March 13, 2014
Athletics director Jay Jacobs was left with little choice but to make a move, and he wasted no time Wednesday night after Auburn was blown out 74-56 by South Carolina, the No. 13 seed, in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Minutes after the game, Jacobs told head basketball coach Tony Barbee that his fourth Auburn season had been his last.
Barbee was unable to ever generate any momentum for Auburn's program. Fan support was lagging badly. Fans, for the most part, felt little if any connection with their coach. Jacobs' move was the right move. But pardon me if I don't celebrate.
Barbee will be fine. He's already made millions of dollars and will make more. But lots of wives and children of Auburn assistant coaches and support people are wondering tonight where they're going and what they are going to do. It's part of the business, and every coach knows it. But it doesn't make it easy, especially for families.
Painful though those things are, it became obvious in recent weeks that the end of Barbee's time at Auburn was at hand. There was a glimmer of hope after a near miss at Florida, but it was soon gone.
It just didn't work at Auburn for Barbee. He never did seem quite comfortable. It was his first stop at a school where football dominated the landscape.Some coaches - Florida's Bill Donovan comes to mind first - embrace it and use it to their advantage. Others, not so much.
We've all heard the talk about Under Armour vs. Nike, about not being able to deal with summer league guru Mark Komara. No doubt, any coach would prefer those issues not exist. But I wonder how many players those things cost Auburn. Plenty of prospects have no connections to Komara. Even if they do, Auburn can still recruit them. Every successful Auburn team has relied mostly on players from its traditional footprint in Alabama, Georgia and Florida. I don't believe the Under Armour-Nike issue is going to often come into play in those states.
The truth is that Barbee signed enough players for Auburn to be a competitive team in the SEC. He didn't keep enough players for Auburn to be a competitive team in the SEC. That, more than anything else, led to his downfall.
There are programs that can simply go out and recruit great teams. Most can't. If you are Auburn or most others, to be successful you have to develop players and keep them in school. Florida is not going to be a No. 1 seed because of overwhelming talent. Donovan says there's not a first-round draft pick on the roster. Florida is going to be a No. 1 seed because it has four seniors and lots of good players.
Everyone at Auburn wants to win in basketball. The popular refrain that there is not enough administrative support is laughable. There is $90 million arena. There is more than ample money for recruiting and hiring coaches. Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm not sure what else an administration is supposed to do.
Barbee was widely hailed as a great hire when he arrived in the summer of 2010. I believe Barbee is a good coach and good man. I believe he'll eventually get another chance to be a head coach and might well succeed. I also believe he was a bad fit for Auburn and that it was probably never going to work.
Jacobs' task now is to find the right fit, a coach who will embrace the school and its culture and has what it takes to make Auburn basketball a winner again. It can be done. It's been done before.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: