Basketball Season On the Line

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the basketball Tigers and the search for an offensive and defensive coordinator for the football team.

In some seasons, it wouldn't make that much difference.

It didn't much matter in 1999 whether or not Auburn was a good free throw shooting team. The Tigers were so dominant that most games were decided before halftime. There are teams every year that are so talented and athletic that free throws don't play a huge role. This Auburn team is not one of those teams. And if the Tigers don't start making more of their free throws, it's going to be a long, long Southeastern Conference season.

Auburn is 8-4 and 0-1 going into Wednesday night's game at Ole Miss. If it was a good free throw shooting team, that record could well be 12-0 and 1-0 with a nice national ranking to go with it.

Head coach Cliff Ellis and his assistants are at a loss. They see the problem. They work on the problem every day in practice. It gets no better. Adam Harrington, once an 80-percent free throw shooter, was 1-for-4 against Arkansas. It must be contagious.

Arkansas, with superior depth, challenged virtually every Auburn drive to the basket in Saturday's 83-77 victory at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The Razorbacks were called for 25 fouls, but Auburn converted a paltry 17 of 33 at the line. The result was that Auburn couldn't win despite a 41-32 rebounding edge, 11 offensive rebounds by Brandon Robinson and decent 45.5 percent shooting.

Free throw shooting isn't the only problem. If Kyle Davis doesn't return quickly from an elbow injury, Auburn is not strong enough inside to make a serious run in the SEC. It might not even be strong enough inside to squeeze back into the NIT. Arkansas is one of the smaller teams in the league. It was last in rebounding margin coming in. It could get ugly when the Tigers play the bigger, more powerful teams down the road.

On the positive side, you have to admire the way Mack McGadney is playing. Still recuperating from last year's knee surgery, he played harder than anybody on the court Saturday until he finally just ran out of gas.

Auburn's basketball future is bright. Robinson is off to a spectacular start. Derrick Bird, Marco Killingsworth and Dwayne Mitchell are going to be terrific players. One can only hope that Abdou Diame has come to grips with reality and start to reach his immense potential. But for now, for this season, Auburn will have to win an awful lot of close games to be successful. If the free throws don't start falling, it isn't going to happen.


It seems to be all but a done deal that Bob Petrino will be named Auburn's next offensive coordinator. That has to be viewed as a coup for Tiger head coach Tommy Tuberville. It's not all that unusual for an NFL coordinator to move to a college head coaching job, but it is extremely rare for an NFL coordinator to move to a college coordinator's job. Petrino apparently decided after three seasons with the Jaguars that he liked the college game better.

That's good news for Auburn, considering that Petrino-coached offenses led the nation in total yards in the NAIA, Division I-AA and Division IA.

The defensive coordinator slot will almost certainly be filled this week, too, but it remains a mystery just who Tuberville's choice might be. He's going to the coaches' convention in San Antonio, Texas, today to interview candidates.

Don't be surprised if it's one of the young guys on the list. On the other hand, don't be surprised if it's a grizzled veteran. And don't be surprised if it's someone who has not been mentioned in reports of possible candidates.


It came as quite a shock when Steve Spurrier suddenly resigned as Florida's head coach. I'm sure the coaches who had to compete against him won't mourn his departure, but he'll be missed by those of us who knew him.

It became so commonplace for Florida to have a national contender that it was easy to forget the state of Florida football before Spurrier arrived in 1990. Spurrier won six SEC championships in 12 seasons. It would have been seven if his first Gator team had not been on probation. Before that, Florida had not won the SEC even once.

Spurrier leaves a program with more money, more prestige, more of just about everything than any other in the SEC. His legacy at Florida equals that of Bear Bryant at Alabama. And that doesn't even take into account the Heisman Trophy he won there in 1966.

It's not the wins or the championships I'll miss about Spurrier. I'll miss his honesty, his brashness, all of it. He had good teams, knew he had good teams and never tried to say otherwise. I'd sure hate to be the guy who has to try to follow that act.

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