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Smokey and mirrors

Both of these men are 34 years old. But one of them is paid millions of dollars to act their age.
Both of these men are 34 years of age. But one of them is paid millions of dollars to act like it.

I think we can all agree that the comparison of similarities between Tennessee’s head coach Lane Kiffin and Auburn’s head coach Gene Chizik can thankfully, finally be put to an end. Apparently Chizik has a couple of things that Kiffin does not. Can you guess? A working offense? Yes, that and dignity.

The 34-year-old Tennessee coach (also my age, which weirds me out quite a bit) is starting to look like the Big Orange’s answer to Mike Shula. Except younger and maybe a bit more naive. Definitely a brasher version.

Take, for example, Kiffin’s change from a black windbreaker to an white-and-orange windbreaker at halftime. As my friend, TWER photographer and sometimes contributor Ike Blake said in the second half of the game that we attended, “Kiffin’s made more wardrobe changes than Erin Andrews so far!”

Another example? The Eric Berry 4 Heisman campaign. The effort looks like a massive amount of money is being thrown its way. All for naught.

The Eric Berry video (rap? leaking barrel of radioactive waste?) that was shown on the big screen at Neyland Stadium before this past weekend’s game was embarrassingly bad.

Renaldo Woolridge a.k.a. Swiperboy is guilty of the half-ass rap about “Eric Berrrryyyyyy/he’s very scary.” Ugh. The same dancers in the video took to the football field to move/hemorrhage to the “beats.” It was finally over after what seemed like a lifetime. No one clapped. Awkward murmurs. Everyone in the stands (Tiger and Vol) looked at each other like “What in the hell was that?!?!”

I was embarrassed for the Vols. I’m not kidding. I had that “just watched Larry David screw himself over” feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was less embarrassed for UT when I saw this video of Bruce “BP” Pearl, his jacket and his crew:

[Another friend attending the game with me, Thomas “Big Sexy” Jones, had this thought on Berry: “I respectfully submit that if there is an award for the hardest hitter when the recipient of said hit is extended in the air for a pass or otherwise looking the other way, then Eric Berry is some kind of killer. Give him the ‘Blindside Heisman.’ But if it comes down to trying to tackle Big Ben Tate or Mario Fannin when they’re actually looking bearing down on him, well then I volunteer that he is a tangerine-colored snowflake pansy.”]

But I think the wardrobe change and the Berry video and Heisman campaign offers us a glimpse into some larger occurrence that is unfolding at the University of Tennessee: an unfortunate slide toward style over substance.

Style over substance is not happening on the Plains (so far). And thank God for that!

Our Tigers are made of meat-and-potatoes substance.

Oh sure. Tiger haters out there hiding in the interwebs like to point to high profile Trooper Taylor waving his towel over his head, wearing his hat backward and chest bumping the players. They ridicule this summer’s well documented and celebrated Tiger Prowl and Big Cat Weekend. But folks, we are seeing the fruits of an off season where these coaches excelled at looking at new ideas and strengths and weaknesses on the team. The coaches and players MUST HAVE WORKED THEIR BUTTS OFF.

5-0? That is real. Even though I’m still having a hard time wrapping my brain around it.

There is a buzz surrounding our Auburn Tigers and it isn’t manufactured. Real. It is all real.

But I think we can also look to our fellow SEC school in the East and see what could have been … like an alternate Tiger Universe of Nightmares.

Think about how close our Auburn came to taking that first misstep by grabbing a wrong coach and football philosophy. What if all our worst fears in the off season were now manifest … if Chris Todd or Kodi Burns turned out to be a Crompton in burnt orange … if The Other World Coach had his Auburn Tigers sitting at 2-3 right now … if the team turned on itself, reverting back to the schisms of ’08 … the rift between fans opening wider and wider … the “I told you so” echoes into the yawning chasm …

It just seems to me that somehow this group of miraculous coaches stopped it from happening. The first step from the pit of 2008 was on solid ground.

Say what you want about what the future holds. But no one saw this Auburn team perched on its place in the sun. The coaching staff and players deserve every single bit of praise.

5-0. Tied for first in the SEC West. Ranked in the Top 25. Articles are gushing. Tongues are wagging. Auburn is going to be playing in a bowl game.

It feels like a dream. But it’s real. It’s not an accident. It’s entirely earned.

About J.M. Comer

J.M. graduated from Auburn in 1998 and again in 2000 with bachelor's degrees in English and journalism. He is currently a copy editor in Washington, D.C., and lives in Baltimore, Land of Pleasant Living. If you find yourself in beautiful Baltimore, he recommends Faidley's crab cakes, a stop at Atomic Books, an O's game at Camden Yards and plenty of Natty Boh.

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