Fired Coach Still Glad He Came To Auburn

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about what one of Auburn's former men's basketball coaches is dealing with after being fired by AU.

He celebrated a championship and two trips to the Sweet 16. He felt the sting of bitter losses. But for seven years Auburn basketball was Shannon Weaver's passion.

On March 18, everything changed. Weaver, Auburn's associate head coach, waited in his office while head coach Cliff Ellis went to meet with interim president Ed Richardson. The telephone rang. It was associate sports information director Chuck Gallina. "I'm sorry, Shannon," Gallina said. Weaver knew it was over. Ellis had been fired.

In big-time college athletics, if the head coach has been fired, that usually means the assistants will be next. That part became official when new coach Jeff Lebo's staff was named on Friday. Weaver, Tracy Dildy and Charlton Young will no longer be Auburn basketball coaches.

Shannon Weaver (seated right) is shown with his former boss, Cliff Ellis.

Weaver, 39, is the son of a high school coach. He knew what he was getting into when he decided he, too, wanted to be a coach. But it's one thing to talk about it and hear about it. It's another thing to experience it.

"I was numb," Weaver said. "That whole day was sort of numbness. You always hear about it, but until you hear it, you can't imagine the feeling. It's different than anything I've been through.

"I think you have to go through it to understand it. There's a huge sense of stoppage in what you are doing. I don't think college coaching is as much a job as it is a quest. All of a sudden the quest stops, and it stops very abruptly. It goes from 1,000 miles per hour to nothing. You have this huge purpose to your professional life and it ends."

Weaver came to Auburn from West Georgia. He helped win a Southeastern Conference championship in 1999. He was teacher, friend and confidant to Auburn players. He strongly believes Ellis should have been given more time, but he refuses to be overcome by bitterness and anger. It's not his way.

"I told the players when we met that the people in charge here have very difficult jobs," Weaver said. "There are two things you have to love to be good at this job--the players and the university. Even though I don't agree with the final outcome, I believe they were doing what they thought was best for Auburn. I don't feel any bitterness toward individuals. I don't like the situation, but I know those individuals are doing what they think is best. Right or wrong, you have to respect that.

"The biggest sense of loss I feel is that I love representing Auburn and I'm not going to get to do that anymore. I don't like that."

Weaver faces a far more complicated situation than do Dildy or Young. He was accused by the NCAA of offering money in an effort to lure Chadd Moore from Lee High School in Huntsville to Auburn. Anyone who knows Weaver well, knows his beliefs and values, also knows the absurdity of those charges, made to the NCAA by Moore's mother, Clara. For reasons only they know, the NCAA enforcement staff insisted on moving forward despite having not a shred of corroborating evidence. In fact, the evidence that it didn't happen is overwhelming. Weaver has documentation that he couldn't have been in Huntsville at the time the offer was allegedly made. Auburn never even offered Moore a scholarship.

Weaver is extremely well-respected in coaching circles. Had it not been for the NCAA investigation, he might well have been named head coach at Western Kentucky last year. Because of the lack of evidence, it is unlikely there will be a finding against him, but until the long-awaited NCAA verdict is in, Weaver is dead in the water professionally.

It has all caused Weaver to look at his life and his career from a different perspective. "It's a time for reflection," Weaver said. "You look at all the things in your life and the roles they play. It is too much? Do I want my job to have this big a role? The thing I hope I learn from all this is that it is a job. It's a good job and a job that requires a lot, but it's a job."

And in the end, more than about Auburn, more than about basketball, more than about even the players, it's about Mendy, Layne, Avery and Gray back home at the Weaver household.

"This is an uncomfortable position," Weaver said. "You know you are going to have to provide for your family. It's not the best feeling, but I believe if you just keep doing the right things, something good will happen."

Weaver was an assistant coach, working for Ed Murphy at West Georgia, when Ellis called in 1997 to offer him a job. It was the opportunity for which he'd long been waiting. It is not a coincidence that two years after he arrived, Auburn won an SEC championship.

If he had to do over, Weaver says, he'd do it again. "I don't have one regret," Weaver said. "Of course, you wish you could win every game, but you're not going to. The people at LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky--they want to win every game, too. That's not how it's going to come out.

"I've enjoyed every single day at Auburn. Growing up a coach's son, we moved around. I've lived in Auburn longer than anywhere I've lived in my life. We brought all three of our children home in Auburn. There will always be a part of us here.

"I think regrets come if you haven't been true to yourself. Other than where we sit now, I wouldn't change a thing."

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