Phillip Marshall: Hal Baird's Auburn Legacy

Coach Hal Baird will leave a legacy of winning and respect behind when he walks away from Auburn University.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

The words of Rudyard Kipling, written long ago in the poem "If" still ring true today. They describe remarkably well the qualities of a man who did more than any other to rescue Auburn's athletic program from the dark days of late 2003 and early 2004.

In the wake of what has come to be known as jetgate and the imposition of SACS probation, there wasn't a lot of joy in the Auburn athletic department as 2004 arrived. Not even a win over Alabama and a win over Wisconsin in the Music City Bowl were enough to lift the cloud that hung over Auburn athletics.

The infamous secret trip to talk to Louisville coach Bobby Petrino about replacing Tommy Tuberville had angered Auburn people. SACS probation had angered them further. Their anger cost former president William Walker his job in January. Ed Richardson was appointed interim president. In March, David Housel announced he would step down as athletic director at the end of football season.

Richardson put senior associate athletic director Hal Baird in charge of the day-to-day operation of the athletic department, changing his title to athletics assistant to the president.

And the healing began.

Baird remains a baseball coach at heart. From 1985-2001, he won more baseball games than any coach in Auburn history. He reluctantly agreed to pass up a nice offer from the Atlanta Braves to become senior associate athletic director in 2001. He had planned to retire last August, but when his adopted school called, he answered again.

Baird brought unquestioned integrity, uncompromised values, independence and a fierce belief in doing what was right to the job. He respected the chain of command, but he didn't hesitate to clash with Richardson when he felt strongly. Truly, he kept his head when all about him were losing theirs.

In the end, Baird led searches that resulted in the hiring of men's basketball coach Jeff Lebo, women's basketball coach Nell Fortner and, Wednesday, athletic director Jay Jacobs. Those things were important.

More important was that no one wondered if Baird was telling the truth, no one wondered if he had a hidden agenda, no one wondered if he was being influenced by anyone else. Not this man.

Baird restored trust where trust had been lost. Gradually, the scandal brought on the university by people with agendas of their own, began to fade away. Football season arrived, and the Tigers began to win. They haven't stopped winning, posting the first 12-0 season in school history and winning 14 straight dating back to last season. Instead of fighting for his job, Tuberville is an Auburn hero.

There is no doubt the success of football season has done wonders for the psyches of Auburn folks everywhere. But it was Baird who showed the way to bring respect back to Auburn's athletic program.

Baird says he will retire from Auburn at the end of March, probably going back into professional baseball, maybe for the Braves.

He'll leave a legacy of honesty, character and doing things the right way.

It's hard to leave a better legacy than that.

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