Charles Barkley Comments on Auburn Hiring Gene Chizek: It’s About Race

Charles Barkley Comments on Auburn Hiring Gene ChizekWe will take a quick step outside of the immediate realm of Midwest sports for a story that is interesting and thought-provoking no matter what area of the country you live in.

Charles Barkley has made his feelings known about his alma mater hiring Gene Chizek, and Sir Charles is none too pleased. I can’t say I fault him one bit for his displeasure, but more on that in a second.

First, the comments of Charles Barkley, as reported by

“I think race was the No. 1 factor. You can say it’s not about race, but you can’t compare the two resumes and say [Chizik] deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst resume.”

A quick note of background: Gene Chizek, Buffalo coach Turner Gill (who is black), and Ball State coach Brady Hoke all were reported to have interviewed for the opening at Auburn. Gene Chizek was the defensive coordinator at Auburn back in 2004 when the Tigers finished 13-0 and were ranked second in the nation. In two seasons as the head coach at Iowa State, Chizek compiled a 5-19 record, which included an 0-8 conference record this season.

Turner Gill, the former Nebraska quarterback, led the Buffalo Bulls to an 8-5 record this season that included an upset of previously unbeaten Ball State in the MAC title game. Gill’s opponent in that game was Brady Hoke, who has reportedly agreed to become the new head coach at San Diego State.

According to the ESPN report, Charles Barkley said that he spoke with Turner Gill before Gill’s interview with Auburn.

“We talked about the whole race thing in Alabama,” Barkley said. “I told him it’s there and it’s going to be anywhere you go. I told him you can’t not take the job because of racism. He was worried about being nothing more than a token interview. He was concerned about having a white wife. It’s just very disappointing to me.”

Barkley also said, “I’m just very disappointed. I just thought Turner Gill would be the perfect choice for two reasons: He’s a terrific coach and we needed to make a splash. I thought we had to do something spectacular to bring attention to the program. Clearly, if we’d hired a black coach, it would have created a buzz.”

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Charles Barkley also discussed other questionable hiring by Auburn University in the past, including the hiring of Jeff Lebo to be the men’s basketball coach five seasons ago. Mike Davis, Jeff Capel, and Mike Anderson (all three of whom are black) were all among those considered for the job. Jeff Lebo, who is white, was the person chosen for the job, much to Barkley’s dismay.

“Out of all the basketball coaches they interviewed, they picked the only one who hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament,” Barkley said.

Charles Barkley is not alone in his disgust at the hiring of Gene Chizek by Auburn, and a lot of people are upset not just because of race, but because they simply feel that Gene Chizek was not the best candidate for the job. The following video has been making the rounds of sports blogosphere today, so I figured we might as jump on the bandwagon and show it too. It’s an Auburn giving Gene Chizek a not-so-warm welcome to town.

(If you using IE and just see a white space, here is the link.)

Now for a little commentary. I’ve seen a lot of people jumping on Charles Barkley for “playing the race card again,” but I personally feel like he has got a pretty good point on this one.

I think this whole story is disgusting for a reasons. First off, I am sure that Gene Chizek’s Auburn ties weighed heavily in their decision to hire him, but how can he be seen as an improvement over Tommy Tuberville? Tuberville had compiled a 6-1 record over Alabama in the last 7 seasons, and presided over that undefeated, second-ranked team in 2004, when Chizek was his assistant. Somehow, during the time in which Chizek compiled a 5-19 record in the Big 12 North (the weaker of the two Big 12 conferences) he became a better Tommy Tuberville - Replaced by Gene Chizek at Auburncandidate for the job than Tommy Tuberville? Please. Auburn must think its fans and fans of college football are idiots to try to pass off that hire as a good decision. Sure, Auburn struggled a bit the past two seasons, but how can you justify firing Tommy Tuberville to bring in someone who is so clearly less qualified for the job?

The most disgusting aspect of the story, however, is a microcosm of the most disgusting (can you tell I think it’s disgusting?) and ugly truth about college football: despite the overwhelming majority of college football players being African-American, there are only four…FOUR…African-American head coaches in Division 1 (Football Bowl Subdivision) college football: recently hired New Mexico coach Mike Locksley, Turner Gill at Buffalo, Randy Shannon at the U, and Kevin Sumlin at Houston. Ron Prince and Ty Willingham were fired recently, while Sylvester Croom resigned at Mississippi State.

College football, and the good old boy network that runs it, has to be the most hypocritical bunch back slapping schmucks running any of the major sports in America. They rail against a playoff system by hiding behind a viel of “academic integrity”, yet they will pimp out the players for every last dollar they can make. African-American student athletes provide the backbone upon which the Great College Football Cash Cow is built, yet when it comes time to select qualified African-Americans to lead the programs, choices are made like a coach with a 5-19 record.

