When (Fans Hope) A Southern University Will Do The Right Thing :: And They Don’t

I’ve been following this story from the beginning. I saw this coming. I hoped it would not happen, but given the timing of certain events, and my knowledge and/or perceptions of Auburn culture, I’m not surprised it has happened. I wish this had not happened. But, here it is. This is, for all practical purposes, the perfect storm – in a PR sense. All the elements of the environment were just right for all that follows to have happened. Why the leadership didn’t see it coming, who knows.


Charles Barkley states on ESPN that race was the number one reason why Auburn did not hire a black head football coach. See the video below.


Mark Schlabach states on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program:

ESPN.com football writer Mark Schlabach told “Outside The Lines” today that two other SEC coaches told him, straight up, that Gill would never get the Auburn job, because he’s married to a white woman. Charming. (Source and see the video below)

Sure, I didn’t know exactly what would happen (Charles Barkley’s statements or Mark Schlabach’s interview), but I knew there would be a backlash by someone if the hire didn’t happen. I never imagined the full scope of the disaster we’re experiencing now, however.

Regardless of whether or not you believe Tommy Tuberville was fired or chose to resign, that happened at the same time that a heretofore unknown coach at the University of Buffalo was making a big splash. Turner Gill took a cellar dweller of a football team and beat the undefeated Ball State program to win the MAC conference title. It was the dream public relations move, if nothing else. It was the way for Auburn to step up and cross the race barrier, too. But, to make it better, on paper – Gill actually does look as good as (if not better than) the coach we’ve now hired. Opinions vary on that, of course.

Since Mississippi State broke the color barrier for black coaches in the SEC (and no big name coaches were interested in coming to Auburn) this made the situation ripe for Auburn to make a bold move. Hire Turner Gill as our next head football coach.

Since Auburn did not do what some call “the right thing”, we are now experiencing the following public relations disaster. Check it all out. There is a lot to digest. Never before, not even in Auburn’s Eric Ramsey or Petrino/Jet-gate scandals, has Auburn’s name been so fully dragged through the mud.

The sad thing is, this is really about the athletic department, but it actually has caused numerous references to the school at-large.

My questions, “What would you do? How can Auburn successfully deal with this fiasco? Or can they?”

Track the fallout yourself: Twitter | Web | News | Blogs

Just a sampling of two stories: Auburn was cool with Turner Gill being black, but not his wife being white. | Was Turner Gill Denied The Auburn Job Because Of His White Wife? Those two sites alone are perfect examples of how social media has changed the game for everyone. The first site has about 3,000 average readers. The second site, Deadspin? It is one of the top 4,000 sites on the Web. It has over 360,000 average readers. Oh, and of course – there is ESPN – the TV network and their site … the 16th most popular site on the Web. Social media spreads the story with more reach than traditional media in many instances. This is one of them.

The original story follows these two three updates:

Note: ESPN is covering this so much, for two days they’ve had an Auburn category tab on the front page of the College Football section.

Charles Barkley
ESPN’s “Pardon The Interruption
Barkley Elaborates on his claims against Auburn

It Gets Worse
ESPN’s “Outside the Lines
“Turner Gill will never get that job”
When asked why, the coaches responded,
“He’s married to a white woman.”

Mark Schlabach stated on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that two SEC coaches told him Turner Gill would not get the Auburn head coaching job because “He is married to a white woman.” (Quote comes at about 3:16 in the video below.)

This is the type of public relations fiasco that no one wants to have happen. How can Auburn address these issues? What should the NCAA do? What would you do if you were advising Auburn University on a PR plan for this crisis?

Auburn Choses Gene Chizik over Turner Gill
Southern University Misses Opportunity
Deals with Backlash

Earlier, we shared how Auburn University was pursuing a new football coach. The story bode well for Auburn, had they chosen Turner Gill. Instead, they went with Gene Chizik. The backlash started on the day of the announcment. Today, it got bumped up a notch.

Charles Barkley, former Auburn basketball great – and outspoken gadlfy, told ESPN today that “You can say it’s not about race, but you can’t compare the two resumes and say [Chizik] deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst resume.” (Watch Video)

“You can say it’s not about race, but you can’t compare the two resumes and say [Chizik] deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst resume.”

— Charles Barkley

There are some (perhaps many) that feel Auburn missed an opportunity and, by not hiring Gill, set themselves up for this criticism.

Auburn has chosen to not respond to this criticism – so far. Making matters worse, two coaches wives’ actually called into a local radio talk show with their opinions about how Auburn handled the firing (resignation) of 10 year coach Tommy Tubberville.

Listen to Amy & Donna’s calls on Eagle 93.9 Sports Call radio program.

Auburn Coaches’ Wives Audio

The school says that Tuberville resigned, yet they choose to still pay his 5 million dollar plus buyout. Many observers suggest that you don’t pay a buyout if someone chooses to quit.

To Chizik’s credit, he’s not responsible for the firing/resignation – or for the hire. He just took the job. Still, Chizik’s record (5-19) as a head coach is questionable. Gill turned around a perennial cellar dweller, Buffalo, and took them to a MAC conference title.

What do you think about this public relations problem, given Barkley’s public comments? Post your thoughts below.

Auburn Pursues Turner Gill
University of Buffalo Coach Sought by Auburn Tigers

Auburn University, one of the traditional powers in NCAA college football, is pursuing a new coach. Auburn is often considered one of the top 25 college coaching jobs. So, what makes this news?

Race. Ethnicity. PR.

Auburn is also the land grant institution for the State of Alabama. Land grant colleges were created, in part, to provide education for minorities – primarily blacks. (Source)

According to Auburn, the university’s Fall 2008 black / african-american enrollment is 1,642 students. Given that the school’s caucasian / white enrollment is 17,225, black students represent 0.087 of that enrollment, less than nine percent. (Source) The total caucasian & african-american enrollment for Fall 2008 at Auburn is 18,867. This is in a state where over 26% of the population is black / african-american. (Source)

Mississippi State won the honor of breaking the diversity / race barrier by hiring Sylvester Croom, five years ago. Croom recently resigned. There are some, perhaps many, that wish Auburn had been the leader in this regard.

The number of black coaches in the major NCAA programs is still lacking. The number dropped from six to three this year.

Already, two Facebook groups have sprung up calling on Auburn to hire Turner Gill. See Turner Gill for the Auburn Tigers Head Football Coach and Turner Gill to Auburn

An Auburn favorite son, Robert Gibbs, helped send Barack Obama to The White House this year. (Note: Gibbs grew up in Auburn. His parents worked in the Auburn University Library for over two decades. Robert chose to attend school at NC State. Still, he holds a fondness for Auburn and has spoken about Auburn many times on national television.)

Another Auburn favorite son, Charles Barkley recently said Auburn should hire Turner Gill. Perhaps Barkley can do for Gill what Gibbs did for Obama.

Gill is reportedly meeting with Auburn today. Read Gill’s appeal heating up, Auburn is latest to come calling.

There are many people in sports forums expressing concerns about taking a chance on such an unproven coach.

It will be interesting to see if Auburn will do the right thing and hire Turner Gill.


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