Was Auburn Racist Over Turner Gill? NO! Now SYRACUSE, on the Other Hand...

Gerald BallCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2008

Auburn did not refuse to hire Turner Gill because he was black or because he had a white wife. Quite the contrary: Auburn University badly wanted to hire the man. He was high on their list, one of the first persons that they interviewed, and they brought him in hoping to introduce him as their coach that very same day.

So what happened? Gill and Auburn had serious disagreements over how the program was to be run. In things ranging from hiring of assistants to general philosophy, Auburn wanted to run the program the Auburn way and Gill wanted to run it his way. Once Auburn discovered this, there was no point in continuing discussions.

That is why Gill's interview is being described as "outstanding and brief." Outstanding because they were very impressed with Gill—brief because they knew that he was not their guy.

Do not claim that this is just some line contrived by Auburn people to justify their decision. Why? Because it was the same reason why Mike Leach of Texas Tech and Gary Patterson of TCU, two men incontrovertibly more qualified than Gill, were never considered.

Also, do not claim that Auburn wanted to give Gill less freedom than they would have given a comparable white head coach, or that they wanted a frontman of any race for the boosters and interests behind the scene, such as the notorious Bobby Lowder.

First off, the media tagged Lowder as a bad guy because of his role in running off Terry Bowden. Before Terry Bowden, no one outside of Auburn circles knew or cared about the guy. But after Bowden's exit, he and the faction that opposed him was labeled with every caricature of the typical Southern football factory.

Why? Because the media loved Terry Bowden. He represents everything that the media likes about and wants in a football coach (let's just say that he was beloved for precisely the same reason as was Rick Neuheisel), and the media presumed that the Lowder faction wanted Bowden out because of a resistance to change.

The truth is that Bowden was only hired because of his last name and was soon exposed as a horrible football coach for reasons that will not be recounted.

But instead of pointing out that the Lowder faction was vindicated after not one single other college program would touch Terry Bowden with a 10-foot pole (yes, Bowden has applied for other jobs, lots of them, including some rather undesirable ones, and the fellow is now working for Yahoo), the media still blame that faction for everything bad (or should I say everything that the media disagrees with) ever since.

This includes the 2003 fiasco with Tommy Tuberville. Why was it a fiasco? Because it didn't succeed.

Yes, Tuberville was a winning coach. So was Ron Zook when Florida fired him. So was Jim Donnan when UGA fired him. So was Bob Toledo when UCLA fired him. So was Frank Solich when Nebraska fired him. So was John Cooper when Ohio State fired him. So were Paul Hackett and John Robinson when USC fired them.

So what is so unusual about firing a winning but underachieving or otherwise flawed coach and trying to get a better one? Nothing at all. But the media took the occasion to attack the Lowder faction because they were still mad at them for forcing out Terry Bowden.

See, during the early years of Tommy Tuberville's era at Auburn, the other SEC powers were down for one reason or another, and Tuberville took advantage of it to recruit the most talented team in the SEC. What did Tuberville do with that great advantage? Go 9-4 in 2002 and 8-5 in 2003, including back-to-back humiliating losses to obviously less talented but better coached intrastate rivals UGA.

The culprit: Tuberville's meddling with and complete mishandling of the offense. By 2003, Tuberville had gone through his third offensive coordinator in four years, wasting the future NFL QB and three future NFL RBs in his backfield (not to mention a great offensive line and very good WRs).

But the national media didn't care about that. To them, it was just the same fellow who ran off their beloved progressive Terry Bowden because they wanted to stay in the stone ages running off Tuberville.

Tuberville's going 0-4 against UGA and USC? Well, to them that was a good thing. After all, they like Richt and UGA and especially Pete Carroll and USC anyway. So why fire him over that? It isn't like Auburn is ever going to beat those teams anyway. They're just Auburn! So be glad that Tuberville is beating Alabama...while they aren't any good.

But lo and behold, again the Lowder faction was proven correct. Bobby Petrino proved to be a fantastic coach at Louisville. Tuberville, meanwhile, has since burned through two more offensive coordinators, switched offensive philosophies three times, and was trying to hire yet a third offensive coordinator when he was forced out.

Also, the window that Tuberville should have taken advantage of to make Auburn into one of the top two or three programs in the SEC is closed. LSU, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia have great recruiters and proven coaches. As a matter of fact, so do Ole Miss (which by the way is a sleeping giant; there is a lot of talent in that state which usually goes elsewhere), South Carolina, and oh yeah, Arkansas hired someone named Petrino.

