John Cohen has been around the SEC long enough to know the acronym commonly thrown around when it comes to Auburn.
JABA. Just Auburn Being Auburn.
The Tigers’ new athletics director has heard it time and again. He has seen it mentioned on many occasions; it’s usually in reference to the perception of self-sabotage, civil unrest and meddling that outsiders associate with Auburn’s athletics department. Cohen, who was introduced Tuesday as the 16th athletic director in Auburn history, wants to change the stigma of that common refrain.
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“I want to tell you, in my opinion, as somebody who’s been on the outside who’s now coming in, ‘Auburn being Auburn’ is a special thing,” Cohen said toward the end of his opening remarks.
The idea of “Auburn being Auburn,” as a pejorative, isn’t new, but it has come up often this year. It surfaced during February’s university-led inquiry into then-coach Bryan Harsin’s handling of the football program, and again as Harsin’s grip on his job slipped further away early in the season as the on-field product left plenty to be desired.
Auburn fired Harsin last Monday, less than two months into his tenure as head coach, triggering a buyout of more than $15 million owed to him. That was on top of the more than $27 million in buyouts owed to Gus Malzahn and his assistants that Auburn had to pay just to make way for the hiring of Harsin. Just Auburn being Auburn.
Yet Cohen, who spent the last six years as athletics director at Mississippi State and spent extensive time in the SEC before that, believes “Auburn being Auburn” should — and does — carry a different meaning, given the reach of the Auburn brand both academically and athletically.
“Three Heisman Trophy winners is ‘Auburn being Auburn,’” Cohen said. “Athletes who forever changed the nature of their own sport — not just here, not just in the SEC, but nationally — like Bo (Jackson), like The Big Hurt (Frank Thomas), like Sir Charles (Barkley), like Rowdy (Gaines), like Ruthie (Bolton), like Suni (Lee). I can name a bunch more. That is ‘Auburn being Auburn.’ How about Hall of Fame coaches? Shug Jordan, Pat Dye, Joel Eaves, Sonny Smith, Hal Baird — who I got to see the other day — Joe Ciampi, David Marsh, Ralph Spry, Susan Nunnelly, Tim Evans, and many, many more. We have future Hall of Fame coaches in this room right now, and I’m thrilled with that. That is ‘Auburn being Auburn.’
“Twenty-two national championships, almost 100 conference championships, countless individual national champions, that is ‘Auburn being Auburn.’ The great traditions — the Tiger Walk, the eagle flight, rolling Toomer’s Corner — that is ‘Auburn being Auburn.’”
Auburn being Auburn, he said, was “a big why” for him when it came to the decision to leave his alma mater, Mississippi State, for the Plains. The Tigers just need to change the outside perception of that term, which Cohen aims to do in his new role leading the athletics department, with goals of competing for and winning SEC and national championships, delivering “elite” facilities upgrades, staying out front on NIL and bringing forth a prosperous new era for Auburn sports.
Auburn’s new athletics director then echoed another familiar refrain before taking questions: “I believe in Auburn and love it,” he said.
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.