AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs is adamant that the football program and overall department will bounce back from a rough year, and that he’ll be around to enjoy the resurgence.
The Tigers have endured historically bad seasons in football and men’s basketball and struggled in other sports, prompting a review panel to examine the athletic program and putting Jacobs under fire from frustrated fans as well.
Auburn hasn’t released the report’s specific findings, but President Jay Gogue met with Jacobs late last week and said "there’s room for substantial improvement."
"I think that in the business we’re in, your job is always on the line," Jacobs told reporters Tuesday after speaking to Auburn’s Chamber of Commerce. "I’ll tell you this: I think I’m going to have a chance to have a lot of conversations moving forward. I think I’m going to be here awhile. I look forward to the challenge of taking this program where Dr. Gogue and I and all Auburn fans expect it to be. I’m up for the challenge, and I’m ready to move us forward."
That started with the firing of football coach Gene Chizik after the Tigers went 3-9 and also included Jacobs’ decision to retain basketball coach Tony Barbee, whose team was 9-23 and suffered the most losses in program history in his third season. The women’s basketball team finished tied for last in the SEC under first-year coach Terri Williams-Flournoy.
The baseball team is currently last in the Southeastern Conference Western Division and Jacobs has already fired softball coach Tina Deese. He hasn’t escaped the criticism for the poor performances.
"I’ve heard a lot of it," Jacobs, a former Auburn lineman, said. "I’ve felt it myself. Growing up an Auburn fan and walking on and playing here, winning means everything to me. I’m not going to do it at any cost. I’m not going to compromise our integrity to win. But I’ve heard it. Sometimes I hear it when I go home. It’s loud and clear. Auburn people are passionate and that’s why you have the largest crowd in the nation (83,401) show up at an A-Day game. They love this institution and they expect better. And we’re going to get better. It’s been a tough year, but we’re going to bounce back."
Jacobs said JMI Sports is examining Auburn’s overall athletics operations this year, starting last December.
Jacobs has a $600,000-a-year contract runs that through June 2016. He presides over a department that raked in nearly $106 million in revenue in 2012, a bottom line that has improved some $13 million over the last three years.
Jacobs also said Atlanta Braves pitcher and Auburn alum Tim Hudson and his wife, Kim, are donating $1 million for a new baseball clubhouse.
It has still been a troubling year for fans despite the apparently robust finances. Jacobs believes Malzahn is poised to turn around a football program that declined rapidly after winning the national championship in 2010.
"He’s demonstrated that he’s a fierce competitor and he’s a tireless worker and he’s a great ambassador for Auburn," Jacobs said. "I don’t know of any head coach who’s been to more events outside of football than he has in the last four months."
The AD also makes it clear the basketball program must make strides next season.
Guards Jordan Price and Brian Greene Jr. have left the team since the season. Nine of Barbee’s signees since his arrival are no longer with the program.
Asked much progress is necessary for Barbee to keep his job, Jacobs said: "I’ll know it when I see it."
"We just look for a competitive team," he said. "There’s no number to say. We’ll know what getting better is and the results we expect."
The basketball program hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2003 or the National Invitation Tournament since 2009.
Jacobs repeated Malzahn’s statement that it is "a new day" for the football program several times. He’s hoping the same will prove true with each struggling sport.
"We’re going to get better," he told the Chamber of Commerce members. "We will improve. What comes next sits squarely on my shoulders."