Even during the best of times, with an SEC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff attainable on Saturday, Auburn can’t manage to shed its penchant for dysfunction. On the field the past month, there’s been no better team in college football than the Tigers. They dominated a pair of No. 1-ranked teams and are poised for the school’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff with a win over Georgia on Saturday.
Only Auburn, with so much going right, could allow its dysfunctional soul to still shine so brightly. There’s a federal investigation that one of its recently fired basketball assistant coaches, Chuck Person, is in the thicket of. There’s a basketball coach, Bruce Pearl, who could be fired any day. And then there’s the magic question that always hovers over Auburn: Who is actually in charge? This time, it’s because athletic director Jay Jacobs resigned, although he hasn’t left yet. But really, even when he wasn’t on his way out, that question has always shrouded Auburn’s athletic department.
And, yes, all those are just backdrop issues to the larger anvil lingering over what should be a sun-kissed weekend for Auburn – a contract showdown. Arkansas is so eager to throw money at Auburn coach Gus Malzahn that they are holding up their entire search just for the opportunity. One source with knowledge of Arkansas’ thinking said the school is, “ready to back up the Brinks truck” to lure Malzahn away from Auburn. Arkansas athletics has financial backing of the families around Tyson Foods and Walmart who’d like nothing better for their native son to return home.
Malzahn’s contract hasn’t been significantly adjusted – other than a year added on – since the eve of the SEC championship in 2013. Could there be a repeat of the timing in 2017? If not, and Auburn loses on Saturday, things will get really interesting. Only at Auburn could there be this level of drama on this big of a stage.
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