COLUMN | Auburn sport is alive again

The lights get brighter. The jungle roars – two nights in a row. The whistle sounds. Bruce Pearl’s commanding yell echoes through Neville Arena.

When the tip comes and the basketball hits the hardwood on Wednesday and Thursday nights for Auburn basketball’s exhibition games, the Auburn family can take a deep breath. A new era is underway.

With a change in both head football coach and athletic director on Monday, along with a thriving men’s basketball program and a burgeoning women’s team playing again this week, there’s never been a better time for Auburn to start fresh.

More importantly, this time the new hires are prepared to do just that. Bryan Harsin has not received (and failed to earn) any endorsement from the program since day one. An internal investigation within the football program almost cost him his job in February and his reputation never recovered. And with that, the guy who hired him, the former AD Allen Greene, apparently lost his approval as well.

But Auburn seems to recognize that, and this time things feel different.

Though no permanent head coach is named, Auburn can finally sit comfortably where it’s at. At 3-5, fans now have a reason to get back to Auburn football as Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, an Auburn graduate and beloved collaborator, has been named interim head coach.

It still has games with Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Western Kentucky and Alabama, and what does Auburn have to lose? However, there is much to gain. A shell look seems unattainable, but is still tangible. Not to mention that an Iron Bowl victory is still up for grabs.

That may sound unrealistic, but I guess I’m just a big dreamer.

Auburn came into the Iron Bowl last year 6-5 and thought it didn’t have a shot. It then jumped into the dressing room and motioned for the fans to make noise with a 10-0 lead. It feels like Auburn just needs to figure out how to end games.

Let’s look at the halftime results in Auburn’s last 13 games, where it went 3-10: 17-13 to Arkansas, 28-17 to Ole Miss, 14-0 to Georgia, 17-14 up against LSU, tie 14- 14 with Missouri, 14-6 to Penn State, 10-7 to San Jose State, 28-7 to Mercer, 10-3 to Houston, 10-0 to Alabama, 14-14 to South Carolina, 28-10 to Mississippi State and 3-3 with Texas A&M.

The biggest of those deficits was a 14-point deficit from No. 1 Georgia in Athens. None of those games were out of control at the break. The fact that Auburn went 3-10 underscores the coaching staff’s inability to make halftime adjustments. If you ask me, the ability to win or at least compete in games (yes, SEC games) is there.

And now the excitement is there too. Some players fully supported Harsin, but a large handful of them did not. Williams, if nothing else, is a guy the team will rally behind and pour his heart out to.

The 40-year-old Alabama Williams is relatable to players as a former Tiger himself, and in three years as running backs coach for Auburn, running backs have been one of Auburn’s greatest strengths. In those two seasons, Auburn’s running back room has accumulated nine 100-yard games and three weekly SEC honors.

He also had his own success in a maroon uniform. He was an All-American at Auburn in 2004 and led the Tigers to three SEC West championships and an unbeaten season in 2014.

Does it mean Auburn will win if he plays hard for his coach? Probably not, but I don’t expect the Tigers to hound another 18-point win from behind on Saturday.

Not to mention, on Monday, Auburn hired former Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen. Here’s the key: The decision to fire Harsin is not credited to Cohen, and he was hired without being expected to immediately execute a major layoff. Hiring him with a football coach hanging by a thread only puts him in a bad position from the start.

The details of Harsin’s firing and Cohen’s part in it are unknown, but the important part is that the decision isn’t attributed to him.

Who wants to walk into a school and be the first to fire the soccer coach? Regardless of how Auburn felt about Harsin, Cohen has had a difficult road to establishing his reputation with Auburn.

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Now Cohen will be welcomed, and while he’s tasked with finding the right man to hire as Auburn’s next permanent coach, he has time to make that decision as Williams fills the void. And who knows? He could make things easy for Cohen and prove that Auburn doesn’t need to keep looking for a coach.

Either way, Cohen has a fair shot at proving himself, Williams has three conference games with a hungry team, and Bruce Pearl is still a winner — that’s one thing that hasn’t changed.

Auburn men’s basketball looks to build on a historic 2021 in which it reached the No. 1 ranking for the first time. However, early eliminations from the SEC and NCAA tournament left a sour taste in the mouth of Pearl’s team.

But with the calendar changed to November, the slate is clear for the Tigers and with that comes a chance to start over.

Noah Griffith | Deputy Sports Editor

Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined Plainsman in August 2021 after transferring from Southern Union Community College.

Twitter: @NoahGG01

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