AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs watched the football team enjoy a “magical season” in coach Gus Malzahn’s debut and emerge as a likely preseason Top-10 pick this fall.
Jacobs knows repeating that kind of success is no easy task especially in the Southeastern Conference, but nurses high ambitions over the long haul for a program that has won a league-high three SEC football championships over the past decade — and had two head coaches ousted along the way.
“You can never let your foot off the pedal,” Jacobs said Thursday in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press. “There’s no place for contentment here. You’ve got to work every day to win championships and not be satisfied where you are today. That’s where Gus is. That’s where these players are.”
That’s where Jacobs is, too. The former Auburn walk-on offensive lineman has committed some $42 million over the next six years to Malzahn and new basketball coach Bruce Pearl.
He said issues on his mind daily this summer include finding ways to facilitate recruiting efforts for all sports and improve gameday experience at a time when the SEC Network’s launch in August gives fans the option to watch even more events from the comforts of home.
Jacobs and Auburn had an eventful year in the most popular — and profitable — sports. Malzahn’s football team won the SEC title and played for a national title against Florida State, losing on a touchdown in the final seconds.
Then Jacobs hired Pearl to lead a basketball program that has been one of the league’s worst in recent seasons while playing in an $87 million, four-year-old arena.
In football, the 2013 season has certainly been good for business. Jacobs said the Tigers have sold more premium seats than ever before leading up to next season, and are looking at adding others in the bowl of the stadium at the same higher rate.
Malzahn’s new $26.85 million deal included a potentially costly buyout. The coach would get $2,237,500 for each year remaining on his contract if he’s fired without cause, more than four times the buyout in his initial deal.
Auburn shelled out $5.1 million to former coach Tommy Tuberville and $7.5 million to Gene Chizik in the past 6-1/2 years after their firings. Like Malzahn, both won SEC titles and Chizik guided Auburn to the 2010 BCS championship.
“It’s what the market bears,” Jacobs said of the buyout. “When you look around the league and look at other buyouts for people that haven’t even played in a national championship game or won an SEC championship in the last 3-5 years, and you compare it, it’s just doing business.”
Auburn has a committee exploring recognizing the 1913, 1983 and 1993 football teams as national champions. Those teams were crowned by some outlet and would join the 1957 and 2010 champions.
“We’re not talking about claiming titles,” Jacobs said. “We’re talking about recognizing titles that have already been bestowed on those teams. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from the Auburn people to recognize those teams that have been deemed as champions by one poll or another, very similar if not identical to what other schools across the nation have done.
“We’ve just been looking at it, thinking about it. We just want to do what’s best for Auburn, not necessarily what everybody in the world thinks.”
Pearl, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to recruit because of an NCAA show cause penalty, but Jacobs said Malzahn and his assistants have met with the prospects on campus. Football assistants have even taken those on official visits to dinner, helping out a program generating more buzz than it’s had in years thanks to Pearl.
“Everybody’s really excited about basketball moving forward,” Jacobs said. “It’ll be difficult for the first couple of years until he gets the kind of players to play his system, but it’ll be fun. I’m looking forward to basketball season.”
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