So now we're one day removed from perhaps the most shocking single thing we've seen at Auburn since I arrived in 1998 — an active coach arrested and charged with several federal crimes relating to his work as an active coach at Auburn.
That's a big deal. It's a bad, bad look for Auburn.
Is this a massive setback for Auburn athletics? Depends on your viewpoint. This spectacle could alter the look and feel of both the basketball program and the Auburn athletic department moving forward. Let's go through the principles one by one:
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JAY JACOBS, athletic director
The timing of this could not be worse for Jacobs, who just a few weeks back tried to explain away his decision to lie about the Title IX investigation inside the softball program. He's also on the hook for Gus Malzahn, whose team looked quite vulnerable against Clemson. It looks a bit better now, but major concerns about the team remain. If this season gets ugly in October and November, Jacobs will have to answer for that as well.
I don't think Jacobs knew about this situation with Chuck Person. Heck, I don't think Chuck Person knew about this situation with Chuck Person until those FBI Tahoes showed up Tuesday morning at dawn. That doesn't change the fact that bad things keep happening on Jacobs' watch.
New university resident Steven Leath still is assessing Jacobs — and what he's seen is not very impressive. I suggested in a column last week that Jacobs needs to back away from the AD job because his popularity is below critical mass; he's no longer an effective figurehead. Now comes news that an Auburn assistant coach was pimping out Auburn players to a simulated sports agent.
Jacobs cannot survive this. Auburn must demand more. There is no other option now.
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BRUCE PEARL, head basketball coach
Basketball coaches are, by and large, very aware people. They have to be aware because the world of basketball recruiting is so treacherous. One player makes the difference. One great player. Football coaches fuss and fight over individual players, sure, but it's just different in basketball. There's only a handful of true difference-makers; the top coaches all know who they are and it's a mad fight for those handful of signatures. It's a dirty world.
Pearl understands how to navigate himself through that dirty world, but he must stay woke. He knows the NCAA wants to get him again after they show-caused him following his tenure at Tennessee. He sees the hounds and he knows how to keep his distance, how to avoid drawing their attention. Now comes this situation with Chuck Person -- and you'd better believe Pearl didn't see that one coming.
(Some may disagree with me on that.)
The bigger concern around the program is what the NCAA will do with this License To Snoop that Chuck Person just gave 'em. The NCAA now is free to open a full-scale investigation into how two players were paid by an Auburn coach, which means they can dig in any direction they like. I have no reason to believe Auburn has been less scrupulous than its rivals on the recruiting trail, but, as mentioned earlier, basketball recruiting is a dirty world. Knowledgable observers worry that the NCAA will bend over backward to annoy Pearl. They won't let him go without a fight, so to speak.
Pearl probably is safe as it stands now. However, the NCAA is just getting revved up.
GUS MALZAHN, head football coach
If there's a winner in this scenario, it's Malzahn. With Jacobs now facing an avalanche of bad tidings and the basketball program headed for the the NCAA's vice grips, Auburn will not fire Malzahn this season barring some type of undeniable catastrophe. A few weeks back, I'd have seen an 8-4 season with losses to UGA and Alabama as deal-breakers for Malzahn. That's no longer the case. If there's a reasonable argument to keep Malzahn at season's end — an optimist doesn't have to get too creative to justify optimism right now with Kevin Steele's defense so salty — then Malzahn stays.
That's a blow to folks who were hoping to see Auburn move beyond Malzahn sooner rather than later. The athletic program cannot reasonably withstand major changes in the administration and football with so many questions surrounding basketball as well. Who would make decisions? An interim AD without any vested interest? Seems like a bad play.