Now look, I am not saying that Auburn specifically made this choice because of race. I respect the opinion of Charles Barkley, but I don’t think you can look at each coach hiring individually and make a definitive judgment from a vantage point like I have, which is waaay on the periphery. However, taken in totality, the hiring record of college football is atrocious. Look at Notre Dame. They fired Ty Willingham after four seasons to bring in Charlie Weis and gave him a ridiculously big contract. After four seasons, with a worse record than Willingham, Weis is kept on as coach. Again, I’m not saying that this specific case is absolutely racism, but there a symptoms present that are indicative of a systemic disease that plagues college football.

I do not know the people who made the decision to hire Gene Chizek; and who knows, maybe he will be a great coach. But Charles Barkley is right when he says that Auburn had an opportunity to really make a difference by hiring a black coach to a school, and to a region, where such a choice would have been something of a surprise. Because therein lies the rub. Gene Chizek’s hiring was surprising because of hisCharles Barkley Comments on Turner Gill Passed Over for Gene Chizek By Auburn utter failure at Iowa State. Unfortunately, the bigger surprise would have been Auburn stepping up to the plate and giving an African-America coach like Turner Gill a chance at one of the top 20 or so college football coaching jobs in America.

It is not really fair to single out Auburn, because they are just doing what so many other college football programs have done before: passing over the opportunity to make a difference to make the same old tired choice of another white retread to be head coach. One of these days, perhaps we will get to a point where the choice of a guy like Gene Chizek is the surprise. The saddest part about this whole story is that Auburn’s choice was to be expected.

Change and equality of opportunity in college football will only come about when schools like Auburn are willing to step out of their caucasian-hued comfort zone and make the hiring of the Turner Gills of the coaching world the norm, as opposed to the extremely rare exception. Kudos to New Mexico for hiring Mike Locksley, and kudos in retrospect to Mississippi State for hiring Sylvester Croom. Croom may not have succeeded in the long term, but at least Mississippi State proved that they were willing to be a part of the solution.

As opposed to Auburn, who merely proved that they are comfortable continuing to be a part of the problem.

(Update: Thanks for the tip JT. Deadspin just posted a piece about this story with a lot more detail, including a hypothesis apparently put forth by other SEC coaches that Turner Gill would never have a chance at the job not only because he is black, but because his wife is white. Additionally, the Iowa State players are apparently pretty peeved at Gene Chizek as well. Check out the story at Deadspin.)

About Jerod Morris

I love words. I write for Copyblogger and founded MSF, The Assembly Call, & Primility. I practice yoga, eat well, & strive for balance. I love life. Namaste. Say hi on Twitter, Facebook, & G+.


  1. Look, this is really a raw deal for Auburn. People are picking on them because they are a southern school and it fits the stereotype. But what about all the other schools that didn’t hire Turner Gill this year? What about Syracuse, right in Gill’s backyard? Their hire of an NFL offensive coordinator who doesn’t call plays for a team that will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row who hasn’t been involved in the college game since 1994 was worse than the Chizik hire.

    And then there is Tennessee and their hire of Lane Kiffin. What is the difference between Tennessee’s hire and Auburn’s hire? Kiffin is another legacy getting all his opportunities in life due to his last name. Tennessee didn’t even interview Gill. So we are going to trash the school that gave him an interview as racist while ignoring the school that didn’t give him a shot but fell all over itself to hire the guy that COULDN’T win a title with all that talent at USC and then failed with the Raiders?

    Sorry, but singling Auburn out is way too convenient. I think that some of these liberal Yankee schools should be the one to have their feet held to the fire on this black coach issue. They aren’t doing any better of a job than the southern schools are, and the Syracuse hire proved it. Look at the Big East. When was the last time they had a black coach? The SEC had one until last year, and will have another in a couple of years at Kentucky when Rich Brooks retires. And when was the last black coach at a Big 10 school?

    Bottom line: quit picking on Auburn, which has actually been one of the more progressive schools in the SEC, especially with comparison to Alabama. They didn’t create this problem by themselves, so it shouldn’t have been completely on them to solve it.

    And by the way, if you want to blame anyone for the lack of Turner Gill’s career advancement, blame the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Not only did they repeatedly fail to hire Gill as head coach, but they wouldn’t even make him offensive coordinator. Bob Stoops offered to make Gill coordinator, but he turned it down out of loyalty. Had Gill taken Stoops’ offer, he would have been a head coach in the Big 12 a long time ago! But instead of making him head coach or even coordinator, they actually demoted him from QB coach to WR coach. That was why he FINALLY left Nebraska for the NFL.

    So quit picking on Auburn and go hold Nebraska responsible. And also hold all the other Big 12 schools (that is, except Oklahoma, who has actually hired a black coach in its past!) who never hired Gill as a head coach or coordinator either.

