He Just Doesn't Get It

Columnist Phillip Marshall comments on Auburn University president Dr. William Walker's dealings with the football program.

Auburn president William Walker has said repeatedly that he really doesn't know much about football. That's about the only believable thing he's said recently.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know the story by now. Walker, athletic director David Housel and trustees Earlon McWhorter and Byron Franklin flew to an airport near Louisville to talk with Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino two days before Auburn's game against Alabama. They didn't bother to tell Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville they were interviewing a candidate for his job or to inform anybody at Louisville.

That was bad. The spin and the lies that have spewed forth since have been nothing short of disgusting.

With every word Walker says, he makes himself look worse.

At last Thursday's meeting of the Auburn University Senate, called to address Walker's clandestine trip and the response that followed, Walker made a truly remarkable statement. "Integrity," he said, "is in the eye of the beholder."

A lot of beholders don't believe Walker has shown much of that.

Confronted with the fact that the trip to interview Petrino was about to be exposed, Walker issued a statement that said Petrino had been identified by a search committee as a candidate should the Auburn job become open. One day later he issued a statement that said they went to see him to seek advice about the Auburn football program.

OK. That makes sense. Sure it does. You want to talk to Petrino about his views of the Auburn football program, so you sneak away on a Colonial Bank airplane to a remote airport in the middle of the night with two trustees and the athletic director in tow.

At the Senate meeting, Walker tried to have it both ways. He said he went to talk to Petrino about Auburn's program and also to have a look at Petrino in case a job came open and in case he was interested.

He said he started his "assessment" of the Auburn football program because of a flood of emails he'd received. He didn't say why the much larger flood of emails he's received demanding his resignation hasn't spurred him into action.

William Walker

In keeping with his way of sending conflicting messages, Walker said at the Senate meeting that he was not surprised Auburn was placed on probationary status by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. A day earlier, a press release issued by his office expressed surprise and disappointment over the decision.

Asked to explain the conflict, he threw out yet more spin. "We do a great job of press releases when we have all afternoon to argue about them," Walker said. "There was a conference call and that was what we could come up with."

I guess if they'd had just a little longer Walker would have remembered that he wasn't surprised and told his underlings not to say he was.

Sitting through a three-hour Senate meeting was an interesting experience. To be fair, it's obvious that, given the opportunity, a significant number of those Senators would quickly vote to do away with big-time athletics at Auburn. I'll admit to being a bit confused that you can pass a resolution saying you have no confidence in the president and fail to pass a resolution saying you want him to resign.

Walker offered yet another empty apology to Tuberville, but in the end, he made it obvious again that he doesn't get it.

"I think what I've done I've done with what I feel to be the best interest of Auburn University in mind," Walker said. "I've told the truth. I've acted directly. I've tried to make decisions based on information I've gathered. In this situation, whatever decision is made is going to offend somebody. I don't have a problem with what I've done."

He doesn't have a problem with what he's done? That tells it all.

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