Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs has emerged from one of the toughest periods in the department's history with the university administration's support moving forward.
At the completion of an external review of Auburn’s athletics department, university president Jay Gogue gave his support to athletics director Jay Jacobs in an open letter Monday addressed to the “Auburn Family.”
Mac Crawford, who worked alongside Jacobs to hire football coach Gus Malzahn in December and most recently was one of six people on a committee reviewing Auburn's athletics department, became the latest to back Jacobs on Monday afternoon.
"Our review shows that overall, the Athletics Department is in good shape," Crawford said in a statement, "but there are some areas where improvements can be made and our committee believes Jay Jacobs knows how to make those improvements. Now it's time to move forward, get to work, and become even more successful. Dr. Gogue has listened to our recommendations and I think that's good news for Auburn and for Auburn Athletics."
In Gogue's letter — which can be read in its entirety at the bottom of this story — the president wrote Auburn must improve the athletics department’s “overall operations … upgrade how we interact and communicate with fans and alumni, and enhance the game-day experience, on and off the field.”
Those topics have been the focus of frequent conversations with Jacobs, Gogue wrote.
Jacobs is expected to address any upcoming changes Tuesday morning when he speaks with the Auburn Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m confident he will move forward to put in place a plan to give the Auburn family what we all expect,” Gogue wrote in the letter.
“There’s much to celebrate about Auburn Athletics, but there’s also room for substantial improvement,” Gogue concluded in his letter. “I look forward to Jay providing the leadership needed to make the necessary improvements.”
Here is the six-person committee that has reviewed Auburn’s athletics department in the past month: Dave Maggard, special assistant to the athletics director at Oregon State; former Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone; LSU associate athletics director/senior women's administrator Judy Southard; former Auburn player and senior vice president of AT&T John Irwin; and former Auburn player and vice president for governmental relations at Alabama Power Co. Quentin Riggins; Crawford, a businessman and former Auburn football player.
Gogue asked the committee to focus on five primary areas, the same he uses to evaluate to the athletics department annually: academic and support services for student-athletes; financial management; customer service; competition, including winning, sportsmanship and compliance; and management structure.
In a one-on-one interview with the Opelika-Auburn News last month, Jacobs admitted it’s been a “tough year” for his athletics department.
Two seasons removed from a national championship, Jacobs fired former football coach Gene Chizik in November. Chizik was Jacobs’ hand-picked replacement for Tommy Tuberville, but couldn’t outlast a 3-9 2012 season — the program’s worst in 60 years.
Other programs have struggled in the past year. Auburn’s men’s basketball team lost 15 of its final 16 games — the worst stretch in any season — and finished last in the SEC. Until recently, the baseball team was headed in the same direction, but five wins in six games and two SEC series victories have rectified their path.
“The passion of Auburn people is great, and nobody wants us to exceed better than I do,” Jacobs told the Opelika-Auburn News. “I grew up an Auburn fan, was a walk-on football player, and I’ve been working in this department my entire life. It’s been tough on all of us. The way we hold up is the Auburn family — the encouraging each other, and just knowing we’re going to make it better.”
Jacobs’ brightest moment arguably came in the past month, when Auburn thoroughly refuted allegations of major NCAA violations and a culture that enabled an epidemic of synthetic marijuana in reports from sports writer Selena Roberts and ESPN.
Jacobs wrote two separate open letters to the Auburn family, defending his program against the two reports. It was the kind of transparency Auburn fans have long asked for, and something that apparently will become a regular approach in the future, should similar situations arise.
“I’m tired of it,” Jacobs said in a video released by the university, explaining why he so aggressively protected his department’s reputation. “I’m tired of these attacks on Auburn. When people attack Auburn, I’m going to fight for Auburn. As strongly as I possibly can, I’m going to defend this institution. And if we make a mistake, we’re going to admit it. But when people say things that aren’t true, we’re going to set the record straight. You know, the past couple of years we’ve been scrutinized probably more than any school in the nation. And the fact is that our football program hasn’t had a major infraction in 20 years. That’s the truth, and that’s the fact. We’re going to continue to fight for Auburn every day and defend it as strongly as I possibly can.”
Here is the full letter from Auburn University president Jay Gogue:
Dear Auburn Family,
The committee I appointed to review operations of Auburn Athletics as part of the Department’s annual evaluation has provided its findings. I’m grateful to members of the committee for their hard work, good thinking and dedication to helping Auburn Athletics move forward.
We asked the committee to review the Department’s total body of work with a focus on five areas: academic and support services for student-athletes; financial management; customer service; competition, including winning, sportsmanship and compliance; and management structure.
Athletics Director Jay Jacobs and I have talked in length about their recommendations. In general, they center on steps to improve overall operations of the Department, upgrade how we interact and communicate with fans and alumni, and enhance the game-day experience, on and off the field. Jay will talk in more detail about what’s in store, and I’m confident he will move forward to put in place a plan to give the Auburn family what we all expect.
There’s much to celebrate about Auburn Athletics, but there’s also room for substantial improvement. I look forward to Jay providing the leadership needed to make the necessary improvements.
Ryan Wood is the Auburn University Sports Beat Writer for the Opelika-Auburn News.
Follow on Twitter @aublog