Tide probing allegations of ‘bought’ five-star signee

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Thursday, “chatter” surfaced by way of a writer from an Auburn-centric Rivals.com website that an Alabama “supporter” had plied a Tide signee and at least one member of his family with cash and, in one case, a car.

Friday brings word that Alabama has already begun the process of taking a peek into the explosive claims.

According to, oddly enough, an Alabama-centric Rivals.com website, UA athletic department officials spent the day in Franklin County (Al.) investigating the “report” that impermissible benefits may have been involved in the recruitment of five-star linebacker Brent Calloway.

Calloway’s recruitment was, to say the least, an odyssey wrought with an embarrassing amount of intrigue when you consider the fact that it involved where a teenager was going to attend college.  Originally a verbal commitment to the Tide, Calloway flipped to Auburn in early January before flipping back to Alabama on signing day a month later.  In his claims made during an interview on an Alabama radio station yesterday, Jeffrey Lee, the editor of Rivals’ Auburn site, intimated that Calloway’s final flip came as a result of the financial inducements given by the Tide supporter.

Suffice to say, Tide officials were forced into action because of the allegations.

UA compliance department officials interviewed Calloway, Russellville resident Darren Woodruff, bank officials at First Metro Bank and Calloway’s adopted father, Harland Lindsey Winston, known as “Peaches.”

At issue are allegations made Thursday morning by Auburn Rivals reporter Jeffrey Lee on Mobile radio station WSNP. Among Lee’s allegations were that an Alabama supporter – subsequently identified as Woodruff — paid Winston $2,500 for Calloway to commit to Alabama, as well as supplying Calloway a new car. Lee also alleged Woodruff pulled Calloway out of school in the days leading up to signing day, taking him on a trip to Florida.

Woodruff told TideSports.com that he’s “confident the truth will come out.”  Ricky Danley, the new cars sales manager at the dealership where Woodruff allegedly acquired the vehicle given to Calloway, told the website that Woodruff had merely taken the car in question — a Camaro — out on an extended test drive before returning it due to handling issues at high speeds.

Calloway’s high school principal, Tim Guinn, told the site that he has never seen or heard of Calloway drive any car, let alone a brand-new Camaro.  If true, that would debunk the claim made by Lee that Calloway drove a new car to school one day and, because of the attention it garnered and the questions being asked, was forced to return it the same day.

“I don’t believe any of these allegations are true. No, not one of them,” Guinn said.

And, as if this episode needed another layer of intrigue, the man responsible for the initial allegations cancelled a previously scheduled radio appearance a day after very willingly allowing the claims to be broadcast in the first place.  Lee issued a statement announcing the cancellation as well as expressing unwavering faith in the sources that led to the initial allegations.

In case you were wondering, yes, you read that correctly: a writer from a website issued a statement regarding a cancelled radio interview.  In other, unrelated news, the Mayans are correct.  Anyway, here’s the statement:

“Due to an enormous amount of additional information AuburnSports.com has received in the last 24 hours, we are not planning any updates today as we sort through the details. I will not be conducting any interviews including the one previously scheduled with WNSP in Mobile. We firmly stand behind our sources on this, and want to thank our members for your understanding and patience as this story continues to develop.”

Sigh.

With all of the crap going on in what is truly a great on-field product — from street agents to deceptive head coaches to fathers sticking their hands out looking for a little green greasing to arrests and suspensions — doesn’t it almost makes one long for the relative peace and tranquility of the NFL’s off-field labor strife?

Georgia Tech promotes Brent Key from interim to head coach

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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Georgia Tech named interim coach Brent Key to the full-time position on Tuesday after he led the team to a 4-4 finish.

Key, 44, was in his fourth season as assistant head coach, run game coordinator and offensive line coach before Geoff Collins was fired on Sept. 26, two days after the Yellow Jackets lost 27-10 to Central Florida and dropped to 1-3.

Georgia Tech’s improvement under Key, who played for the Yellow Jackets and graduated in 2001, convinced Institute President Dr. Angel Cabrera and athletic director J Batt to make Key the full-time coach instead of looking outside the program for the hire.

“I am so proud and grateful to be the head coach at my alma mater, Georgia Tech,” Key said in a statement released by the school. “Like I’ve said many times over the past two months, I love this team, and I couldn’t be more excited to be their head coach. We will work unbelievably hard to make our fans, alumni and former players very proud of this program.”

Cabrera said Key’s history with Georgia Tech as a student, player and assistant coach was important.

“As an alum, he understands and cares deeply about this place and our extraordinary student-athletes,” Cabrera said. “He’s not only incredibly competitive but will do everything he can to make sure students grow as athletes, professionals and human beings.”

Georgia Tech had interest in Tulane coach Willie Fritz before choosing to promote Key.

