John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
On December 22, 2004, the plan was complete. After working 20 years in Auburn University’s athletic department, Jay Jacobs reached the mountain top: Auburn University athletic director.
While Jacobs did the little work around the athletic department, he made a decision to take a second job. He accepted the position offered to him by the Red Elephant Club (REC), an elite University of Alabama booster club.
The deal offered to Jacobs involved him waiting for his chance to become athletic director for the Tigers. The REC said it would pay Jacobs a hefty amount to allow him to overcome the small salary Auburn offered for his current position. The return for the offered hefty amount would be Jacobs doing what the REC said when he became athletic director.
On the day of Jacobs’ hiring as Athletic Director, Auburn fans cheered because “an Auburn man” got the job. Members of the REC cheered because the plan was falling into place just like they planned.
The REC knew its plan would not last long unless Jacobs had something to give hope to the Auburn fans. Thus, the group made sure Jacobs would continue to raise plenty of money, which he has done. For 22 consecutive years, Auburn has been in the black on their financial sheets. Not many fans are willing to fire an athletic director who fundraises well.
After deciding the one area Jacobs’ provides hope to Auburn, the REC looked at the big picture: how to destroy Alabama’s archrival.
Jacobs’ destroying of the Auburn athletic program began right after the completion of the 2007 football season. Instead of making football coach Tommy Tuberville recruit, Jacobs allowed Tuberville take a duck hunting trip while Alabama and head coach Nick Saban signed the number one recruiting class.
Following the 2008 season, Jacobs looked to replace Tuberville after his resignation, which everyone knew was actually a firing. To replace Tuberville, Jacobs took the advice from the man he played for at Auburn: Pat Dye. Jacobs looked to Ames, Iowa at Gene Chizik, who just finished his second season at Iowa State. In those two seasons, Chizik earned a 5-19 record.
The only thing positive about the Chizik hire for Auburn fans came from Chizik’s time as Auburn’s defensive coordinator in 2004. Other than that, the man at the airport screaming “Boo! We want a leader, not a loser!” as Jacobs and Chizik walked off the airplane summed up the consensus feeling of the Auburn family.
Alabama fans, on the other hand, laughed at the hire. Members of the REC jumped with glee.
Chizik’s hire came with a hiccup, though. In 2010, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn convinced Chizik to sign former Florida QB Cam Newton, who was playing at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas after leaving Florida. Newton led the Tigers to an undefeated season and a national championship.
REC members did not enjoy this part of the Chizik era until one November day. Reports of Cam Newton’s father Cecil possibly taking money leaked one afternoon. Alabama fans joined the fans of other SEC programs to find out the details. The realization of Jay Jacobs possibly placing Auburn on probation made the REC leaders excited.
The NCAA concluded no harm was done by Auburn in its recruitment of Cameron Newton. The 2010 season did leave one bright spot: Gene Chizik would get a nice contract extension and raise.
To justify the extension and raise, Jacobs did as instructed by the REC and told the Auburn University Board of Trustees he feared the University of Texas would come after Chizik once Texas football coach Mack Brown retired. It worked.
Chizik’s program showed major flaws the following season. Having to come from behind in the last few minutes against Utah State in week one was not what the Auburn faithful wanted to see. The season ended on a high note when the Tigers beat Virginia in the Chick-fil-a Bowl 42-34. The regular season did not end on a high note, though. The Tigers lost to rivals Georgia and Auburn by a combined 87-21. The last SEC win for Auburn came on October 29 against the Ole Miss Rebels.
The 2012 season was the completion of Chizik’s tenure at Auburn. After an attempt to revive the team by changing the offensive philosophy, Chizik was fired after finishing the season 3-9. The Tigers stood as the punch line of many SEC jokes. Not many coaches survive going 0-8 in conference play.
Jacobs went to the REC for advice. Surprisingly, the advice was to gather a group of Auburn men to pick the coach. The REC suggested this would allow him to keep his job if the next coach failed like Chizik. Jacobs would have a scapegoat in the form of Heisman winners Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson, along with former Auburn player Mac Crawford. The committee chose the 2010 offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn after he completed his first season at Arkansas State.
The destruction of the Auburn athletic program does not revolve solely around the football program. The REC told Jacobs to dismantle the basketball program, as well. He began by allowing Jeff Lebo six years before firing him in 2010.
As Lebo’s replacement, Jacobs went after former John Calipari assistant Tony Barbee. Fans cheered over the hire because many felt Barbee would put Auburn in the position Calipari put UMass and Memphis before leaving. Auburn fans failed to remember Calipari took both schools to the Final Four, after which the trips were vacated because of recruiting allegations.
March 9 marked the day Auburn became the sixth SEC program since 1964 to finish last in men’s basketball after going winless in conference football games. Barbee’s future at Auburn remains unknown, but Jacobs would like to continue to employee him to destruct the basketball program more than he already has.
In baseball, Auburn fans have not approved of Jacobs’ hires. Fans did not want John Pawlowski hired in 2009 after Tom Slater left in 2008. They wanted an Auburn man. However, Jacobs knows his real employer. He listened to the Red Elephant Club for their advice.
On this momentous day, Alabama fans would like to tell everyone declaring Jay Jacobs is not worth his salary that he is worth every penny he has received. From the Red Elephant Club, that is.