Leaking And Speaking

Columnist Phillip Marhsall writes about Cliff Ellis, Bobby Petrino, Rodney Garner and other subjects.

It made interesting reading, but the letter written by Auburn basketball coach Cliff Ellis to trustee Bobby Lowder in 1999 contained no startling revelations.

Copies of the letter had been circulating for about the past week. The Birmingham Post-Herald wrote about it Wednesday. It dealt with negotiations going on at the time for a new contract for Ellis, with Ellis' feelings about Auburn's need for better facilities and with Ellis; feelings about compliance director Dave Didion and about the academic support system.

Interesting? Yes. Big news? No.

According to the letter, Ellis had discussed the issues with athletic director David Housel. He wrote to Lowder, who was chairman of the Board of Trustees athletics committee. Try as some will to say otherwise, there is nothing sinister or improper about that. The most intriguing part of the letter concerned Ellis' feelings that Didion should go. He left on his own a few weeks after the letter was written. Ellis and Didion have an intense dislike for each other. That's not news to anyone who was around the Auburn athletic department in 1999.

Didion and Ellis clashed in 1995 when Moochie Norris and Chris Davis were ruled ineligible. Auburn penalized itself with scholarship reductions and recruiting limitations. Didion and Ellis made little attempt to hide their disdain for one another. The real question is where the leak is in the Auburn athletic department. News organizations received anonymous letters in recent weeks questioning a minor error in the resume of an Auburn basketball assistant and with unfounded allegations of a fight between an Auburn basketball player and manager.

One of the anonymous letters was clearly in response to the firing of former Auburn assistant Mike Wilson by Richmond. There were numerous misrepresentations in Wilson's biographical sketch. Even his age was four years off. Whether those letters were related to the more recent episode is unclear. What is clear is that someone within the Auburn athletic department or with access to the Auburn athletic department is trying to cause trouble for the basketball program.

PETRINO MAKES IMPACT

How much of an impact has new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino made on Auburn players? Read the words of senior center Ben Nowland: "Coach Petrino knows so much about football it's sick. It is really cool to hear him talk and go over plays and stuff because you realize how much he does know."

Petrino moved to Auburn from the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was offensive coordinator. He coordinated offenses that led the nation at three levels of college football.

"It's the NFL, his history in college, just his attitude," Nowland says. "When he got here, he was all business. He gave us confidence because he's real aggressive about us getting done what he wants done."

GARNER ON RICHT

Georgia defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner doesn't hide his admiration for Bulldog head coach Mark Richt. Garner, a former Auburn player and assistant, told a visitor earlier this week he'd never seen anyone quite like him.

"His faith is so strong," Garner says. "I've been around a lot of people who talk about it, but he lives it. He's just such a good person. You know good things are going to happen for someone whose faith is that strong and who lives his life like that."

PLENTY OF CONFIDENCE

Tennessee wide receiver Kelley Washington, who caught 64 passes as a 21-year-old freshman last season, isn't lacking for ability. He's not lacking for confidence, either. "I always felt good about my ability as an athlete," Washington said in a recent interview. "I felt I was destined for great things, that I was going to be the best player in the world. I've always had that confidence, had that swagger. This year I'm going to prove that I'm the best receiver in the world."

Washington says with Donte Stallworth gone his plan is to catch 80 passes this season. "That's not a goal. That's reality now that I am the man. The nation has only seen a little bit of Kelley Washington."


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