Charles Knows Racism...

Hello again everybody...

Hope you're all feeling warm wherever you are. Those of us in Minnesota are daring to dream of double-digits today. As I write today's preamble, it's 8 whole degrees above zero here in the great white North. Okay, the windchill is still -2 degrees, but you can't have anything right?


But it's Minnesota. We expect this sort of thing, right? It's not like people would decide to leave the 60-degree pleasantness of Phoenix to travel into this meteorological morass right? Right?!

Sorry Mom and Dad... but it had to be said!

I'm only writing about one subject today. I've got a big column planned for Friday, so I'll keep it somewhat short today. At least that's the plan. I haven't started writing yet, so who knows where this thing will end up!

Today I'm talking about the controversy surrounding the new head football coach at Auburn University. Was it racism? Was it cronyism? Was it just an awful hiring? I'll tell you what I think.


"In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock."
- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd President of the United States

My man T.J.!

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So what's all the mess down at Auburn?

Let's review.

On December 3rd, former Tiger head coach Tommy Tuberville "resigned". I put "resigned" in quotes, because immediately after that announcement, rumors started to surface that indicated that Tuberville's resignation wasn't so much his wanting to leave as it was Auburn officials paying him $5 million to go away.

I can hardly blame Tommy for taking the offer. All he did was go 6-1 against arch-rival Alabama over the last 7 years, including a season where his team went 11-0. But even with all that success, he was derided and made to feel unwanted by boosters with unrealistic expectations.

Either way, Auburn leadership looked bad given their desire to spin what was essentially a firing as a "resignation".

But apparently the PR wizards at Auburn weren't done trashing the University's image.

Ten days after Tuberville's "resignation", it was announced that Gene Chizik will be the next Tigers head football coach. And nearly immediately, the uproar began.

Chizik is a former Auburn defensive coordinator and had success in that role as well as in his time as Texas defensive coordinator. Those two stints helped him land a job 2 years ago as the head coach at Iowa State... where he compiled a 5-19 record. Now granted, he was taking on a big-time rebuilding project when he took the Iowa State job. But should 5-19 at Iowa State really earn you a job at Auburn which for all intents and purposes is a promotion?

And apparently the Tiger fan-base agreed. According to one poll, nearly 2/3 of the respondents were against the hiring of Chizik.

But the big hubub began when Auburn alumnus and former NBA MVP Charles Barkley accused the administration of blatant racism in the hiring of Chizik.

As it turned out, Auburn officials also interviewed Turner Gill who turned around a moribund Buffalo program and led them to a Mid-American Conference Championship this year. Oh, and by the way, he's also an African-American.

When Gill didn't get the job, Barkley suggested that his race was the reason he didn't get the job:

"I believe race had a factor. Of course I do. First of all, you can't compare these two, their records. That's not even close to being fair. I look at things from a commonsense standpoint; how do you interview Turner Gill and pick Gene Chizik over Turner Gill?"

Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs defended the hiring, claiming that race was not a factor in Chiziks hiring. Rather he said he "picked the best fit for Auburn".

That quote smacks of cronyism to me. And I think ultimately that's what happened here. Jacobs is familiar with Chizik from his time as Auburn Defensive Coordinator. And ultimately he decided to go with the familiar rather than the unfamiliar in Turner Gill.

But I also wonder if Barkley isn't also right. I mean if the "familiar" is 99% white coaches, then isn't hiring the "familiar" a latent form of racism?

Cronyism has always been the reason given as to why there aren't more African-American coaches in a sport dominated by African-American athletes. Simply put, Universities hire people they have a connection to. But if African-Americans aren't given a chance to get their foot in the door, how are they ever supposed to have the opportunity to do the kind of networking that seemingly landed Chizik the Auburn job?

Clearly white kids aren't the only ones who are able to translate their skills as players into skills as coaches. So there has to be a way to more fairly involve African-American coaches in the hiring process for a sport dominated by African-American athletes.

The worst part about this whole deal is that even if you dismiss the potential racism in this situation, it's still a tough hire to defend. Sure, maybe Chizik was lacking the tools he needed to get the Iowa State program turned around. But what exactly is it about a 5-19 record that you can set aside to decide he should be the next coach at what ought to be an SEC powerhouse?!

So why would you hire a guy who's difficult to defend, especially when doing so is going to put you in a position where you'll certainly be accused of racial bias? Arrogance? Incompetence? You'd have to ask the folks at Auburn University I guess, because I can't figure it out.

Was it a bad hire? I think so, though obviously Chizik will have a chance to prove the doubters wrong.

Was it cronyism? I don't see how you could argue that it wasn't.

Was it racism? In a subtle form, yes I think it was.

What does it mean for those of us who love college football? That's why I write columns like this. So we can discuss it. If you've got an opinion, attach a comment below and let us know what you think.

What it means for me is that I'll be rooting for Wisconsin and "whoever is playing Auburn" next year. Sorry Coach Chizik. It's not necessarily your fault. But you're working for people I have a hard time respecting, and unfortunately, that rolls down onto your program.

That's all for today folks. I'll be back on Friday as we get ready to kick off Bowl Season here at The Sports Take. I'm so excited I'm tingling! Well, I hope that's the excitement and not frost bite! Until Friday, thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. I guess I'm old fashoined...I think that ANY time a coach is hired with a bad record, it should be made public exactly why they hired him (or her...I'm not sexist). Something like, "yes, coach Chizik had a 5-19 record, but we got him SUPER cheap and if he doesn't win 11 games next year we will fire him so fast...". That's not a great reason, but it would suffice. Call it cronyism, call it racism, call it I-like-ducks-ism, the point of football is to win (well, and to build the young men and women into fine examples of citizenship and scholarship...that shouldn't be forgotten). There is (in my mind) no excuse for letting ANYthing get in the way of the goal. At Tennessee they toyed with this -- keep a "Tennessee known" or go outside the fold? They opted for "outside". Their decision should be judged entirely on merit -- does it help or hurt the Tennessee program. But I'm an old-fashoined pragmatist. I'm sure I'm missing subtle nuances here. :)