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Analysis | Could Auburn actually fire Gus Malzahn?

Josh Moon

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Is Auburn planning to fire Gus Malzahn?

I’ve been getting that question a lot — way more than a political reporter probably should — after I tweeted on Monday that some AU reps met with former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and/or his reps.

It was a slow Monday in the sports world, I guess, because that bit of information — information that was mostly already out there (except for the details on Stoops) — blew up.

So, let’s take a minute and set some things straight.

First and foremost, I stand by everything I said on Monday. There was a meeting between reps for AU and Stoops or his reps. That meeting went well, according to someone very familiar with the conversations that took place that day and in the two-plus weeks since.

I understand that Stoops denied the contact on Monday evening, and that’s fine. I’m guessing there’s some level of deniability that he built in that technically makes what he said true.

Coaches do that a lot. They say things like “I am not going to be the coach at Alabama,” when technically they’ve just stalled the contact. Or they deny contact with a school, when they actually met with a booster not employed by the university. Or they deny meeting with anyone … because they actually sent their agent instead.  

I’m not going to play this game. I have reported what I know from multiple reliable sources. You can make up your own mind.

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But there is other information to be considered.

For the past several weeks, numerous outlets that cover AU athletics on a daily basis — including a couple of longtime AU beat writers — have provided detailed reports on a growing movement within the ranks of boosters and top donors to oust Malzahn.

Such a move would be astounding for a couple of reasons, but primarily because the university provided Malzahn with one of the biggest and dumbest contract extensions in recent memory just last year. It tacked on an additional seven years and $49 million, and it came with a YUUUUGE buyout.

If Auburn fires Malzahn this year, under the terms of the contract, it would owe him around $32 million. And that money would have to be paid out in large chunks, with half of it due within 30 days.

That said, about a month ago, as Auburn was in the midst of yet another Malzahn mid-season swoon, I was told by a couple of prominent donors that there was talk of an “escape hatch” in Malzahn’s contract. I dug into it a little more and found that the folks at Tigers Unlimited had alerted university officials to a rather significant problem with the financing of the contract extension: No one had secured the funding from TU.

Apparently, because TU is a private entity, for it to be obligated to cover the majority of Malzahn’s contract — as it currently is — there’s a formal step that has to be taken. I assume this involves a signature and notary stamp, but I’m only guessing.

That formal step was never executed, according to two people who should know. And some at AU wanted to use that loophole to weasel out of the contract extension and/or possibly force Malzahn into a negotiation.

It was never clear to me just how serious anyone at AU took this scheme, but the fact that so many were talking about it told me that the major players had turned on Malzahn. That was mostly not the case a year earlier, when that stupid extension was greenlit.

It was also around that time that some prominent donors and trustees began discussing alternatives to Malzahn as head coach.

There was agreement on one thing: If they were going to consider dropping a chunk of change to send Malzahn packing, it would have to be for a home run, can’t-miss hire.

“We weren’t doing this and hiring some longshot,” said one of the donors who was part of the discussions. “That’s about all we agreed on, but we agreed on that.”

Stoops’ name was at the top of the list. But it was tossed out, the donors said, almost as a sarcastic wish — with no hope of it ever happening. After all, Stoops had retired only a year ago and he has no real ties to Auburn.

Still, a couple of AU donors reached out. They set up a meeting. And to their surprise, it went extremely well. There seemed to be genuine interest from Stoops in returning to coaching, and in the Auburn job specifically, the sources said. Since that time, the two sides have remained in contact and there is a general feeling that the interest remains high on both sides.

Where that leaves things, I’m not sure.

But I do know this: the way this info leaked, some people wanted it out there. Too many people knew what was going on, and too many people were willing to talk about it. I suspect that was partly to gauge fan response, and to ensure that making such a change would be supported by the overall fanbase and by the top donors.

Six weeks ago, there’s no chance it would have been received well. On Monday, after a blowout loss to Alabama and an ugly loss to Georgia, there is much more support. There’s a growing concern among “donors who matter” that AU is falling too far behind UGA and UA, and that it will eventually hurt the team in recruiting. Not to mention, some of the money spent to fire Malzahn — if AU ends up owing him that full buyout, which is unlikely — could be recouped by on-the-field successes.

So, there is suddenly momentum to pull off what was an unthinkable move just a few weeks ago: Eat a $30 million buyout and fire Gus Malzahn.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion | What happened in Huntsville Wednesday night was disgraceful

Josh Moon

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Law enforcement officers in Huntsville assaulted dozens of people Wednesday night following a peaceful protest and march. 

