when the broader public starts watching college baseball.

The book on the major sports year is all but written for Auburn, and count Auburn among the least of these in the most-watched sports. It’s a hard-hitting book that leads to tough questions.

If a 3-9 football season got Gene Chizik fired two years after he won a national title, then what does a 9-23 basketball season with a 3-16 record against SEC competition do to Barbee? Hired in time for the 2010 opening of the $92.5 million Auburn Arena, he hasn’t produced a winning season in it.

He has two 20-loss seasons, one more 20-loss season than in all of Auburn’s previous seasons.

Where does all of this leave Jacobs, who hired Chizik and Barbee to lead the two sports that matter most to fans?

If Barbee is fired, then Jacobs will have presided over buyouts totaling more than $14 million in one school year. That’s $11.09 million for Chizik and his staff plus more than $3 million for Barbee.

Jacobs was promoted to AD after leading Tigers Unlimited, the fund-raising arm of Auburn athletics. Good thing he raised all of that money.

The irony would be if the buyout for Chizik and his staff played any role in Auburn keeping another floundering coach. Maybe that’s why Jacobs pleaded for patience in a Feb. 5 letter to Tigers Unlimited members.

Jacobs needs to plead for patience for himself.

The hiring of Malzahn at least comes with the perception of fixing a mistake. Many Auburn fans see Malzahn as the real mind behind that 2010 national title because of his work as offensive coordinator.

Malzahn’s subsequent staff hires and promising haul in his first recruiting class at least give Auburn fans reason to expect better days in the sport that matters most to them.

It’s hard to know what the fix would be for Auburn basketball, which seems stuck in a cycle of premature roster comings and goings that predates Barbee.

Whatever decision Jacobs makes in his postseason evaluation of the basketball program, he’d better get it right. Major college sports is a bottom-line endeavor, and he’s running out of costly mistakes to fix.

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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