| FTBL The drama continues down on the plains. JG Tate weighs in on the athletic department, director, and their program as a whole.


Century Club
I was speaking with a casual football fan from Pennsylvania a few weeks back and he asked me what it's like to cover Auburn.

"Dramatic," I told him. "It's always dramatic."

This was before I knew about plans for Auburn University's Chief Operating Officer, Ron Burgess, to move into the athletic complex and begin assessing the culture within the department itself. It's an eye-opening move to be sure — one that threatens to undermine Athletic Director Allen Greene's legitimacy — but anyone who's been around Auburn for more than a fortnight isn't surprised by much.

Let's start here: Burgess is assessing the department's inner workings ("Engaging," one observer explained diplomatically) at the request of President Jay Gogue. This is happening because a significant number of people from both inside and outside the department have griped directly to Gogue regarding Greene's administrative approach.

At specific issue is what some observers believe is an unnecessarily penurious stance Greene has taken throughout his 3-plus years on the Plains. He slashed program budgets across the board by approximately 10 percent well before the COVID-19 pandemic began, which created angst (and financial concerns) that the pandemic then exacerbated.

Then Auburn had a terrible 2020-21 athletic season in which the three most high-profile programs finished well below expectations. The football team's misery was punctuated by Gus Malzahn being fired in December despite being owed $21 million.

Then the postulating began. Was Greene's belt-tightening the reason for Auburn's competitive failures? Or is Greene a convenient target for shortcomings of a different origin? That's the real question — and it's one observers say Burgess presumably is attempting to answer.

Yet there is reason for skepticism there. Gogue and Burgess met with several coaches and staffers last month for what became an airing of grievances. The situation was concerning enough for Burgess to then move into the athletic complex and assert himself as someone of consequence in the department's chain of command.

His new role remains difficult to understand, at least from the outside, but at least three Auburn coaches are now working directly with Burgess.

This is unusual.

No, this is very unusual.

For some, it's convenient to chalk this up to an inexperienced athletic director simply taking on a task that's too big for him. Greene arrived at Auburn after a successful run at Buffalo, but his only major-conference experience came as a fundraiser at Ole Miss.

To Greene's credit, he's been raising money at Auburn as well. The long-needed Football Performance Center is now being built where the "Old Track" stood — a project that's estimated to cost at least $91 million. That's not cheap. And that money is being spent at a time when the department is anticipating a significant shortfall due to the pandemic.

Ironically, Greene's fundraising might be part of the problem. Some coaches believe Greene and his top advisers have spent too much time fretting over external concerns and too little time supporting their coaches and programs. It's all a judgment call, of course, and one person's opinion is just that — an opinion.

Still, a chorus of similar opinions can be persuasive. Gogue's interest clearly was piqued by that chorale.

It's difficult to know where all this leads. One thing we know for sure is that it's bad news for Greene. It may or may not be bad news for Auburn; the university is searching for a new president and it's important for the president and the athletic director to be in lockstep. Remember that Greene was hired by Steven Leath, who stepped down as president in 2019. Without synergy between those two influential positions, things bog down.

That's exactly where we are: The system is bogged down.

Before you allow yourself to get too fussed over that bottleneck, remember that it's Auburn. Discord is standard procedure, dissent a right of passage. I've only been covering the Tigers since 1998, but I've only seen Auburn People mostly pushing in the same direction a few times.

Everybody was happy to break free of the 1998 football debacle and watch Tommy Tuberville pry the Tigers from apathy in 1999 and 2000. There were brief periods of fleeting unity during the 2004 season (prefaced by Jetgate), the 2010 season (prefaced by Tuberville's fall), the 2013 season (prefaced by Gene Chizik's fall) and the basketball team's run to the 2019 Final Four.

In general, however, Auburn People don't pull in the same direction. There is resistance everywhere. Heck, Bryan Harsin's mere existence as the Tigers' head coach is a function of that resistance; Greene essentially went rouge on that hire when everybody else had different ideas about who to target and how to target them.

It's clear that a bloc of folks believe Greene is part of the current problem. Will Burgess reach the same conclusion? It's impossible to know. His quick rise to (at least) de facto power within the department indicates that Gogue believes the stakes are high. It's then reasonable to presume some measure of pressure being placed upon Burgess to identify the problem and solve it.

That may or may not affect Greene's status.

Just remember that Auburn cannot be habitually excellent until resistance subsides. Greene is an outsider and he's facing headwinds. Jay Jacobs was an insider and he faced headwinds. Same for David Housel.

Unity of purpose is the only real solution. Auburn needs that more than anything — or anybody.


Ivory Club
Let's say things really crash and burn down there and Harsin is sent packing. How much is his buyout?
It's another doozy of a contract. As I recall his buyout is a little over 21 million right now. If he's fired at the end of the season they'll have another Gus situation: 70% of his contract is due if he's fired without cause with half of it due within 30 days.


Sideline Club
This article is like all other articles when it comes to Auburn. The athletic department is not run by the athletic director. It is today and has always been run by the money brokers. For many years it was the banker, now it's the yellow wood man and construction guy using the COO to oversee the athletic department. Now that's a positive plan (LOL). If Harsin even makes it through the second year will be a miracle.
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