This is the accurate description of what took place in Huntsville. 

I don’t care what you heard on “the news” or what you read on Facebook or Twitter. That’s what happened. 

Following a peaceful protest downtown — for which the NAACP obtained a permit, because it planned to block traffic — dozens of protesters, gathered to speak out about police brutality of black citizens in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, began to march around the downtown area. 

This is their right. It is guaranteed by the U.S. constitution. 

Contrary to popular belief, and according to legal guidance posted by the American Civil Liberties Union, you do NOT need a permit to peacefully assemble. In fact, it is against the law for anyone — or any law enforcement agency — to prevent you from peacefully assembling in response to a breaking news event.  

And yet, that’s exactly what happened in Huntsville. 

Huntsville Police, the Madison County Sheriff’s Department and — for some reason that no one could immediately explain — the Alabama State Troopers began firing tear gas and rubber bullets at people who were peacefully marching. 

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In attempting to explain why such actions occurred, Lt. Michael Johnson of HPD essentially admitted that officers acted improperly. 

He told TV station WHNT-19 that officers attempted to clear the area by telling the lawfully gathered crowd to disperse. When the crowd instead decided to exercise its right to assemble, Johnson said, officers began using force, including firing the rubber bullets at innocent men, women and children and spraying the crowd with pepper spray and tear gas. 

(Just a quick little FYI: Tear gas has been deemed a chemical agent and the Geneva Convention specifically bans its use in war. But it’s still legal for police departments to toss into peaceful crowds.)

Johnson said officers used force because they weren’t “going to roll the dice” and take a chance that the crowd could become hostile. 

Which — and while I’m no attorney, I feel comfortable going out on this limb — is not how the law works. You can’t impose force because you believe someone might break the law. Particularly when there is no evidence of that. 

And how do we know there is no evidence of it? 

Because Johnson just kept on talking during that interview, an interview led by WHNT’s Jerry Hayes, who was — and I’ll put this kindly — very police-friendly. As Hayes praised the police response and told everyone that the cops really had no choice but to clear the area by gassing children, Johnson explained just how well it had all gone. 

No officers were injured, Johnson said. No property was damaged, he said. They even had single-digit arrests/detainments, he said. 

So, again, law enforcement fired rubber bullets at peacefully assembled men, women and children who didn’t damage property, didn’t assault police officers and had every right to march on and alongside a public street. 

It’s not hard to understand why people are marching against police abuse. 

Democratic state Rep. Anthony Daniels, who represents the Huntsville area and who spoke earlier in the evening at the NAACP-organized event, compared the actions and the optics of the police attacking citizens to “Bloody Sunday” in Selma. On that day in 1965, Alabama State Troopers attacked a group of peaceful marchers because the marchers refused to disperse, and instead continued their march out of Selma towards Montgomery.

“I want someone to explain to me what the state troopers were doing at a peaceful event,” Daniels said. “What happened was a disgrace. That was a peaceful protest. Those people were following the laws and were not out of line.”

The same cannot be said for the officers. 

There are a number of videos of cops from various agencies firing tear gas canisters at people who are posing no threat, and in most cases are backing away from the officers, and randomly spraying down groups of people with pepper spray for no discernable reason. In one video that was viewed several hundred thousand times by late Wednesday evening, an HPD officer exits his patrol car, pepper spray in hand, and just starts strolling along, periodically dousing terrified people with the spray. 

It was disgraceful. It was ignorant. It was, most of all, simply wrong. 

There has been a lot of condemnation over the last few days of violent protests and criminal acts. And rightfully so. While many people understand and can empathize with the anger that lies beneath these protests, the majority doesn’t want to watch cities burn. 

I hope the same people who condemned those acts will also speak out against the violence committed by law enforcement in Huntsville on Wednesday.

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Opinion | Racism has broken America. We can fix it

Josh Moon

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The happiest day of my life was March 9, 2018 — the day my daughter was born. 

People who know my wife and me, or who follow either of us on social media, can likely tell that we’re crazy, helicopter parents who think our little Andi Lou is perfect. Because, well, she is. 

We also worry — A LOT. About everything. As we try to keep this little live wire safe and happy. It’s like a never-ending stream of what-ifs and what-abouts and should-we’s. 

Honestly, it’s exhausting. And there are times when I think it’s overwhelming. 

And then someone like Devin Adams gives me a glimpse into a world that I know nothing about. A world that I will never walk in. A world that will forever remain foreign to me. 

