Jacobs: Message to Improve "Loud And Clear"

Athletic Director Jay Jacobs comments on Auburn's need to improve athletically after a down 2012-13 season for many of its teams, the disappointment from fans and what is being done to make changes.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn University athletic director Jay Jacobs discussed a variety of subjects on Tuesday in an address to members of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce and then answered questions after the event.

Jacobs said he realizes there is frustration in the university's fan base directed toward him from what has been a disappointing 2012-13 athletic year and that he shares that frustration.

"I have heard a lot of it and I felt it myself growing up an Auburn fan and walking on playing (football) here," the athletic director said. "Winning means everything to me. I am not going to do it at any cost. I am not going to compromise my integrity to win.

"I have heard it," he said of the criticism. "Sometimes I hear it when I go home so it is loud and clear.

"Auburn people are passionate," Jacobs added. "That is why you have the largest crowd in the nation show up for the A-Day Game. They love this institution and they expect better and they are going to get better. It has been a tough year, but I tell you this, we are going to bounce back."

Jacobs noted that in his line of work as an athletic director of a high profile athletic department that his job is always on the line, but after meeting with a committee that reviewed the athletic department for AU president Dr. Jay Gogue, Jacobs predicted, "I think I am going to be here for a while. I look forward to taking this program where Dr. Gogue, I and all Auburn fans expect it to be. I am up for the challenge. I am ready to move us forward."

Auburn is wrapping up a disappointing athletic year in which no team, men's or women's, has won an SEC Championship.

"I met with Dr. Gogue late last week," Jacobs said. "We have got to continue to improve our internal operations, our gameday experience on and off the field and also another key point is our interaction with our fans and alumni.

"We look forward to continue to improve in those areas," he added. "We are just ready to aggressively move forward and get better."

Jacobs said that his staff is looking closely at Auburn's "internal operations" to make sure "they have everybody situated properly" with the goal to make sure that AU features a "cutting edge" athletic department.

He noted that the department hired a consulting firm, JMI Sports, to take a look at the day to day operations and compare what Auburn is doing to what other similar universities are doing on the athletics front. "They are doing a review of a lot of different things inside our athletic department and one of them is how we operate and are we efficient and effective," Jacobs said.

"It is always great, just like this committee that came in, to have a fresh eyes approach because sometimes, as maybe as you do in your job, too, you get into doing things and realize this is the way we have always done it and that is not the best way to be successful so you bring in a group and you look and say, ‘Hey, you talk about doing it this way.' That is what JMI is providing for us."

JMI Sports, which began working for AU in December, will continue to do its review throughout 2013, Jacobs pointed out. "As the president said, they often do this for academic units--bring in outside groups to look at it. I think it was in the best interest of Auburn athletics to have people come in with a fresh eyes approach--a great group of people that are business people, former athletes, former athletic administrators, marketing people--come in and take a look and say we know this is how the athletics world operates, but here are some economy of scale, some efficiencies, some room for improvements."

JMI Sports, which was founded by the former owner of the San Diego Padres, has a collegiate client list that includes Auburn's rival Alabama as well as North Carolina, New Mexico, Houston, San Diego, University of San Diego, Colorado, Oregon and the Southeastern Conference. Pro teams include the Boston Red Sox, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians.

Another priority, according to Jacobs, is to make sure the athletic department does a good job of working with "our donors, fans and alumni and how we treat them."

Among the topics the athletic director discussed on Tuesday:

Football: Jacobs predicted better days are on the horizon for this program under the leadership of new head coach Gus Malzahn, who took charge of the team in December after Gene Chizik was fired following a 3-9 season.

"We made the biggest change in December when we hired Gus," Jacobs said. "We are certainly excited about that."

Jacobs said that ticket sales are up for priority seating for the 2013 season in all areas of Jordan-Hare Stadium except for the seats that are not bought through the Tigers Unlimited program. "Most of those people wait until it gets closer to game time in hopes of getting tickets without paying the fee to be part of Tigers Unlimited.," he said.

"The great news is we are ahead, year to date, of where we were coming out of 2008 and that is a great benchmark for us because coming off a 3-9 season we didn't know what to expect. Then, the ticket sales started going along, and then A-Day, and the momentum with the commitments the football program has had, and the passion of the Auburn people, it is really a great thing. It has actually helped renew people's interest in buying those tickets."

Gus Malzahn returned to Auburn where he had spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator.

Jacobs has high praise for Malzahn. "He has demonstrated he is a fierce competitor, he is a tireless worker and a great ambassador for Auburn. I don't know of any coach who has been to more events outside of football than he has in the last four months. Also, the staff he has put together is incredible--not only great coaches, but great recruiters."

Basketball: After three losing seasons in three years at Auburn, Coach Tony Barbee is expected to show improvement in year four. Jacobs didn't give specifics on how much improvement he expects.

"Three years at Auburn, we have a lot of history to overcome," Jacobs said. "Sonny Smith took seven years (actually six seasons) to get to the NCAA (Tournament) and Cliff (Cliff Ellis) took five. I made the decision. That is a call ADs make. Now he has got to produce. We have to have results. We will see how that is."

Coach Tony Barbee's Tigers were hoping to reach a postseason tournament this year, but that did not happen.

The athletic director said he isn't demanding a certain number of wins from Barbee for the 2013-14 season, but is expecting a competitive team. "We will know what getting better is," he said. "I will know when I see it."

Jacobs had praise for first year women's hoops coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, who led the Tigers to the fourth round of the WNIT this past season. "She is exciting and I love what she is doing from a recruiting standpoint."

Baseball: With the Tigers on the bubble for qualifying for an NCAA regional tournament bid for the first time since 2010, Jacobs said this is not the right time to discuss the future of head coach John Pawlowski. However, he did say he is encouraged about the team's chances for making NCAA postseason play this year and its recent improvement in RPI.

John Pawlowski's team has a 31-20 record going into Tuesday night's last regular season non-conference game vs. Jacksonville State.

Jacobs noted that upgrading the facilities at Plainsman Park should help the program. The university has a three-part plan in place for improvements. Part one has been approved to redo the team clubhouse with the help of a $1 million gift from former Tiger star Tim Hudson.

Coaching Vacancy: After firing softball coach Tina Deese last week with Auburn being one of just two SEC programs to not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, Jacobs said that Auburn will begin contacting candidates for the job after their seasons are completed.

"I think we can do better in softball," Jacobs said. "We will have a committee of some former athletes--some former softball players." Associate athletic director Meredith Jenkins will be the chair of the search committee, but Jacobs said he "will make the call" on who is hired.

Gameday Experience: Jacobs said a high priority is to improve parking for fans attending Auburn sporting events, particularly football, and to improve the gameday tailgating experience for football by opening up more areas for doing that after years of fans seeing their traditional tailgate spots become difficult to access or not available at all. He noted that he is encouraged that the athletic department will be getting cooperation from other areas of the university such as facilities and the academic deans, who he said understand the importance of keeping alumni happy.

He also noted the athletic department is benefitting from working with the Disney Institute on ways to improve the gameday experience.


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