Leadership Lessons from the Collapse of Auburn Football

I am a Dye-Hard Auburn fan (only truly Auburn fans know why I spelled ‘Dye’ this way). I can’t help it. My granddad went to Auburn. My dad went to Auburn. My dad’s brother went to Auburn. It’s in my blood. I grew up hearing, “Son, if you ever say ‘Roll Tide’ Santa Claus ain’t comin’ to this house.” Yes, I did. And he was serious. Being an Auburn fan means by definition that you dislike all things Alabama (the University, that is). You either love Auburn and hate Alabama or vice-versa.

That’s why Saturday’s Iron Bowl felt weird. Every honest Auburn fan knew we would get beat badly. No question about that. So that wasn’t what felt so weird. What was so weird was the person I was most frustrated with on the field. Usually, during a game like this, it is the men wearing the red and white that I cannot stand and want to . . . I better not go there. But Saturday, the person I was most frustrated with was the man wearing a white windbreaker with Auburn logos on it. Yeah, coach Gene. It was also weird because it was obvious Nick Saban was being merciful to us by not running the score up our throats (which he could done have VERY easily). That doesn’t happen in Auburn-Alabama games. No. We hate each other so bad that we would not dare back down. Unless there was something very unusual going on.

And unusual it was.


I am also a leader. I pastor the First Baptist Church of El Dorado, Arkansas and love, though daunting, the responsibility of leading this flock. So obviously I am interested in what happens in an organization that can be on top of the college football world in 2010 and then be at the bottom just two years later.

I have read numerous articles surrounding the debacle at Auburn University in recent days. Three leadership lessons for me personally – and I am guessing any leader – stick out that I want to remember and learn from.


1. The first responsibility of of a leader is to define reality. 

I read this truth months ago from Ron Edmonson. He’s right. The responsibility of any leader is to define reality for the group of people he is called to lead. I was so frustrated with Gene Chizik on Saturday (and really most of the season) because he seemed to be living in another world, always talking about needing to do better – but never living in the reality of what was going on. Kevin Scarbinsky wrote this following the Iron Bowl: “Chizik proved powerless to stop this avalanche, and yet, all the evidence to the contrary, he continued to demonstrate that he has no grasp on reality.” He then quoted Chizik who said, “There’s no question in my mind, I believe we can get this thing turned around and get back on the right track.” Scarbinsky’s response? “He may be the only one.”

I honestly believe one of the main – if not THE main – reasons Auburn fell from ‘Hero to Zero’ in 2 years is due to blindness of reality from the leader.

I confess, I may be dead wrong. I am far removed from what goes on behind closed doors. But it seems this way from where I sit and it does so to the extent that it haunts me of doing the exact same thing. Unless reality is seen by the leader and made known to the people – a proper and aggressive course forward is impossible.

So, questions I need to ask myself are these:

Are we reaching unchurched people, or are we simply attracting ‘already churched’ people?

What percentage of our budget is given toward evangelism and missions and making disciples of all nations?

How many people are we baptizing compared to last year? Last month? Five years ago?

Am I spending more time trying to keep saved people happy or lost people out of hell?

Are the programs we are running helping us reach our vision, or are we just doing things because we always have?


2. At the end of the day, NO ONE likes change. 

I read a quote from an Auburn player Saturday night that literally blew me away. Jonathan Wallace, Auburn’s starting quarterback at the end of the season, said this about the Auburn coaching staff: “He should be back. They know exactly where this program needs to go, and they know what to do. I hope they are back next year. I really have no doubt. I really do believe they will be.” Are you kidding me?

Chizik had an opportunity to turn a ‘minimal’ season in 2011 around with brand new coordinators. This coaching staff had an incredible group of players. They weren’t able to win a single SEC game. I know I am on the outside looking in, but how could this coaching staff have any idea where the program needs to go? How could Wallace possibly say such a thing?

The ‘C’ word. CHANGE. Nobody likes it. If Jonathan Wallace gets a new head coach, he will probably get a new offensive coordinator. If he gets a new offensive coordinator, he will probably get a new quarterbacks coach. Everything will . . . change. The most obvious thing for the Auburn program to get back on its feet is to get a new leader. To do so will mean . . . change.

Wallace’s quote was very eye-opening for me. Leaders are called to chart a course for what is best for the organization and the people charged to their care. Sometimes that means. . . change. Change is hard. It’s always easier for us humans just to keep doing things like we always have. But that may not be what is best for the program. What’s best for Auburn football? Wins. Are they winning? No. What needs to happen? Change.

What’s best for the church? Intentionally, strategically, purposefully, and aggressively make disciples of all nations.

If the quarterback for Auburn wants the same scenario as this year, he simply doesn’t like change.

If a church member doesn’t like contemplating redirecting resources to reach more people, he simply doesn’t like change.

What’s a leader to do? Define reality, communicate the vision, and move forward in a way that is best for the institution as a whole. Isn’t that what a leader is charged to do? Move forward in a way that is best for all he has been called to lead? If so, change is inevitable and many won’t like it.


3. A Leader Intentionally Develops Others to Be Better.

In another article I read, another frustration I felt came to light. Throughout the season, no one seemed to care. The lack of passion on the field was obvious. The lack of discipline was painful to watch. The thoughts of ‘my grandmother could tackle better than that’ came more and more frequent. I hate to watch Auburn lose. But to watch them lose game after game with zero passion or desire – that became unbearable. Absolutely ZERO improvement was made throughout the season. If anything, Auburn’s play went from bad to worse to awful. There seemed to me to be no intentional effort to help the players be better – to improve – to be developed – to care about winning a football game.

Again, I am far removed from what really was going on behind closed doors. I don’t know, at the end of the day, what was REALLY happening. But as a leader, it does force me to think through whether or not I am intentionally and purposefully pouring into others so as to make them better. Do I strive to improve other people? Do I work to make the institution I lead better than it was by developing people?

Ignoring this will prove fatal. Coach Chizik was able to ride the backs of Cam Newton and Nick Fairley for a season. It got him a contract extension and a book contract. But it didn’t last. Once the ‘rock stars’ left, reality set in. No intentional coach or player development led to almost immediate destruction for the program.

Jesus poured Himself into 12 and saw a revolution after he ascended to glory. His parting words were to ‘go and make disciples.’ Paul charged the leaders in the church to ‘equip the saints for ministry.’ Leadership is about developing others to make them better.

I can sit here and point fingers at Gene all day. But at the end of the day, this is for Matt Pearson. How are you doing, Matt? What’s reality at FBC? Are you afraid to do anything because someone may not like change? How active are you at pouring into others?

It doesn’t take long to go from first to worst.






About pastormpearson

Follower of Jesus. Husband to Katie. Father to Luke, Seth, and Birtukan. Pastor of the First Baptist Church in El Dorado, Arkansas.

Posted on November 26, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Matt I agree you are only as good as your leader. We will disagree on political issues but never on the gospel. I have loved the sermons on giving. That is one of my gifts. I do feel sorry for folks that don’t have that gift but have to work at it. Vertis

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Eddie Turrentine

    This was a very good view on what might have been going on. For sure the points are spot on. I run some businesses and currently live in China. These points are true for any business or church no matter the location in the world. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Richard McClendon

    Hello Matt, I have heard by the grapevine that Auburn and Arkansas plan to combine their football programs and start playing high school teams.



  4. I appreciate your ability to find life applications for all of us in the day-to-day life – even if it’s about auburn. Thanks for this –

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