If Tuberville only won one SEC title when the SEC wasn't that strong, he had no shot at competing in the strongest collection of SEC coaches in history. They had to upgrade.

But the media depicts this as another out of control situation at Auburn. Never mind that Auburn has continued to drop off from that 2004 team as the talent left, as the Lowder faction knew would happen. Never mind that Tuberville has continued to mess up the offensive side of the ball, as the Lowder faction knew.

And never mind that Petrino has since proven himself to be an incontrovertibly better coach, as the Lowder faction knew. Petrino finished with the same record, 5-7, in his first year at an Arkansas program with much less talent (Petrino didn't even have a viable QB).

Where Arkansas beat LSU, Auburn had everyone thinking that they were a threat to get back to the title game. Oh yeah, Petrino's Arkansas also beat Auburn. Not that anyone but the Lowder faction seems to have noticed.

So now, the group that the national media has hated because they forced out Terry Bowden (never mind that all the Bowden legacies are now out of college football) is blaming Auburn over this Gill hire. Some are calling them racist.

Others are calling them incompetent, such as Stewart Mandel and Matt Hayes. If it were up to Hayes in particular, Neuheisel would still be at Colorado, Bowden would still be at Auburn, and Turner Gill would have taken a lateral move to New Mexico.

That's right: Matt Hayes actually suggested in a recent column that Turner Gill should resign from Buffalo, where he could have three losing seasons in a row and still keep his job, in favor of New Mexico, who just forced out Rocky Long, who had that program bowl eligible every year from 2002-2007!

So, there is this nonsense that Chizik was hired over Gill. Nonsense. Chizik was only hired after Auburn made the correct decision not to hire Gill. Why was it correct? Because you do not give a guy who played and coached most of his career in the Big 12 and has had one winning season out of three at the mid-major level carte blanche at an SEC program. You only get that after you have proven yourself in the SEC.

This is not exclusive to Gill. When Urban Meyer came to Florida, he had to hire or retain Charlie Strong and a bunch of other assistants that have strong SEC or Florida ties. When Nick Saban came to LSU, he left his entire staff at Michigan State. And so on.

It is also not exclusive to the SEC. Let's say you are applying to be head coach in the Pac-10. Go tell them that you want to win by running the football and playing defense like they do in the SEC and Big Ten, or they did in the Big 12 before Stoops.

Oh yes, and tell them that you will be bringing in Jim Bob and Hank Joe as your coordinators, and that to bring your team closer together, you all would go hang out at the annual rattlesnake roundup and partake in some good old fashioned mud-wrasslin' and pig castratin'!

The president and AD of that Pac-10 program will pat you on the back and say, "Sir, we know that you are going to be an excellent head coach one day. YOU JUST WON'T BE ONE HERE!" And that will be the end of it. That's precisely what happened with Turner Gill...a routine football decision where it was a bad fit between a qualified candidate and a desirable job.

(Yes, Turner Gill did want the Auburn job, and if it were the madhouse that everyone claims, he would have never even bothered, just as he told Washington State he wasn't interested last year and Iowa State the same this year...not saying that WSU and ISU are madhouses, but rather that Gill is very prudent and selective at where he chooses to interview.)

Now Gill has been told "bad fit" before. But this was one instance where it was true. With no ties to the institution, the region, or the conference, Gill would have had to give concessions to his potential employer before they would have any reason to be confident that he would succeed, and Gill refused to make those concessions.

So Auburn found someone who A) was a very good coordinator, B) had ties to the school, C) had ties to the area, and D) was willing to make those concessions and hired him.

We know that D) is true because the first thing that Chizik said after he was hired was, "We are going to get back to Auburn football." Gill wanted to get Auburn to Gill football, and while Gill football is good for Buffalo and may have worked for Nebraska, there was no evidence that it would work at Auburn.

You can fault Auburn for making a safe choice versus a risky choice. But why should Auburn have been the one to make all the concessions? Gill was the one looking for the job. Why couldn't Gill have been the one to recognize that he was the guy with meager credentials and no connections or ties being offered a chance to coach a top program in the SEC and made the very reasonable and routine concessions required to get the job?

Again, Nick Saban did the same to get the LSU job. Now while beating Ball State in the MAC championship game was great for Gill, it WAS NOT the same as going 9-2 at Michigan State with Plaxico Burress and little else, as Saban had just done.

