A necessary change, a soft landing, and no messy firings.
On Wednesday, seemingly out of the blue, reports came that Auburn Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof was packing up for Orlando to serve in the same position for the University of Central Florida.
A loud contingent of fans had been clamoring for a change at the position since early in the season when Roof’s defense was gashed in consecutive games against Utah State, Mississippi State and Clemson. Things quieted a little following a strong, Stephen Garcia-aided showing against Top 10 South Carolina. But things only got louder and more venomous after blowout losses to Arkansas, LSU, Georgia and Alabama.
Fans wanted Roof fired and they wanted it done immediately. That didn’t happen, but they did eventually get their change. At the risk of stating the obvious and/or sounding like another fanbase in the state, defensive coordinators do not just leave Auburn for the same position at UCF (it goes the other way). The move was obviously precipitated by Gene Chizik’s desire for a change, and he couldn’t have handled it a better way. And that’s important— both in terms of keeping the remaining players and staff “All In” and in attracting good coaches in the future. It was also important to let Roof leave in a dignified manner, a courtesy he has more than earned in his time at Auburn.
Whether you wanted Roof around for another season or not, he’s a well respected and well liked coach who was a major part of winning Auburn a national championship. Current and former players on both sides of the ball took to Twitter upon hearing the news to call him a great coach, a great man, and to wish him luck. Nick Fairley’s smiling mug is hanging on the side of the stadium holding a big block of granite thanks in part to Ted Roof. The defensive gameplan he devised against Oregon, which held the Ducks to 30 points below their season average, should be gilded and placed on a pedestal next to the crystal football. Roof should leave The Plains with fans’ respect and admiration, even if they’re perfectly fine with seeing him go.
Sure, he was an easy target, but he wasn’t the sole source of Auburn’s defensive woes. Youth, inexperience, poor execution—all factors. A coach can instruct his players, but he can’t make their tackles.
It’s also been rumored that there were differences in philosophy between Chizik and Roof, that the head coach had been “meddling*” in Roof’s defense, and that it could have been the cause of some of the Tigers’ issues on that side of the ball.
If so, then this change absolutely had to happen. If the head coach and his coordinator aren’t on the same page, then problems are bound to surface and likely increase over time. If the rumors are just rumors, then the poor defensive performance over most of the last three years really is ultimately on Roof. If so, then this change absolutely had to happen.
Either way, the Tigers will start fresh in 2012 with a new coach. But who?
Early names bandied about the always reliable internet include South Carolina’s Ellis Johnson, one of the Stoops brothers (Mike, formerly of Arizona, or Mark from Florida State), North Carolina’s Everett Withers and a host of other wild fantasies like former Tennessee Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher (I MEAN, HIS SON IS ON THE TEAM!). Whether it’ll be one of these names or someone yet to be considered remains to be seen, but it’ll likely happen sooner than later with recruiting reaching a crucial stage. Signing day is in February. Signing day waits for no man.
Will all that ails the Tigers be magically cured once the new guy comes on board? Nope, but with change comes hope—hope that the defense Auburn puts on the field next year will live up to the reputation of its past and the potential of its future. And while fans are perfectly within their right and reason to be excited by Roof’s departure, it sure wouldn’t hurt to wish him the same success they hope to see.
If only all coaching changes could go so smoothly.
*If Chizik, the former Broyles Award winning defensive coordinator, had not stepped in to try and fix some of the issues on the field then that would be a bigger issue.
Riley Downing graduated from Auburn in 1999 and moved to the Washington, D.C. area, where he has been stuck ever since. He makes the most of his long daily commute and forfeits sleep in an attempt to keep up with everything Auburn and cling to his brief moment on The Plains. Follow him on Twitter—@FearlessandTrue.
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