Walker Having A Problem With The Truth

Columnist Phillip Marshall comments on the behavior of Auburn University's president, athletic director and members of the board of trustees.

As he has gone about embarrassing Auburn University like it has seldom if ever been embarrassed before, William Walker has chosen to communicate through "statements" that only add to the absurdity in this theater of the bizarre.

The only time Walker, Auburn's president, has actually answered questions was when Charles Goldberg of The Birmingham News, Jay Tate of The Montgomery Advertiser and I happened on him at Byron's Smokehouse in Auburn last Monday. Clearly uncomfortable, he answered our questions for a couple of minutes and was gone.

Since that brief encounter, a crisis like no other has befallen the school that Walker is charged with leading. It is a crisis of his making. You know the story now. Walker, athletic director David Housel and trustees Earlon McWhorter and Byron Franklin slipped away to an airport near Louisville two days before the Iron Bowl to talk to Bobby Petrino about replacing Tommy Tuberville as Auburn's head coach. They didn't have the integrity, honor or common decency to let Tuberville or anyone in the Louisville administration in on their secret.

William Walker

When Walker's scheme was about to be exposed, he issued a statement admitting the trip. That was just the opening act of the circus that has been the last two days. Petrino withdrew as a candidate and Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich leveled scathing criticism at Walker. The "Auburn Family" rose up in protest, lining up solidly behind Tuberville.

Just like that, Tuberville went from being as good as fired to not only keeping his job but being stronger than ever. That called for, you guessed it, another statement from Walker on Wednesday. And there is a big problem. The statements don't jive.

Here are the first two paragraphs from Tuesday's statement:

"As a part of my considerations regarding the football coaching situation, I flew to Louisville last Thursday night to meet with Bobby Petrino. This meeting was arranged by a search firm that is assisting me as I deliberate this issue.

"Coach Petrino has been mentioned as a candidate for the job should it become available. I have made no decision and am considering my options. This visit was a part of that process."

Here is the second paragraph of Wednesday's statement:

"In my desire to provide leadership and gain a clearer understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of Auburn's football program, I solicited opinions from a wide variety of individuals more knowledgeable about the game than I. One of those individuals was University of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino. My discussion with him went beyond his analysis of the Auburn program and, unfortunately, resulted in an understanding that I would favor his candidacy for the Auburn head coaching position if it were to become available."

Let's see. Tuesday night he said a search firm set up a meeting with Petrino because Petrino was mentioned as a candidate for the job should it become available. Wednesday he said he went to see Petrino for his analysis of the Auburn program but ended up going beyond that.

Maybe one of those statements is true. They can't both be true. One of them is a lie. That, of course, should come as no surprise. None of the four who made that trip had any problem lying about it, even to people who trusted and respected them. Does Walker have no shame? Does he really believe he can function even for one more day as an effective leader?

Not to be left out, Housel got into the statement game late Tuesday. "A lot of mistakes were made over the last several days, and for my part in those mistakes, I apologize," Housel said in his statement. "I apologize to Louisville, to Tom, to Bobby and most of all to Tommy.

"It was a process of evaluation that went awry. And I was part of that process. Regrettably, mistakes were made and as a result of those mistakes, a lot of people I care about had to go through some difficult times and difficult experiences. But now, we have to find a way to come together, mend the wounds, heal the relationships and move Auburn forward."

Well, cry me a river.

Housel left out a lot of people. He left out assistant coaches and support people who spent two weeks wondering if they had jobs. He left out their wives and children. He left out all the members of the "Auburn Family" who were humiliated and had their trust betrayed.

David Housel

Maybe McWhorter and Franklin will issue their statements today. Maybe, like Walker and Housel, they will shamelessly try to portray themselves as having had the best of intentions.

Sorry, it won't wash. There's not a sympathetic figure in the bunch. They chose a dishonorable path. They lied. They humiliated the institution they claim to love and trampled on good people.

Housel talks about coming together, mending wounds, healing relationships and moving Auburn forward. If that is to happen, the foursome that sneaked away in the night to talk to Petrino has only one option. If they truly love Auburn, they have to leave it. Then and only then can the healing truly begin.


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