That’s the world navigated by the parent of a black child. 

Adams, a senior on the Auburn University football team, on Tuesday tweeted about using his football gear to stay safe in everyday life. Not the pads and helmet, but the jersey and other clothing that identifies him to cops as an Auburn football player. 

“I’ve been asked so many times why I wear Auburn gear all the time…,” Adams tweeted. “then they hit you with ‘YoU MuSt wAnT pPl tO kNoW YoU PlAy FOoTbAlL oR SoMEthINg’…. Lol not even knowing sometimes it’s a protection mechanism to just make it home safe.”

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Other black players responded that they do the same thing. 

Think about that. 

You can dismiss it as an exaggeration if you like — and maybe in some cases, it could be — but this is how a young, college educated guy in one of the safer cities in America feels every single day. 

He fears for his life to the point that he has altered what he wears every day to make OTHER PEOPLE more comfortable with him. To make cops not automatically assume he’s a criminal. To lessen the likelihood of a deadly encounter. 

Now, imagine sending your child out into that world every day. Imagine how Adams’ parents must feel — both knowing that he carries that fear and that the danger he faces is very real. 

Look, we can throw rocks back and forth at each other forever, and place blame on this person or that group, but at the end of the day, we know this is wrong. That young men feel this scared on a daily basis in our country, in our states, in our communities is simply wrong. 

And it is something that every single one of us should want to correct. 

We certainly want that safety for our white kids. We’ve moved mountains and rewrote laws to make sure they’re safe and protected. We’ve built new cities and schools. We’ve put fences and regulations up around our neighborhoods. 

But along the way, we vilified black citizens in the process.

For far too long (and even today in some spots), especially in the South, a “safe neighborhood” meant a neighborhood without black families in it. A “safe school” meant a school without many black students enrolled. Keeping your community safe meant isolating the black citizens to one specific area, dubbing it “n– town,” and telling your children to steer clear of it. 

These things are what led us to today. To the fires and the protests. To the anger and anguish. And to Devin Adams’ heartbreaking fear. 

We have to do better. 

And yeah, I know that’s a common sentence these days. One that’s tossed around without much thought. But I actually mean it. And I have an idea of how to make it happen. 

Affect those around you. 

Racism grows and spreads because it is not challenged. Racism flourishes out of fear — usually of the unknown. 

Don’t allow that with the people you can affect. Don’t stay quiet when friends and family members say ignorant things or pass along ignorant, clearly wrong information. After all, if they’re bold enough to say something stupid out loud, why shouldn’t we be bold enough to say something right? 

But most importantly: Teach your children — and anyone else who will listen to you — that the color of a person’s skin is as meaningless as the color of their shoes, and that skin color should never, ever be a barrier to friendship and love. 

Racism is learned. And it’s just as easy to teach kindness and inclusion. 

My daughter will never hear her parents use racist rhetoric or see us discriminate against anyone. She will play with kids of all races, and it will be as normal as a summer bike ride. She will watch animated shows with black and brown characters and will never know that there was a time when such a thing was incredibly odd. She will one day learn that she is named after a Civil Rights heroine, and she’ll learn that real history too. 

These are not grand gestures. They’re literally the least we can do. 

But I have to believe that if all of us focus on being decent people and changing and molding those we can, it will matter eventually. At least enough that Devin Adams’ children won’t have to wear football gear to feel safe in their own communities.

 

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Josh Moon

Opinion | The people have always been more important than the monuments

Josh Moon

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Two participation trophies fell in Alabama on Monday night. 

No tears were shed. 

On the same day that the state “celebrated” Confederate Memorial Day — which is somehow still a state holiday some 150 years after the traitorous South surrendered in its quest to make legal the ownership of other human beings — a large monument in Birmingham’s Linn Park went away piece by piece and a metal statue of Robert E. Lee was toppled and hauled away from its spot outside of a Montgomery high school. 

This is progress, I guess. At least those eyesores are gone (for now, in the case of the Lee statue), even if the attitudes that kept them in place remain. 

It is no secret by now that I have never understood the fervor with which so many people in this state cling so tightly to reminders of defeated traitors who fought to enslave black people. 

I mean, I understand why racists cling to them. I don’t understand how those who claim to “not have a racist bone in my body” also cling to them. I don’t understand our state lawmakers creating laws to protect them. 

Monuments are meant to honor the people depicted in them. You don’t see us creating monuments of the 9/11 hijackers at the former World Trade Center site, do you? 