“There was strong interest from across the country to be the next head coach at Georgia Tech, and we conducted an exhaustive national search,” Batt said. “At the beginning and end of the search, it was clear that the best choice for Georgia Tech is Brent Key.”

ESPN was first to report Georgia Tech had focused its search on Key.

Collins was 10-28 in his fourth season. When announcing the move with Collins, Georgia Tech also fired athletic director Todd Stansbury, who hired Collins. The school hired Batt, a former deputy athletic director at Alabama, as its athletic director on Oct. 14.

After Key was named interim coach, the Yellow Jackets beat two ranked teams, Pittsburgh and North Carolina, on the road. Georgia Tech finished 5-7 overall following Saturday’s 37-14 loss at No. 1 Georgia.

Even in the loss, Georgia Tech’s improvement showed. The Yellow Jackets trailed Georgia only 10-7 at halftime.

Key was Alabama’s offensive line coach from 2016-18 following 11 seasons at UCF. At UCF, Key coached under George O'Leary, who was his coach at Georgia Tech.

O’Leary said Georgia Tech made “a great decision” in promoting Key.

“I watched very closely this season as Brent took over and saw things move in the right direction,” O’Leary said. “It was clear that the team responded to the changes he made and played hard for him.”

Hugh Freeze asks Auburn fans for ‘chance to earn your trust’

Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK
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AUBURN, Ala. – Hugh Freeze‘s checkered past in the Southeastern Conference means he’ll have to win more than just games. He’ll also have to win over Auburn fans.

Freeze’s return to the league more than five years after his scandal-plagued exit was greeted by considerable backlash on social media from wary fans. The former Mississippi and Liberty coach had to talk about his past during Tuesday’s introductory news conference as much as his belief that Auburn can make a quick turnaround, urging fans to “please give me a chance to earn your trust.”

“Give me some time. Get to know us. Get to know our family. Get to know the truth of our story,” Freeze said. “And I think the ones who have done that have said, `Man, you know what, I kinda like this guy and this family.’

“But that’s all you can ask is, man, give us a chance to earn your trust and I think you’ll like the end result.”

His message clearly resonated with athletic director John Cohen. Now he has to win over fans tired of embarrassments, including the failed 21-game tenure of former coach Bryan Harsin.

Auburn gave Freeze a six-year contract worth at least $6.5 million annually, making him the eighth-highest paid coach in the SEC. The buyout, if Freeze is fired without cause, would be 75% of his remaining contract.

Freeze resigned from Ole Miss in the summer of 2017 after school officials uncovered a “pattern of personal misconduct” starting with a call to a number used by an escort service from a university-issued cellphone. The program ultimately landed on NCAA probation for 21 violations of academic, booster and recruiting misconduct mostly under Freeze’s watch.

Still Cohen, who was at Mississippi State at the time, said Freeze was his top choice from the outset.

“Coach Freeze was completely transparent about his past transgressions,” Cohen said. “He showed remorse, and he’s had an accountability plan that he’s used for the last five-plus years.

“Everything he disclosed to us turned out to be accurate, after speaking with credible industry sources. In this way, Coach Freeze was honest and truthful.”

Freeze’s hiring was delayed after a former Liberty student emailed Auburn officials about a direct message the coach had sent her defending the Flames athletic director after she had made critical comments. The woman said she was sexually assaulted at Liberty and had reached a settlement, a case that pre-dated Freeze’s arrival.

Cohen did not take questions from reporters at the news conference and later declined to comment when asked about the direct message by The Associated Press.

Freeze has gone 103-47 on the field in 13 seasons at four programs, but 27 of those wins at Ole Miss were vacated because of NCAA violations. He spent the last four seasons at Liberty.

Freeze’s first move was to keep Carnell Williams on staff as running backs coach and associate head coach. Williams, a former Auburn All-America running back, was interim coach for the final four games.

He was a candidate for the head job, interviewing with Cohen about a week ago. Williams expressed his support of Freeze.

“I did have the opportunity to state my case, but look, that’s old news,” said Williams, who attended the news conference. “Like I told them whenever they brought me the news, honestly, they looked more disappointed than me. They were, `I’m sorry.’ But I’m like, I’m disappointed, (but) I’m not upset.”

Freeze isn’t the first high-profile coach with NCAA baggage that Auburn has hired. Bruce Pearl was hired while in the final months of a show-cause penalty stemming from violations that led to his ouster from Tennessee.

Pearl has turned the program into an SEC power, but not without more trouble.

Auburn self-imposed a postseason ban two years ago stemming from a bribery scheme involving former assistant coach Chuck Person. Pearl served a two-game suspension and players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy were ruled ineligible for at least one season. Person later pleaded guilty to a bribery conspiracy charge.

Now, Freeze is getting his own second chance to change the script in the SEC.

“I don’t know if rewriting the story is exactly the right word,” he said. “But it’s going to make for a good ending.”