Marshall: Refreshing Honesty At President's Office

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about AU president Ed Richardson and his search for a new athletic director.

You have to hand it to interim Auburn president Ed Richardson. The man is a straight shooter.

You might not like every decision he makes or everything he says, but Richardson is a refreshing change from William Walker, his predecessor who told the truth only when it was convenient.

Late Monday afternoon, a half dozen reporters showed up unannounced at Richardson's office. Instead of retreating into hiding, he welcomed us in. And he answered every question.

Richardson's advisors wish he would sometimes be a little less candid, keep some things a little more to himself. But that's not his nature, much to the delight of those of us who report the news for a living. He tackles questions and issues head on, which has resulted in some people losing their jobs and some decisions that didn't sit well with a lot of people.

Unlike Walker, Richardson has a very thick skin. He let me know he didn't appreciate what was written in this space two days ago, but he did in a good-natured and inoffensive way.

Those close to Richardson have said all along that he is taking orders from no one. And there is no indication that he is, though there are certainly people whose opinions he trusts and values. So it is, or should be, with all of us.

Richardson walked into the president's office early this year with plenty of administrative experience. But he had a lot to learn about the ways of a major university. He had even more to learn about the ways of a big-time athletic department. Hal Baird, who plans to retire in March, has been a godsend for Richardson. He has helped point him in the right direction on numerous issues, the most recent being football coach Tommy Tuberville's contract.

There is one more big decision to make in the athletic department. Richardson plans to name Auburn's next athletic director today. I don't know if Jacobs will be Richardson's choice today or not. But I do know Auburn could do a lot worse.

I've known Jacobs since he was an undersized walk-on offensive lineman who became a starter on the 1983 Southeastern Conference championship team. He made it because he was willing to stay longer and work harder. Like his teammates in those years, he learned a lot of valuable lessons about teamwork and sacrifice.

People of good will can disagree over who the athletic director should be. But the idea that Jacobs is somebody's lackey or somebody's yes man is laughable.

Yes, Jacobs has a relationship with trustee Earlon McWhorter. He and Dowe Aughtman, McWhorter's son-in-law, were teammates. That relationship creates a perception among some people that Jacobs is beholden to McWhorter, but despite the old saying, perception is not always reality.

In this case, it certainly isn't.

Jacobs is a kind and friendly family man who is devout in his faith. He is also a tough-minded, confident man who is not afraid of a fight. He is an Auburn man through and through. He knew nothing of the ill-fated trip to talk to Bobby Petrino in November 2003, and quickly stepped forward to support Tuberville in the aftermath.

Whoever is named athletic director will be something of a roll of the dice. Neither LSU's Dan Radakovich nor Florida's Greg McGarity has been the main man at this level before. Scott Etheridge, the former Auburn kicker who is a rising star at NBC, has never worked for a day in an athletic department.

Running an athletic department and running a corporation are very different things. An athletic department is a unique combination of business, athletics and academics. It takes a person with unique skills to be a successful athletic director.

Should he be named, Jacobs would have to prove himself like anyone else.

But in terms of class, character and values, Jacobs has nothing to prove to anyone. He proved those things long ago.

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