You know why? Because while that day was historic and we’ll want to remember those who died forever, we don’t honor those who caused that devastation. 

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But then, I don’t actually think anyone is confused by this. The cries of “protecting history” or “not erasing history” are nothing more than phony excuses meant to mask the true intent of cowards too ashamed or too scared to say what they really mean. 

And what they really mean is that they still cling to this notion of white supremacy. They’re just too scared of the societal backlash to put on a white hood and attend the meetings. 

These people see the removal of the Confederate monuments as a loss — a personal loss. Because that tie to the confederacy and the sad, pathetic belief that they were somehow superior because of the color of their skin has sustained them throughout their lives. 

That’s why they cling so tightly to these relics of the past — because those relics represent their “heritage” and their worth. 

It doesn’t matter at all that poor whites and poor blacks have so much more in common in 2020 than poor whites and rich whites. If the two groups ever bonded, ever formed a mutually beneficial coalition, they could — by the power of their numbers — change America overnight to a more just, more equitable country. 

But they won’t, because poor white people would lose their ability to look down on someone. And really, what good is life if you can’t make certain that someone out there has it worse than you? 

And so, here we are, more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War and more than 60 years since Dr. King crossed the bridge in Selma, still fighting battles over race and discrimination and hatred and intolerance. 

Maybe the protests of George Floyd’s killing will finally be the straw to break this thing. Maybe the days of everything being on fire, along with those awful images of Floyd, will instill in the minds of enough people that there really are problems.

Maybe we can finally stop holding onto these relics of the past and concern ourselves more with holding onto each other.

 

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Josh Moon

Opinion | How can any of this be a surprise?

Josh Moon

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I am a “race-baiter.” I have “white guilt.” I’m a “n—– lover.” I’m a “traitor to my race.”

Over the course of my 20 years doing this job, and writing my opinions on the state of race and equality in Alabama, I’ve heard it all. I’ve been called it all, and I have the emails to back it up. 

These are the names that come flying at you when you dare point out that Alabama’s track record on racial justice is for crap. Or that this state’s love for the confederate traitors to the country is insulting and hurtful to the state’s black citizens. 

Because the majority of this state does not want to hear it. 

And that’s exactly why things are on fire right now. 

For generations, we have not wanted to hear about the injustices and inequality, not wanted to acknowledge them, not wanted to make amends for them. Hell, we’ve got quite a few people actively working to make sure they’re never undone. 

Whenever there were nonviolent protests, they were belittled, shoved down and painted as anti-American. Many times, when black men and women expressed rightful outrage, their cries were met with silence, indifference or outright retribution. 

What did you expect to happen? 

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Did you honestly believe that you could keep your knees on the necks of an entire race of people for multiple generations and never suffer the consequences? Did you think there would be no bill to pay for those injustices? 

Did you think that you could continue with mass incarcerations, school segregation and social unfairness and that those disenfranchised people would simply take it and move on? That there would never be a boiling over of anger and despair? 

Really, it is the audacity of white people that has caused this. 

Before you roll your eyes, consider this: Right now, in Montgomery, Alabama, the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, there is not a single statue of Martin Luther King Jr., who led his first church in the city. At the same time, every single school day, at a school where over 90 percent of the students are black, kids stroll past a large statue of Robert E. Lee. 

On the grounds of the state capitol, there is a large statue of Jefferson Davis. And another to J. Marion Sims, the doctor who used to experiment on slave women to save anesthesia. 

Oh, and did I mention that Monday is Confederate Memorial Day in Alabama — a paid, state holiday for state workers?

You know what all of that says? 

We don’t care. 

We don’t care if this hurts you. We don’t care if it fosters an attitude of hate and intolerance. And we don’t care that we don’t care. 

People have this misguided notion, it seems, that all of these protests and all of this anger is over the killing of George Floyd. That’s not it. 

Sure, Floyd’s death touched off the protests. But really, they’re about much, much more than that. They’re about the daily, everyday injustices and frustrations and annoyances and wrongs that are allowed to happen to minorities in America. 

Wrongs that we refuse to correct or that we dismiss. 

The traffic stop for rolling through a stop sign that ends with a teenager face down and multiple cops’ guns pointed at him. The job interviews that never pan out. The promotions that never come. The home loan that doesn’t go through. The police abuse that goes unaddressed. The school suspensions for minor offenses.  

This powder keg has been building for decades. 

How can it possibly be a surprise to anyone?

 

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