Lobbying for Gill, alum Barkley says Auburn should have hired black coach

Former Auburn and NBA star Charles Barkley ripped the school he attended on Monday, saying the only reason the Tigers did not hire Buffalo's Turner Gill as the school's new football coach is because Gill is black.

Auburn on Saturday hired Iowa State's Gene Chizik, who had a 5-19 record in two seasons with the Cyclones. Chizik was the defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2004, when the Tigers finished 13-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country.

Chizik replaces former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who won 85 games in 10 seasons but was forced to resign earlier this month.

"I think race was the No. 1 factor," said Barkley, who played basketball for three seasons at Auburn during the early 1980s. "You can say it's not about race, but you can't compare the two résumés and say [Chizik] deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst résumé."

Gill, a former Nebraska quarterback, took over one of the country's worst programs at Buffalo three years ago. He guided the Bulls to an 8-5 record and their first MAC championship this season, upsetting previously unbeaten Ball State 42-24 in the Dec. 5 conference championship game.

The Bulls won 10 games in their first seven seasons at the Division I-A level. Gill guided Buffalo to 13 victories during the past two seasons combined.

"I'm just very disappointed," Barkley said. "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."

Barkley, who works as an NBA analyst for Turner Network Television, said he spoke with Gill before Gill interviewed with Auburn officials last week.

"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."

Chizik said Monday he understands the expectations as he takes over at Auburn and that there's only one way to quiet fans upset by his hiring.

"You gotta win," Chizik said during a news conference. A half-dozen or so times, Chizik confidently said he was the "right guy" for the job.

"Nobody's expectation that is a fan of Auburn University is higher than mine," Chizik said. "That sums it up. My expectations are very high. I understand that the people of this place, including myself, they want championships. That's my expectation of myself. That's what I take with me to sleep with every night."

The results at Iowa State weren't spectacular, yet Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said Chizik's plan for turning around the Cyclones was part of what got him the job.

"He was on path there at Iowa State to turn that program around in a positive way," said Jacobs. He called Chizik a "tireless recruiter" with a solid plan.

Five wins in two years got Chizik an offer of a two-year contract extension at Iowa State. He reportedly will receive a five-year contract worth about $2 million a year from Auburn, about double his former deal which included a $750,000 buyout.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard sounded upset to lose Chizik. He said Monday during a news conference in Ames that twice last week, Chizik assured him that he wouldn't dump the Cyclones for Auburn.

Pollard said that Iowa State's fans, staff and players "deserved better."

"He's got to reconcile in himself what he told all these players and what he told our administration and what he's doing now," Pollard said. "And if he can live with that, more power to him. I know Jamie Pollard couldn't have done that to this place."

Asked about Barkley's comments to ESPN, Jacobs said: "Well, my reaction is I was picking the best fit for Auburn."

Barkley, an 11-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medal winner, said he served on Auburn's search committee for a new basketball coach after the 2003-04 season. Barkley said he told Auburn officials he would serve on the committee only if the school was ready to hire a black coach.

Barkley said he presented three African-American candidates for consideration: former Indiana coach Mike Davis, then-Virginia Commonwealth coach Jeff Capel and then-UAB coach Mike Anderson.

Barkley said all three candidates wanted to coach at Auburn. Instead, the Tigers hired then-Chattanooga coach Jeff Lebo, a white candidate. Lebo has a 61-68 record in his fifth season at Auburn.

Barkley said he was removed from Auburn's search committee before Lebo was hired.

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

There are only four African-American coaches among 119 programs in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision. Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley was hired as New Mexico's coach last week; the others are Gill, Miami's Randy Shannon and Houston's Kevin Sumlin.

Two African-American coaches, Washington's Tyrone Willingham and Kansas State's Ron Prince, were fired during the 2008 season, and Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom resigned.

Barkley said he wanted Gill to become Auburn's coach because Auburn is a school where an African-American coach could be successful.

"My biggest problem with the black coaches is they're not getting jobs and they're getting [expletive] jobs when they are hired," Barkley said. "They're not getting good jobs. They're not getting jobs where they can be successful. That's why I wanted Turner to get the Auburn job. He could win consistently at Auburn. You can't win consistently at New Mexico. You can't win consistently at Kansas State. He could have won at Auburn."

Mark Schlabach covers college football for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.