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Friday, December 5, 2008

Oh Cap'n Me Cap'n

I was a bit let down to see that Cap'n Leach wouldn't be coming to the Plains, but not really surprised.

For one, the patterns wouldn't have fit. If you look at the history of Auburn football coaches post-WWII, a very clear pattern emerges. Auburn alternates between short-term benchwarmers and long-term coaches that we frankly run into the ground. When the Honda Accord finally coughs up its transmission, we scrap it for a Pontiac Sunfire with a sunroof. And soon after, when the seats have mildewed and the fun has worn out of that five-speed, Auburn finds another Honda Accord. Ten years later, repeat. Why that is, I can only speculate. Perhaps, when our long-tenured coaches leave, too much of their shadow lingers, too much of the culture they created remains. And so, we have to reset the program. Or, since they are so entrenched after ten years of administration, the necessary and difficult adjustments can not be made. And the program isn't ready for its next big man to settle in. Maybe, for whatever bizarrely poor luck plaguing us, we always seem to lose our head coach in a down year for hirees (as would seem to be the case this winter.) Whatever the cause, we're about ripe for another Terry Bowden, not another Pat Dye, historically speaking.

Moreso, I never really believed Leach was terribly interested in Auburn. In fact, not one of the prominent rumors has seemed even remotely credible to me so far, with Leach's name being bandied about with Nutt, Petrino, and Johnson. All of the latter three are first-year, just-unpacked coaches. Petrino is a soulless mercenary who nearly stole Tubby's job, so it would be a bit two-faced to give Tubby 5.1 million dollars out of the goodness of our hearts and then poke him right in the eye. Houston Nutt is the anti-Les Miles, just as crazy but can't catch a break - oh, and that would extend our streak of poaching Ole Miss's coaches to two. And Paul Johnson has been extremely successful at Georgia Tech right out of the gate, lives in Atlanta, and would have to be bought at a high price.

But Leach especially. In Texas Tech, his squads are successful in an extremely competitive division and it's largely because he's given the latitude to run his team absolutely as he pleases. Auburn's a bad fit for two reasons: its athletic department's meddlesome ways and its hesitance to embrace the next revolution in offensive football. The first, I'm afraid, don't seem to be changing anytime soon. The latter will take some time, but it's adequately clear that the program - the culture of the program - isn't there. Don't get me wrong - I think we've all learned our lesson about slapdashing a brand-new exotic offense into place with neither the players, the necessary staff, nor the mere willingness to do it right. But we've long hunkered behind the shield of orthodoxy, content to bash our way downfield, helmet-to-helmet with the fast, lanky blockers on the perimeter occasionally surprising the defense by sneakily catching passes. I don't think we're ready to air it out Pirate-Style.

The caveat, of course, is that much of my formative years of Auburn football fandom have come during the Tuberville decade. I'm used to his model of meh wide receivers, offense-is-just-another-kind-of-special-teams, and soul-wringing defense. It's quite possible that with Tubby and his crew1 packing up shop, this vision of football could similarly fade. But even Al Borges' take on the West Coast was practically high-tech when he arrived at Auburn. I can only think of my dad screaming "Bring back Pat Dye! Bring back Pat Dye!" via cellphone during the LSU game, the only game in which a yolk-bedraggled Spread Eagle chipped away with her egg tooth. I don't even need to point out that any spread guru attempting to peddle his razzle-dazzlery will meet with serious resistance.

Resistance that Leach does not need to endure in Lubbock. There, he's got carte blanche to wing the pigskin all over the field and line up touchdowns like birds on a wire. In Auburn, he'd be selling his system all over again, the minute that nameplate went up on Tuberville's old door. Even for a whippersnappin' 47-year-old eccentric, that's a tall order. Whatever raise Auburn could give him, is it enough to pay for the grief he'll get?

So I don't think he had any intention of being one a' th' lovely landlubbers.

The other thing to consider is that we may be in for some dark times. The specter of Doug Barfield and his veer offense is looming darkly, moreso than in decades. Remember of course that the veer's ("wishbone minus fullback") modern expression is in the run-first spread. Are there any available coaches who can make the run-first spread hum and would be willing to try foisting it on the Tigers? How ironic would it be2 if we picked slimly among the run-first spread minds - in a year already being heralded as the spread's peak by some - and ended up with a second iteration of mis-managed option running?

Color me despondent, Auburn, in these neck-torquing weeks of wild speculation. It's a little much to take. But I'd almost rather we settle for now, and not re-Barfield our program.

1 God help me if any of those jokers are retained. God help me. I will start a freakin' riot.
2 Note the post tag - these may be the most delectable words I'll ever taste and War Eagle. Like broccoli cooked in brown gravy.

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