This not to say that Gill should be faulted either. Coaching is a high stress job, and coaches highly value their own comfort level. A coach is only going to succeed if he is comfortable, and it may be that at this time in his head coaching career (which again is very young) Gill is only comfortable surrounded by his people and doing things his way.

Besides, go tell Mike Leach, "You're a fantastic coach and we'd love to have you, but you'll have to run your program the way Jim Tressel does his. After all, Tressel has won several BCS bowl games and a national title." Reply: Thanks but no thanks.

So now you know why Gill was not hired. Now you know why Gill insists that he was not mistreated. And now you know why the media has chosen to trash Auburn instead of other better candidates for racist coaching hires.

Which better candidates? How about COLORADO in the 1990s? Bob Simmons had been a part of building that program for many years and had helped build West Virginia in years prior. Rick Neuheisel, on the other hand, was in his early 30s, had only been in coaching a few seasons, and had only been at Colorado one year, his first with coordinator-type responsibilities (where Simmons was defensive coordinator and assistant head coach). Even better: Bill McCartney endorsed Simmons for the job!

Well, the job went to Neuheisel, and the guys who made the decision begged Simmons to stay on and be the head recruiter and administrator—to actually run the program behind the scenes—so Neuheisel could focus on his offensive scheme and gameday coaching (the only thing that he knew a thing about) while receiving the credit and pay of a head coach.

Of course, Simmons declined and ultimately took a job at Oklahoma State, which at the time was suffering from massive sanctions, scholarship reductions, outdated facilities, and had no tradition...one of the worst jobs in the country.

Jesse Jackson even attempted to make it an issue and urged Simmons to file a racial discrimination lawsuit, which Simmons would have certainly won. (Simmons declined.)

The same media rags that are now trashing Auburn, including ESPN? They rushed to the defense of Colorado. They criticized Jackson for getting involved, poking his nose where it didn't belong. Sure, on paper Neuheisel was less qualified, but couldn't they see that there was something different about Neuheisel? Something special?

USA Today actually ran a major story about Neuheisel, calling him "the next Bobby Bowden." They stated, "Sure, this lack of black coaches issue is a legitimate one, one that we have talked about, but not at this time."

Why? Because the media supported the hire. Period.

Want another one? Well, there is SYRACUSE THIS YEAR. The issues and concerns that Auburn had, legitimate ones, aren't a factor. Where Gill would have followed a fellow at Auburn who went 85-40, Syracuse hasn't had a winning season since 2001. Where Auburn is a football factory, Syracuse is a basketball school.

Where Gill would have had to compete with some of the nation's best coaches at very strong programs in the SEC, the last three Big East champions are Cincinnati (ranked behind Utah, Boise, and two loss mid-major TCU in the BCS!), West Virginia, and Louisville (with the head coaches of the latter two having left for better pastures, and the coach of the former soon to do so as well).

Gill runs the same West Coast pro style offense that Syracuse AD Daryl Gross wants to run. Gill has also proven that he can rebuild a program and win in New York state, with recruits like 6'3", 230-lb. Houston prep QB Darius Willis, who was recruited by Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.

Syracuse first tried to get in on Lane Kiffin but was beaten to the punch by Tennessee. (Again, no media outrage over their failure to so much as interview Gill or Charlie Strong, because the media likes the Kiffin hire just as much as they liked the Neuheisel one. And the difference between Kiffin and Chizik is what precisely?) They then tried to hire Brian Kelly but were rebuffed. Then they begged and pleaded for at least a week for Skip Holtz to take the job before finally giving up.

Now Syracuse had already interviewed Gill during all this time, but they bring him in again. Why? The first interview was fake, the sort of things that colleges do for show while they are going after the guys that they really want behind the scenes. With those three candidates (plus any number of others) having told Syracuse no, Gill was being brought back for an actual interview for the purposes of finally considering for the job.

That is, well, sort of. Syracuse made it known to Gill that he would only be hired if their second batch of candidates didn't work out. Now it is curious that another highly regarded black prospect who was linked to the Syracuse job, Mike Locksley, saw that he had no shot and took the New Mexico job.

(New Mexico, following the thinking of Houston last year, is following a trend of some Western mid-majors in thinking that maybe a black head coach will deliver the black Texas and California talent that will allow them to compete with Utah, BYU, TCU, and Boise.)

