NASHVILLE — What will Tony Barbee, the embattled third-year Auburn coach have to say for himself when he meets with athletic director Jay Jacobs to review one of the most disastrous seasons for the program? Barbee’s three-year tenure ranks worst for any coach who spent at least three years on the Plains.
“I’m the coach of the program and I’m the leader of the ship,” Barbee said, “and it all falls on me.”
The Tigers’ 71-62 loss to No. 11 Texas A&M in the opening round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday night capped a stretch of 16 losses in 17 games - the worst single-season stretch in the 107 season history of the program - including 10 in a row, the longest skid since Sonny Smith’s final season in 1989.
“I haven’t coached them very well and I take full responsibility for that,” said Barbee, who earns $1.5 million annually through 2017 with a buyout of just over $3 million as of today. “Look at the results in terms of wins and losses, what it comes down to.”
The last time Auburn lost 16 of 17 games was Jan. 23, 1943 through Feb. 12, 1945 - there was no team in 1943-44 - and some of the foes in that dreadful span under coach Bob Evans, who went 4-28 in his two seasons at Auburn, included Gunter Field and Jacksonville Navy, preceded two games earlier by a loss to the 507 Paratrooper Infantry.
“Nothing we tried for, nothing we wanted to do,” senior Rob Chubb said. “Not much positive note.”
Barbee is 35-59 overall (.372 win percentage) and 12-38 in SEC play in three seasons, the worst records for any Auburn coach who spent at least three seasons on the Plains.
V.J. Edney went 3-18 in 1947, Hal Lee went 1-10 in 1930, George Bohler went 6-15 in 1929 and Herb Bunker went 3-11 in 1925 - all one-season tenures and Evans was gone after two.
Auburn’s .281 win percentage this year is its worst since going 6-20 (.231) in 1973 which was coach Bill Lynn’s last season. As of Thursday morning, Auburn ranked 250th in RPI, worst among BCS conference teams by 20 spots - TCU is 230. The Tigers finished last season 139th in RPI.
“From year one to year two we got better and had more wins, more conference wins, a higher RPI, a higher strength of schedule and we want to keep that momentum going this year,” Barbee said before the season.
Every one of those metrics went down this season, prior to which Barbee felt this year’s squad, which was picked preseason No. 12 in the SEC but finished dead last, was his strongest.
Barbee felt the positives heading into this season were a strong senior leadership group led by Frankie Sullivan and Chubb. But all season, particularly in SEC play, Barbee and countless players said the players had not taken ownership and the coaches were still leading.
“This year our roster is stronger than it was last year,” Barbee said in late October. “These positives are going to equal to a higher finish in the conference.”
How did Barbee so greatly misjudge what this season would be?
He says he didn’t.
“I didn’t misjudge anything. I didn’t misjudge anything,” Barbee said. “Your win/loss record at the end of the day doesn’t indicate why the season went the way it went.”
The way the season went turned fans away from the box office as well.
Though it is a small sample, this year’s attendance, at 68.6 percent of capacity, was worst in the three-year history of the $92.5 million Auburn Arena. The three smallest SEC home crowds at Auburn Arena, all below 5,800, happened this season.
With the loss of Sullivan, the team’s leading scorer, Chubb, the team’s leading rebounder, and starting point guard Josh Wallace, next season is shaping up to be difficult too.