For a long time, despite Baird's strong feelings that he did not want the job on a permanent basis, I thought he would take it if interim president Ed Richardson offered it. But Baird has made it clear now that he has little if any interest.
It's not because of Richardson's decision to fire Steve Renfroe over Baird's objection and it's not because of friction between Baird, who runs the department as athletics assistant to the president, and Richardson. They actually have a strong, if somewhat unusual, working relationship. Baird, who at one time planned to retire in August, simply wants to move on.
That's too bad for Auburn, because Baird has the integrity, the toughness and the intelligence to be one of the best. He is respected by Auburn coaches and administrators and he is respected in college athletic circles nationwide. He would be the best choice, indeed the only choice, if he wanted the job.
But barring Baird having a change of heart, there will be a search for a replacement for David Housel, who will officially retire as athletic director at the end of the year.
Hal Baird was Auburn's baseball coach prior to moving into administration.
Despite the tribulations of the past eight months, there will be no shortage of candidates. Other than doing what is necessary to get Auburn off SACS probation, making the right choice might be the most crucial task facing Richardson as interim president.
My guess is--and it's only a guess--is that Tigers Unlimited director Jay Jacobs, Birmingham-Southern athletic director Joe Dean Jr. and retired Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley will get some attention from the start.
Jay Jacobs is the only legitimate in-house candidate, though that could change if swimming and diving coach David Marsh, a favorite of Richardson's, were to indicate interest in the job.
Jacobs was a walk-on offensive lineman who made good and was one of Pat Dye's favorites. He has spent almost his entire adult life as an Auburn administrator and has done a variety of jobs.
A thoughtful, honest and capable man, Jacobs would approach the job with the passion of one given the opportunity of his dreams. In his early 40s, Jacobs could be expected to stay for a long time. He would have some work to do in establishing relationships with Auburn coaches.
Jacobs and Earlon McWhorter, the president pro tempore of the Board of Trustees, are close friends. Whether that would help or hurt, considering McWhorter's involvement in last November's ill-advised visit with Bobby Petrino, is an open question.
Dooley, an icon in Southeastern Conference athletics, might be the most intriguing possibility.
Since Housel announced he was stepping down, there has been talk about the possibility of Dooley returning to his alma mater. Dooley has not said he would be interested, but neither has he said he wouldn't be.
Dooley, of course, was a star Auburn quarterback. He was an Auburn assistant coach when Joel Eaves hired him in 1964 as Georgia's head coach. He spent 25 big-winning years on the Georgia sideline and another 16 as athletic director. He was forced to retire before he was ready.
There is little question that Dooley would be a unifying force at his alma mater, but at 71, Dooley could not be expected to give more than 3-4 years. Is that enough? Would he be interested?
For Dooley to have any interest, Richardson would certainly have to agree to back away and let him run the department. Maybe Richardson is willing to do that, but he hasn't shown any signs of it so far.
A rising star in athletic administration is just up the road. Birmingham-Southern athletic director Joe Dean Jr. is going to get a big-time job somewhere. Could it be Auburn?
Dean has Southeastern Conference bloodlines. His father was the athletic director at LSU. He played and coached basketball at Mississippi State. The burning question is whether Auburn would hire an athletic director with no football background.
Richardson has said he is compiling a list of candidates. Who is on his list and who is not, for now, is a secret. Based on past experience, it won't be a secret for long.
What Auburn needs most in its next athletic director is a mixture of integrity, enthusiasm and vision. Auburn needs a man (or woman) who will come to town intent on energizing the fan base and helping Tiger teams maximize their opportunities.
There has been enough squabbling among Auburn people. The next athletic director needs to be someone who can say "follow me."
Identifying and hiring that person is Richardson's job. How well he does it will go a long way in determining his Auburn legacy.
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