    • @Gerald, you have hit on the main point. All of college football is at fault here. Auburn is just the latest example, and they happen to have a very famous and outspoken alum who shined the spotlight on them.

      Auburn is by no means the only school at fault — just the last to pass up a golden opportunity to help reverse the horrid hiring practices of college football programs across the country. I suppose it is unfortunate that Auburn is being raked through the coals as one example of a very vast problem, but what is far more unfortunate is the problem is bad enough to create such a stir in the first place.

  2. John Cuckti says:

    Hey Gerald,

    Did those other schools you mentioned hire a guy who was 5-19, coming off a ten game losing streak and coaching at a traditional major conference doormat? Just curious.

  3. Nicholas Gerlach says:

    John Cuckti,

    Nail…meet head.

    I can’t believe Gill didn’t get this gig. Brady Hoke also should have gotten this job before Chizik.

    These hiring practices by college football teams blow my mind.

  4. Did anyone else notice that the idiot who wrote this post misspelled Gene Chizik’s name? What a clown.

  5. As an Univ. of Alabama fan, I really think the hiring of Chisik is great for the in-state rival, however it will hurt the difficulty of schedule in the SEC.

    As for C.B.’s “race” comments, the only race issues with the hiring are the people who keep talking about the race factor. I highly doubt race had anything to do with it, some ppl just can’t let go of racial prejudices.

  6. Every time African Americans fail to get what they want, they scream racism.
    It shocked me that people I talked to during the eve of the election had great fear of violence if Obama lost because they knew that blacks would explode.

    I think it is a shame to scream racism every time you do not get what you want, but that seems to be the way blacks in this country operate

    Besides playing basketball (and losing to Michael Jordan in his one chance in the finals) what has Charles done besides run his mouth.

    If Charles wants to hire the football coach, maybe he should give up his cushy job and apply for the athletic director’s position

    • @Janis, thank you for participating and being frank with your opinions. Open and honest discussion is always encouraged.

      With that said, I think it is horribly unfair to say that “every time African Americans fail to get what they want, they scream racism.” Are there instances in which the “race card” is erroneously played? Certainly. I happen to think that in this case, Charles Barkley was more right than he is wrong. I don’t always agree with Sir Charles, and he does run his mouth a lot, but you have to at least respect his willingness to be outspoken and take a stand when he feels strongly about things. I do not think it is an athlete’s responsibility, per se, to speak out on social issues. But their words can carry great weight and shine line on difficult issues, and Charles Barkley is a great defender of African American rights and issues.

      And besides, I believe that when a group of people has a history like African-Americans have in this country, that they can be forgiven if they play the race card in places where it may not be appropriate. The goal is to reach a point where this racial lines are not drawn, but when only 4 out of 119 coaches in the NCAA are African-American, we obviously are not there yet in college football. And this is especially true in the South, where a lot of deep-seeded racism still exists.

      So while I do agree with Charles Barkley in this case, even if I didn’t, I think you have to respect his opinion and understand the overall backdrop of his perspective before making general claims it “seems to be the way blacks in this country operate.”

  7. Janis:

    “Every time African Americans fail to get what they want, they scream racism.”

    So do you count Clarence Thomas in that group? You know, the conservative hero who claimed that he was a victim of a racist high tech lynching during his confirmation hearings? Or is Clarence Thomas exempt from being a racial whiner?

    “I think it is a shame to scream racism every time you do not get what you want, but that seems to be the way blacks in this country operate”

    And how many blacks do you know personally? Do you have any black friends? Any black neighbors? Any blacks in your social circle? Have you ever dated a black person? Do any black people attend your church? Then again, with your level of discourse, you probably don’t go to church, because you sound just like famous atheists such as Charles Darwin (who wrote “The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life”) and his most famous follower, Adolph Hitler.

    Oh yes, and I listen to conservative talk radio. Conservative whites are the biggest bunch of whiners I have ever encountered. They all claim to have lost jobs and college spots to affirmative action. They always claim about how multiculturalism is ruining their culture and country. They always claim about being afraid, feeling under attack. And the worst part is that not a single one of them are doing anything to change it. Why? Because of instead of being out there working to make their communities and this nation better, they are sitting around listening to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity all day, and posting comments on Michelle Malkin’s blog all night. The ones who claim to be members of the religious right are the best (or the worst). They spout political junk that they hear on the radio all day and night with no clue that none of that stuff is in the Bible. Show me anywhere in the New Testament where Jesus Christ talked about “personal responsibility” or “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.”

    White conservatives accusing black people of whining. If that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black. Take a look at yourself in the mirror, take the log out of your own eye, and quit throwing stones from your glass house.

  8. Where is everyone bashing Auburns hire now.

  9. RichieRich99 says:

    Now that Auburn is playing for the national championship, Charles hasn't had too much to say about what a terrible hire Chizik was. He and the rest of the naysayers are eating a heaping helping of crow right about now. .

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