|HC Gus Malzahn / Courtesy of al.com|
As much as Auburn faithful would like to blame this season's 3-2 mark on Jeremy Johnson's play, lack of continuity on the offensive line, or for injuries to one key defender, none of it ads up to be the problem on the Plains.
The culture of the Auburn Football program, and the Athletics Department as a whole is.
It isn't Gus Malzahn and his leadership, or the staff that he has hired making a Juggernaut group of recruiters and tacticians. Guys like Will Muschamp aren't household names for peewee linebackers for no reason.
This staff can coach, and this staff can build winning game plans, but for some reason the culture can't seem to change.
It is hard to put a mark on when the culture problem began, but it seemed to begin during the height of the Gene Chizik era. Chizik was a seemingly nice and likable guy that recruited solid talent, but couldn't seem to put the reigns on the personalities that come along with highly rated and sought after teenagers.
He won a national title, and now the Tigers players were lifted to all-star status in town. A status that remains in an unsavory way. Not the status of respect like the days of Bo Jackson and Pat Sullivan.
This was a new entitled group that expected to walk into clubs in town and act however they pleased. Even to the point where taking sunglasses off is a big enough issue to fight a teammate.
This has to be the stopping point.
The first sign was Michael Dyer and the four un-wise men.
If you don't remember, four current Auburn players decided it was a good idea to rob current Auburn students at gunpoint. Three of the players were contributors and expected to be future stars for the program. But it wasn't just the isolation of the four that made the problem so vexing.
It was the fact that Dyer, star receiver DeAngelo Benton (who I will address again later) and starter Neiko Thorpe were also indicated in having knowledge of either the weapon or the possibility that the robbery was going to occur according to statements given in court.
Dyer went on to be dismissed for his own reasons, but his star status and leadership value for the team was a clutch missing piece after the 2010 title run. As was Mike McNeil. The team needed him and others to be leaders--they failed miserably.
Just over a year after this incident, three Auburn football players were involved in a shooting in which two former players were killed. DeAngelo Benton was also indicated in being at the party where the shooting occurred, and was a part of the altercation that led to the shooting.
He remained on the team until his eligibility was extinguished.
Now is the time for the culture to change and for this team to regain its discipline. Hopefully this latest event with star D'haquille Williams will be the turning point.
The team leaders and seniors should set there own limitations on curfew and they should put there own parameters on study hall and workouts.
There seems to be a solid core of quality players and young men that line the sidelines on Saturday's, but the few that are grabbing the headlines are doing it for all the wrong reasons. This is part team leadership, and part coaching leadership.
This is the time that the Tigers decide if they will be a consistent powerhouse in the SEC, or just a flash in the pan every decade or so.
Malzahn has the talent on the team and coaching staff to win games. He has to redefine the culture now to win championships again.