AUBURN, Ala. — The worst year in men’s sports history at Auburn is not deterring Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs from heaping high praise on his coaches.
“Auburn athletics is strong,” Jacobs declared at the SEC’s spring meetings in early June.
The three major sports (football, men’s basketball and baseball) have never combined for a lower winning percentage (.410) and SEC win percentage (.269) in a single academic year, according to research by AL.com.
To put the losses in perspective, look no further than the women’s softball team. Clint Myers’ bunch won 16 SEC games; the three men’s sports combined to win only 15 games (15-41).
Myers’ softball program finished as the national runner-up against Oklahoma earlier this month. A new robust contract is headed his way for a second straight year. Meanwhile, the women’s equestrian team won a national title and the women’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA Tournament, a feat the men’s team has not accomplished since 2003.
“Absolutely we have to do better but I can tell you this: we’re not sparing any resources to give each of those coaches — those three and the other 12 — an opportunity to be successful,” Jacobs said June 21 in Atmore, Ala. “Whatever it is they need, certainly within reason, but having been in this business and played, I know what’s within reason.”
The football program opened the season ranked No. 6 in the national polls, finished 7-6 and nearly lost to in-state FCS foe Jacksonville State in Week 2. The football program has lost nine of its last 11 SEC games.
The basketball program suffered through a string of injuries to its best players (Tahj Shamsid-Deen, T.J. Dunans) and eligibility issues with another (Danjel Purifoy) to finish with a 11-20 overall record and 5-13 SEC mark in Bruce Pearl’s second season as coach.
Auburn’s entire starting lineup could be new once again, but the talent is immense. The issue will be the lack of experience.
“Bruce is going to have a completely different roster this year, again, but I talked to him [Tuesday] and he said they’re more athletic than they’ve been,” Jacobs said. “What that means in this league? It’s hard to say. But we’re going to be better … but if everybody else is better — but we’re going to be better.”
Baseball was a completely different animal. Butch Thompson was not provided much time to rebuild the program after the sudden firing of third-year coach Sunny Golloway in September. Thompson “did a masterful job keeping those young guys together,” Jacobs said. The Tigers finished 23-33 overall and 8-22 in the SEC.
Thompson, a former pitching coach at Mississippi State, is a name several schools would have been interested in hiring this spring if Auburn had not already hired him, Jacobs bragged.
The scoreboard matters to fans, but attendance continues to be up for football and men’s basketball. Interest is still high, but it could be tested this upcoming season if the losing continues. The Auburn football program has not won an SEC game at Jordan-Hare Stadium since Oct. 25, 2014.
“But I know this: we have to win more,” Jacobs said. “That’s what we’re all about, but with those three guys and these three major sports you’re speaking about specifically, I’ve never felt better about a group of coaches in my history here in Auburn.”