Men's Hoops Program Sitting In Neutral

Phillip Marshall writes about several of Auburn's athletic programs.

The rumors are flying. Names from Mike Davis to Mike Anderson to Jeff Capel to Jeff Lebo are being mentioned as candidates to be Auburn's next basketball coach.

What's true and what's not? I wish I could say. It's not a comfortable thing for a reporter to admit, but I don't have a clue. I don't even know who is conducting the search, if a search has begun or who will make the decision. Until I know that, I'm not going to speculate on who it will be.

Recent months have been among the more difficult in the history of the Auburn athletic department. Confusion has reigned since the ill-fated trip to interview Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. And the events of recent weeks have only made things more confusing.

David Housel announced last Tuesday that he would retire at the end of the year as Auburn's athletic director. Numerous sources close to interim president Ed Richardson have said he wants to put Hal Baird in charge of the program as early as this week. Just what form that will take, whether Baird will agree to do it, what Housel's role would be, is anybody's guess.

Meanwhile, Auburn's basketball program and the young men who are part of it are stuck in neutral. Shannon Weaver, Tracy Dildy and Charlton Young will do all they can to take care of the players, but they also have to be concerned about their own futures. Someone needs to move and move fast.

Were I in charge at Auburn, I would put in a call to UAB's Mike Anderson at the earliest opportunity. His team became a national story Sunday by knocking off Kentucky to reach the Sweet 16. But Anderson was impressive even before that. He took the Blazers to the Conference USA championship game last season, his first at the helm.

He worked for 17 years as Nolan Richardson's assistant at Arkansas, and that makes some people uncomfortable. It shouldn't matter. Anderson has proved he can coach. He's taken players mostly unwanted by other major schools, including Auburn and Alabama, and done great things. He's a Birmingham native. It seems to me he has it all.

Any of the other three mentioned also would be good choices. Davis won big for three seasons at Indiana. The Hoosiers struggled this season, but he has already put together what many say is the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. He is from Fayette, born and raised in Alabama. Some would complain that Auburn shouldn't hire a former Alabama player, but I don't see what difference it makes where he played almost a quarter of a century ago. I am less familiar with Capel and Lebo, but those who know say both are fine coaches.

There are, no doubt, other quality coaches out there who would be interested. Whoever is making this call needs to have some urgency. Auburn's program is at a dangerous point. It could move forward or it could sink to the bottom of the Southeastern Conference.

Auburn can win in basketball. Auburn should win in basketball. With its resources, Auburn should win in any sport to which it commits itself. But someone better make the right choice this time, or it could be a long time before it happens.


Speaking of winning, David Marsh and his swim teams just keep right on rolling. The Tiger women really didn't have a particularly good meet in the national championships in College Station over the weekend. But even less than their best was easily enough. They won their third consecutive national title. Next year's seniors will go into the season with an opportunity to go four-for-four in their careers.

The men go after their second consecutive title this weekend, and they are prohibitive favorites to get it. If there is a program more dominant in any sport than Auburn's in swimming, I don't know what it would be.


As I write this, I sit in cold Stamford, Conn., where the Auburn women's basketball team is awaiting Tuesday night's game with mighty UConn. The Tigers were quite impressive in dispatching North Carolina State 79-59 on Tuesday night.

Joe Ciampi

Can they beat UConn? They'd have to do it before a highly partisan crowd of more 9,000 in nearby Bridgeport. It could happen, but it's a long shot. Regardless, coach Joe Ciampi has the Tigers back among the nation's elite.

The Tigers are playing with a chip on their collective shoulders, and they should be. The decision to seed them No. 7 after they finished third in the SEC made no sense and was a slap in the face. They gave their answer Sunday night.

Until next time...

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