For much of the last year, Auburn Tigers fans and the media have been extremely hard on Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs—and rightfully so. Insert any derogatory adjective you would like about Auburn's 2012–2013 athletics season and it would probably be accurate.
For as much energy as Auburn fans have spent berating Jacobs, they should also give him credit where due. Jacobs deserves praise for the job he has done defending Auburn against external attacks on multiple fronts for most of the last month.
Those attacks levied heavy allegations against the Auburn football program. They included grade-changing, obstruction of justice, racism and an "epidemic" of synthetic marijuana on the 2010 BCS national championship team.
Jacobs and the athletic department (along with former coach Gene Chizik) fought back on Monday, tearing apart the articles from Selena Roberts and Shaun Assael with hard-documented data. For Auburn fans, the way that Auburn finally fought back was refreshing. Historically, Auburn has used a "no comment" style of defending itself.
While the job Jacobs has done is worthy of praise, Auburn fans would be smart to keep their eyes on the ball in this case. It is important to retain a high-level view of how healthy the athletic department is in terms of its leadership and how well it is has performed on the field, court and diamond.
Until things improve there, Jacobs' seat will—and should—remain hot.
The three main sports on Auburn's campus (football, men's basketball and baseball) have combined for only nine SEC wins in 2012 and 2013. Six of those have come from the baseball team, which currently sits in last place in the SEC Western division.
Auburn fans have seen a different side of Jacobs in recent days.
Still, Jacobs is the same AD that hired Chizik, basketball coach Tony Barbee and baseball coach John Pawlowski. There is a very real chance that Auburn lands in last place in each of those sports, the most visible ones that flash the "AU" on national TV and bring in the most money for the athletic department.
He is also still the same AD that gave a massive $7.5 million buyout to Chizik when no other program in the country was making a run at him after the Tigers won the national championship in 2010.
While we're at it, someone has to be blamed for the blue tiger stripes on the west side of the stadium that resemble 1980s shower curtains.
But seriously, since Jacobs took over in December of 2004, Auburn has yet to be a consistent winner on the playing field. Football has not been above the level of "good" under Jacobs' watch, except for the special season of 2010. You can point to swimming, some success in men's golf and the baseball team hosting a regional in 2010.
That's it. In nearly a decade. That's not a lot to hang your hat on.
One of the most interesting parts of Jacobs' letter to Auburn fans on Monday was the revelation that a committee has been established to "independently and objectively review the athletics department." The committee was selected by Auburn president Jay Gogue and includes representatives with very diverse backgrounds in the college sports industry.
Committee members are as follows (per Ryan Wood, Opelika-Auburn News):
Dave Maggard—Special assistant to the athletics director at Oregon State
Pete Boone—Former Ole Miss athletics airector
Judy Southard—LSU associate athletics director/senior women's administrator
Mac Crawford—Businessman and former Auburn football player
John Irwin—Senior vice president of AT&T and former Auburn football player
Quentin Riggins—Vice president for governmental relations at Alabama Power and former Auburn football player
It is not likely that the committee will return to Gogue with a recommendation to relieve Jacobs of his duties. However, it will be interesting to see what the committee finds in one of the five areas that will be reviewed within the athletic department: the effectiveness of the organization's leadership.
There is no debating how well Jacobs has represented Auburn over the last month and has defended the institution that he loves. Fighting back is what Auburn fans have been waiting for. It was refreshing.
However, if the revenue-generating sports on Auburn's campus continue to struggle on the field, court and diamond like they have for the past two years, the way Jacobs handled the accusations will quickly be a distant memory.
Until Auburn performs on the field like Jacobs recently did off of it, his seat will not cool off. It shouldn't.
Like Chizik said when talking with reporters on Monday (per Joel Erickson, al.com), "Whether it’s the SEC or the NFL, the bottom line is you have to win. If you don’t, people have to make changes."
Winning isn't happening enough on the Plains. If something doesn't change quickly, new and more effective leadership will be required.
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