Shane: Trouble on the Plains

By Shane from Centerpoint

When Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik took the job he said he was prepared to step up and do whatever it took to establish authority and gain complete control over the football program. Chizik promised an almost militaristic (drawn from years spent as military brat) approach to team discipline, vowing that Auburn players were going to do things the right way.

Apparently sophomore tailback Eric Smith forgot everything Coach Chizik taught him on that fateful night when he decided to use the “classless” tactic of a blind assault to disable an individual before allegedly kicking the man after he downed him.

This incident was nothing more than a brutal result of Chizik’s allowing a thug to play for his team in spite of the risk involved.

Talk about going off the rails – Smith committed the assault directly in front of police officers. Eric’s blatant display of cheap aggression and lack of concern that the authorities were present not only cast a dark cloud over the Auburn program, but his actions served notice that many tough decisions await Chizik in the future.

Before we go any further, let me state that this early–morning episode had several questionable subplots surrounding it that give rise to a legitimate inquiry.

Why did the Auburn police department only charge Smith with disorderly conduct in the original arrest? If they witnessed the ambush first-hand, why didn’t they immediately apply the assault charges they later filed? This type of activity (actually inactivity) gives credence to long-held beliefs that football players receive special treatment from the local authorities.

At least two other football players were allegedly involved. Ironically, like Smith, they are sophomores. I point out their class because the players involved with the assault situation are alleged to be members of an internal gang (or group) of sophomores who call themselves the “Swag Team”.

According to a lawsuit centered on the case, Smith and/or two others knocked one man unconscious (inside the building) prior to Eric’s blind-siding the young man outside.

Truthfully, we may never know the complete story about the entire incident. I don’t think a police report was even written on the guy inside who was knocked unconscious. And, judging by the fact that Smith was only arrested for “minor” charges originally, one could easily believe that solving the inside issue was not a priority for the police.

Nevertheless, there are no “campus police” at Auburn. The city police department covers the school. That alone could present perception problems when combined with perceived procedural blunders like those associated with the Smith attack.

To his credit, Coach Chizik initially suspended Smith after his arrest. However, he never mentioned any other players being involved. In fact, the Auburn coach has failed to acknowledge anybody else as taking part in the beating of the guy upstairs, even though two of Smith’s teammates could possibly be added to the lawsuit at any time.

It is fairly clear to me that Chizik couldn’t afford to lose the other two individuals. They are starters. Auburn’s depth problems are well-known and the loss of these two “key” players could’ve spelled disaster this year.

The depth issue – although it’s not a valid excuse – may also serve to explain Chizik’s reasoning when he decided to allow Smith back into the line-up, especially after only a one-–game suspension! After all, Ben Tate has been the only healthy running–back available on a consistent basis. Chizik needed a body.

I find it uncharacteristic for a man of Chizik’s caliber (if you don’t believe me, just ask Pat Dye) to allow Smith to continue to be part of the team. The way Gene handled this deal almost gives the appearance that he was willing to forget the vicious nature of Smith’s attack, mainly because Eric catches passes well and is an excellent third–down back.

Actually, Coach Chizik might’ve already played his last card when he put Smith on the field. His actions didn’t send a resounding message to the team stating that, if you go too far, you’re off the team. Instead, Smith’s teammates might be thinking that their head coach is soft, or even worse, a sell-out.

In direct contrast to his public claims of transparency, I’m of the opinion that Gene Chizik’s handling of the entire Eric Smith (and others) case has been disingenuous at best.

Just the idea that three (maybe more) of his players were ignoring curfew, partying at some motel, and jumping civilians in late-night brawls should indicate to Chizik that his disciplinary system has failed.

Auburn fans might need to start thinking about whether the current Tiger commander has the capacity to realize that his team’s apparent lack of discipline off the field may be transferring over to game-day.

In fact, Auburn’s inability to stop committing crucial penalties and turnovers has cost them two or three games this year. It’s ironic that both errors are a result of lack of discipline.

Alarming evidence is beginning to stack up against Chizik’s reputation as a tough disciplinarian, and his actions pertaining to Eric Smith did nothing to help his case.
—Shane writes a weekly column for the Call News and the Capstone Report.