But the coach who has produced a national championship amid two far-greater-than-expected seasons pushed the wrong button in confronting the NCAA’s vice president of enforcement at the SEC’s spring meetings.
It’s an off-field gaffe to rival any Les Miles on-field fumble, and it can do nothing but strain Auburn’s relationship with the NCAA, say nothing of Auburn’s efforts to manage the on going story that is the NCAA’s probe of Cam Newton’s recruitment.
And it is an ongoing story, for those who doubted.
Amid Internet speculation that it was all over but the NCAA’s acknowledgement, the New York Times reported Wednesday that the probe goes on.
The NCAA’s Julie Roe Lach, apparently tired of Chizik’s persistent prodding for an official declaration of the probe’s end, told him so.
“You’ll know when we’re finished,” Lach told Chizik, according to several coaches who were at the meeting. “And we’re not finished.”
First, let’s do a little house cleaning.
The confrontation reportedly happened in early June. Given Lach’s terseness — and that the NCAA has not since announced the probe’s end — we can assume the probe goes on nearly a month later.
Now, let’s put Roe Lach v. Chizik in context.
At the time, all the momentum in the Newton case seemed to be breaking Auburn’s way. The NCAA declared him eligible to finish the 2010 season, and subsequent statements by NCAA president Mark Emmert indicated no change.
Auburn had been taking and continues to take a conservative approach to PR related to the Newton case, speaking out rarely but confidently. Chizik had already penned a book, in which he said he never doubted Newton’s eligibility.
The book hit shelves earlier this month.
Amid positive momentum in the case and no-doubt, all-in messaging from Auburn and its coach, Chizik stood up in a presentation for SEC football and basketball coaches.
Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley reportedly had just pressed Lach about the speed of NCAA probes, and Chizik couldn’t resist. He pushed the point, reportedly making other coaches in the room uncomfortable. Lach pushed back.
The NCAA doesn’t talk about on going probes. Did Chizik really delude himself into believing the enforcement veep would have a Perry Masonesque breakdown on the stand?
She didn’t, and Chizik got nothing good for his troubles.
First, it’s never good to poke the NCAA in public, especially when the governing body of college sports is upping enforcement and investigating your school.
A fifth-year head coach with a national title on his resume should know better.
Second, there might be leakers in a room full of coaches, especially coaches from your conference rivals. Some SEC basketball coaches went on record with the Times.
It’s amazing that it took more than a month.
Now that the story is out, Chizik has bought Auburn another round of negative headlines about the Newton case. As it happens, this falls a week prior to his appearance at SEC Media Days.
And all so the college football-watching public can be reminded of what most already knew — the Newton probe is not over.
Chizik comes off as anxious, which flies in the face of his and Auburn’s expressed confidence about the Newton case. Supposedly, he was worried about the lingering Newton probe’s impact on recruiting, but has he checked his 2012 commitment list lately?
He has 10 public pledges, including eight rated as four-star recruits by Rivals.com.
Chizik could have gone through channels or at least pulled Lach aside and made his point privately. He should have stood on his and Auburn’s public confidence about the Newton matter and confidently waited out the NCAA’s process, without risking embarrassment.
After pushing all the right buttons in hiring his staff, recruiting, game planning and game management at Auburn, Chizik did nothing in Destin but push Lach’s buttons and cast another flood light on the Newton case.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.