Sitting in Plainsman Park Saturday watching Auburn take on South Carolina, I glanced to my right and noticed sitting directly behind home plate the most maligned man in Auburn Athletics, Bobby Lowder. No more than 20 feet away sat former Athletic Director David Housel. Neither man acknowledged the other. Sitting close enough to yell at one another, the two seemed worlds apart on this cool afternoon.
It was quite a sight seeing the two and contrasting then with now. If you were to compare the value of the Dow Jones Industrial today with a year ago and the perceived value of athletic director Jay Jacobs in the same time period they would be nearly identical. Has anyone in America seen his stock rise higher and faster than Jacobs?
From the start it hasn't been easy for Jacobs. Following Jetgate, most Auburn people wanted a clean start for the athletic department. They wanted an outsider with no direct ties to Lowder or his posse. Instead they got the mother of all insiders. A former player and coach of Pat Dye's, Jacobs knew the cast of characters that ran Auburn better than most. His hiring was met with disgust in many circles and signaled business as usual on Donahue Drive.
Housel's link to Jetgate was a minor spat compared to the uproar surrounding December 13, 2008. Jacobs pick of Gene Chizik as Auburn's new football coach divided the Auburn family in ways never imagined. In fact, the word "divided" may be generous. It was nearly unanimous: Jacobs had missed and done so badly. Questions of whether he would survive became daily water cooler talk around the state.
Fast forward to today and an outsider would hardly know there was discord just a few months back among Auburn faithful.
By many accounts, Lowder has stepped away from trying to micromanage the department. His problems over the past few years with his day job have surely been a blessing for Auburn people and created some needed separation from Jacobs. Of course, to believe Lowder has just stepped away completely would be foolish; witness his seat Saturday.
The same people who were calling for Jacobs head a year ago (and let's face it, that's most of us) are now singing his praises. While still early, Chizik appears to be the real deal. An overachieving eight win season and the best recruiting class in school history has Auburn football back on the fast track.
Last week's hire of Tony Barbee is being lauded as a strong move for the future of Tiger Basketball. Barbee was perhaps the most coveted, available young coach in America this season. There were plenty of suitors and he chose Auburn. Jacobs deserves the credit. With the new basketball arena opening next season, he may finally have done something that his predecessors failed at more times than not: cracking the code to winning consistently in the SEC.
Even Jacobs hiring of John Pawlowski as baseball coach is starting to pay dividends. Despite a tough weekend series loss to South Carolina, Pawlowski clearly has Auburn on the right path to success. The crowd of nearly 3,000 on a cool spring Saturday was testament to the optimism Jacobs has built around the baseball program.
The popularity of an athletic director rises and falls nearly as quickly as that of the President. Jacobs is not the most affable person you'll meet; but today he sits on top of the Auburn world. He's largely proved his naysayers wrong.
Things are good on the Auburn campus. The future is again bright for Jay Jacobs and the Auburn family.