Marshall: Under Radar, Blackmon and Baseball

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at the week that was in Auburn and Southeastern Conference athletics, what should be done to Tray Blackmon and what happened to Smoke Laval. He also gives some insight to one of Auburn's least heralded signees.

Monday morning ramblings …

He wasn't Auburn's most celebrated signee. No national television audience waited with anticipation for his commitment. But Opelika High School coach Spence McCracken says Auburn got a special player in defensive lineman Zach Clayton.

Clayton, the son of Auburn assistant track coach Jerry Clayton, has a chance, McCracken says, to be a star on the college level.

"Whew! He's a player," McCracken told a visitor to his office. "You just wait."

Clayton, who did not attend summer football camps except for one at Auburn, did not go into last season high on the recruiting radar. McCracken says, in the end, he had numerous offers.

"He has the best work ethic of any kid I've ever coached," McCracken said. "We'd be getting ready to practice in 105-degree weather and he'd be out there stretching 20 minutes early." …

An old coaching adage has proved true again at LSU. You don't want to be the guy who follows a legend. You want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows a legend.

Smoke Laval was fired over the weekend after five seasons as LSU baseball coach. The Bayou Bengals were left out of the NCAA regionals this year for the first time in 18 seasons. That was apparently too much for the legend himself, Skip Bertman, to take. Bertman, now the LSU athletic director, decided to make a change.

I wonder if one disappointing season has ever cost a coach so much. In the four previous seasons, Laval had taken LSU to a Southeastern Conference championship and on two trips to Omaha for the College World Series.

I feel safe in saying that would have been enough to keep your job at any other school in the SEC.

Bertman even said he wouldn't rule out returning to coach the team himself. I wonder if Bertman has come to grips with the current reality of SEC baseball.

LSU won five national championships in the 1990s, but that was a different time. That's a feat that is not likely to be repeated, regardless of who takes over that or any other program.

Alabama demonstrates the reality of SEC baseball. In 2004, the Crimson Tide was not significantly better than Auburn was this season, winning just 10 games. Sunday, the Tide swamped Troy to win its regional and seems clearly to be the class of the league. You are going to have good years and bad ones, even if you are LSU.

The names of Alabama coach Jim Wells and Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco are going to be prominent in speculation about Laval's successor. Both were assistants under Bertman at LSU. …

Redshirt freshman Auburn linebacker Tray Blackmon has learned a hard lesson about life as a big-time college football player.

A charge of public intoxication and underage drinking for an ordinary college student would not merit a line in a newspaper or a word on a television show. As offenses go, it is viewed as quite minor. But, as much as some wish it other wise, football players in prominent programs are not ordinary college students.

Blackmon will likely serve his punishment on the practice fields this summer under the watchful eye of Coach Kevin Yoxall and his staff.

Some have tried to compare Blackmon's arrest with that of Alabama linebacker Juwan Simpson, which is ridiculous. The charges against the two are not comparable. Regardless, Blackmon has embarrassed himself, his family and his team.

He'll, no doubt, pay a physical price on hot summer days under the watchful eye of strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall. I doubt if he'll be suspended, and from what I know of the incident, he shouldn't be. …

A good man and a good friend will be honored in at the Alabama Sports Writers Association convention in Auburn tonight.

Wayne Martin, a sports writer at The Birmingham News for many years, will be inducted into the Alabama Sports Writers Hall of Fame.

Wayne, who no longer works in sports, was a young reporter when I was a teenage copy boy in The News sports department. He was one of my favorites then and is one of my favorites now.

It couldn't happen to a better person. …

Until next time …


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