That Syracuse never had any real interest in Gill was not exactly a big secret. Long before the Marrone hire, it had been filtering out onto some websites and blogs.

As Marrone, a longtime NFL assistant and currently an offensive coordinator with no play calling responsibility on a team that will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, and who has been away from college football since 1994 with no college or NFL head coaching experience, is an even worse candidate than Gene Chizik, why the lack of invective at Syracuse that has been aimed at Auburn?

No one has called the Syracuse people racist. No one has even called the Syracuse people incompetent, although their steadily destroying the program that Dick McPherson built, the utterly nonsensical Greg Robinson hire (Daryl Gross insisted that he was the next Pete Carroll), and their badly botched hiring process this season would tend to indicate it.

And why is that? Simple. Auburn is a Southern conservative (by higher education standards) agricultural school. Syracuse is a Northern liberal elite university. It is easy to depict Auburn as racist at worst or a bunch of ignorant rednecks at best. It is hard for these people, the media elites at ESPN and elsewhere, to either conceive that the sort of institution that they attended and sent their kids to is racist or incompetent.

So Auburn, the school that made the right decision for Gill and for itself in turning him down, gets skewered. Syracuse, the school that made the wrong decision, gets off scot-free just like Colorado did.

With Colorado, we were told that Rick Neuheisel was special. Which turned out to be, well, so not true. Neuheisel ran two strong programs into the ground and turned in a worse season last year than Karl Dorrell ever managed.

Now with Syracuse, they trot out Art Monk to repeat the nonsense that Gill didn't want the job, and it is unconditionally accepted by the New York media that gives a forum to Al Sharpton. (By the way, there was a black man on the Auburn board that interviewed Gill as well. Not that the media has told you that.)

Syracuse even put out the nonsense that Gill was trying to play them against Auburn. You mean the school that would have hired him on the spot had he consented to a staff of SEC assistants versus the school that a) could have hired him at any time after they fired their next Pete Carroll way back in mid-November and b) never had him as a serious candidate and c) was still nowhere near offering him a job?

Oh yes, and are we supposed to believe that schools regularly get in a huff and walk away from a candidate because he has an interview set up someplace else? Of course not. As a matter of fact, schools fight over hiring the guy that everyone else wants.

Yet everyone buys it. All of New York is convinced that Gill never wanted the Syracuse job to begin with, that Gill was trying to play Syracuse off against Auburn, and "who does he think he is" and claiming that he should have shown more interest in the Syracuse job in case he falls flat on his face at Buffalo, etc.

It really is unfair to Auburn. It is also unfair to the race issue. Why do we presume that racism only exists among lesser-educated people in the South, among people who go to and root for Auburn? That it does not exist among the Northern elites? That it may well be old money Wall Street blue-blood Northeastern types who bankroll Syracuse athletics that are opposed to a black man with a white wife, as opposed to Alabama cotton magnates?

Speaking of Al Sharpton and Spike Lee, they both say that the reason why they receive so much friction in an otherwise liberal media is that they expose the fact that there is just as much racism in the North among allegedly progressive people and institutions as there is anywhere else.

Had Sharpton held marches in Alabama instead of Bensonhurst, or Spike Lee made South Carolina instead of Brooklyn the subject of Do The Right Thing, they would have been celebrated. Instead, the very liberals who pretended to be so progressive on race reacted with rage when the mirror was shown on themselves.

After all, let's take a look at the Big East, which is mostly Northern institutions. What is their history of hiring black coaches? Well, it appears that they have had ONE in their entire history: Ron Dickerson. At TEMPLE. 1993-1997. Temple isn't even a Big East school anymore, that's how bad a job that was. So it has been FIFTEEN YEARS since the Big East hired its last black football coach to its WORST PROGRAM.

The truth is that Southern programs have a much better record than their Northeastern counterparts. There have been black coaches at Louisville, Wake Forest, and Mississippi State since Temple hired Dickerson, and there is currently a black coach at Miami.

Further, Charlie Strong turned down the Vanderbilt job, Gill could have had the Auburn job if he had wanted it badly enough, and Joker Phillips will be the next head coach at Kentucky. So why is the New York Times going after Auburn instead of looking at their own backyard?

Everyone owes Auburn an apology. (The AP share of the 2003 national title when the Reggie Bust—excuse me, Reggie Bush—investigation finally finishes would be a nice start. I know, I won't hold my breath.) And Syracuse deserves much more scrutiny than they have gotten.


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