Dec. 6, 2013
Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs reflects on the triumphs and heartaches of the past two football seasons (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – Jay Jacobs, headed toward his ninth year as Auburn’s athletics director, can glance out his window and see majestic Jordan-Hare Stadium. A year ago, that didn’t bring a lot of good feeling. Auburn’s football team had collapsed and finished with a 3-9 record.
On a rainy Thursday, two days before a Southeastern Conference Championship showdown between No. 3 Auburn and No. 5 Missouri, it was a very different story. Jacobs sat in his office and reflected on the remarkable change of direction and change of feeling in the Auburn athletics department.
Jacobs talked about the pain and difficulty of dealing with intense criticism and finally making the decision to fire Gene Chizik, about hiring Gus Malzahn and the inspiring rebirth of Auburn football.
Keep reading to see what he had to say.
One year ago today you were going through probably the most difficult time of your tenure as AD. From there to here, is that almost hard to believe even for you?
“It is. From one extreme to the other extreme, it is difficult. That was, personally and professionally, the most difficult time I’ve been through in my life. It was tough on my family, but it’s my job. It’s what we do. The thing about it is, what I learned here as a player and as a walk-on is you just keep being persistent and you do what is right, regardless. I walked on weighing 205 pounds as an offensive lineman. Friends of mine laughed about it. Then you end up starting, and you learn a lot from that.
“What is important to the Auburn people is how these guys have represented themselves and how hard they’ve played and what Gus and his staff have done. From 12 months ago to today there has been a phenomenal change. However, in success and lack of success, you have to keep your integrity and your core values intact. The outside world has a hard time understanding what they don’t know. That’s not just athletics. That’s any business.”
How did those experiences change you personal and professionally?
“The key to it to me is I’m a continuous work in progress. I learned a lot going through that season last year. We all did. I’m learning a lot going through this one. There are highs and lows in this business. You really have to take the time to celebrate success, because nobody is promised tomorrow. When things aren’t going right, you have to be prudent and swift to fix them.”
To take the kind of criticism you took last year as the season went downhill, nobody can enjoy that. How hard was it to keep things in perspective as you went through it?
“It was challenging, to say the least. You have so much noise outside. Fortunately, because of a lot of people’s support and certainly my faith, I just kept marching. My experiences here as a player and a coach make you pretty darned tough. I often joke that once I finished three-a-days in 1983, my senior year, I’ve been running downhill ever since. Last year was terrible. I was critical of it. People were asking ‘How are we going to fix this? Who is to blame?’ It’s all reasonable. That is the world in which we live today. If you’re not a tough son of a gun, you don’t need to be an AD in a BCS conference, let alone the SEC.”
Is it fair for people to measure athletics directors on the success of the football team when you have so many other duties and other sports?
“I don’t know if it’s fair or unfair, but it’s really where we are today. The job has changed. We have a tremendous responsibility to be stewards of this athletics department, and football in the Southeastern Conference is the No. 1 revenue source. We have to be successful in football in order to be able to support our tennis program, our gymnastics program and all the others. The public only sees the scoreboard. Whether it’s fair or unfair, it’s how it is.”
You can do all your homework, you can get Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson, do all that stuff and go hire your guy, but when you hire a coach, how can you really know it will work?
“You can’t. Two things are changing: No.1 is he is changing from one team to another and, No. 2, the team is changing. That’s what is out there on the field. It is a complete state of flux. What Gus has done has been nothing short of miraculous. He should be national Coach of the year just for taking these shattered pieces and pulling them together again.”
As you stood up there to introduce Gus last December, what did you think would be a successful first season?
“What was going to be successful was getting to a bowl game, extending our season so our players could practice in December. That would have been successful based on winning three games. I think we dud a little more than that! It demonstrates the quality of players we already had. It demonstrates the quality of our head coach and assistant coaches and also the signing class they were able to put together on short notice.”
Even after you hired Gus there was talk out there that it was a done deal, that Gus was always going to be the guy. Was he?
“No. Quite frankly, I thought it was an uphill climb to hire Gus with only one year as a head coach at Arkansas State. But, man, when he came in and presented to us, it was unbelievable. We knew that if we didn’t talk to anybody else we were going to hire a great football coach. We had a chance to talk to others. In my book, it wasn’t even close. He’s done a phenomenal job. He’s laser focused, a relentless worker and a fierce competitor.”
Financially, how much does a season like this one mean to the department?
“We could look back to 2010. It was a similar season.. The royalty money more than doubled. I think we went from about 1 ½ million to 4 million. The applications will be out the roof. You couldn’t afford to pay for the advertising we’ve had. It’s hard to quantify it all, but it’s substantial.”
Do you see a nine-game SEC schedule in the future?”
“I think there will be a healthy discussion about it.”
You talked earlier today about a new deal for Gus after the season. Will the assistants get rewarded, too?
“Absolutely. We’ll do whatever Gus thinks we should do.”
You’ve been where these kids are. How difficult is it to experience a game like Saturday’s win over Alabama and play in a big game the next Saturday?
“In 1982 and 1983, after we won those games, we had a lot of time before our next game. I think it’s challenging, particularly because of who it was and being here and the last play. Everybody in town is still talking about it. When Chris Davis gets a standing ovation walking into class, it’s pretty important. It’s challenging, but I think Gus and his staff have dealt with it.
“The other thing is it gives you more kick in your step. You just beat them and you are getting ready to go to the SEC Championship. The last month of the season is really what’s fun, because you are playing for something. At the beginning of the season, it’s hard to see the end. You are out there in August trying to survive. Once you get to the last four or five games and have the success they’ve had, like we did in 1983, you start to think ‘You know what? There’s something special about us.’ I think one is as powerful as the other.”
What did Gus say when you hugged him on the field after the win over Alabama?
“He said ‘Now we have to get ready for the SEC Championship Game.’ He had already focused on the next one.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: