A New Lowder: Forthright Reformed A.U. Devotee?

A reader recently sent me this photo of Auburn booster Bobby Lowder at the BCS Championship Game in Glendale:

Photo: Bobby Lowder at BCS Championship Game

(Hidden message in headline? Why, I had no idea)

My receipt of said image was only upon our mutual agreement that I’d post the photo after the game.

Seeing Lowder luxuriating in his proudest moment as an alumnus of Auburn got me to thinking about his much-rumored status at his alma mater.

The 30-year AU Trustee, who to this day oversees the entire Auburn University budget each year, once presided over a sprawling, Alabama-based financial empire. But that all changed in 2009, when the money center Lowder founded himself, Colonial Bank, crashed and burned, resulting in the sixth-largest bank failure in United States history.

Before his colossal business failure, which still includes a slew of legal issues that aren’t going away anytime soon, Lowder was generally regarded as the most powerful major college football booster in the country. After all, Lowder controlled a billion-dollar banking concern while simultaneously being personally entrusted the entire Auburn school budget.

But with his business career in ashes, most recently the media has begun reporting the seeming demise of Lowder’s influence at Auburn.

Bobby Lowder

(Could a booster actually run an SEC school’s entire budget? Ask Bobby.)

Most prominent of those effective eulogies was a piece by Pete Thamel of the NEW YORK TIMES. Published two days before the BCS Championship Game, the article was titled, “Auburn’s Kingmaker Isn’t Sharing in the Moment.”

Excerpts:

If No. 1 Auburn defeats No. 2 Oregon on Monday night for its first national football championship since 1957, it should be a crowning moment for Lowder. But some say his power has dwindled since his actions in 2003 helped land Auburn on academic probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional accreditation agency.

… Lowder’s power has waned since the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools threatened to strip Auburn of its accreditation, citing the meddlesome trustees and their interlocking ties to Lowder as a reason for probation.

Lowder’s efforts to oust (former head football coach Tommy) Tuberville as coach failed, though Tuberville was fired after the 2008 season and replaced by Gene Chizik, his former defensive coordinator.

Thamel and his sources are not alone in their claims of erosion of Lowder’s power base. But in accounting for actual events at Auburn in recent years, there appears to be no such indication that the booster is going the way of the brontosaurus.

After the Colonial meltdown, Lowder moved from his longtime residence in Montgomery to a fulltime Auburn abode.

Since the aforementioned kerfuffle with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools during the mid-2000s, Lowder has presided over the promotion of his personal protege, Jay Jacobs, to Auburn Athletic Director. Jacobs had been previously charged with overseeing the private “Tigers Unlimited” fundraising arm over which Lowder has long had ultimate control.

Speaking of Tigers Unlimited, Jacobs’ replacement as executive director of the organization,Tim Jackson, was noted in the BIRMINGHAM NEWS Sunday for his wide-ranging influence within the Auburn football program.

Then there’s the hiring of head football coach Gene Chizik, who was tapped to take over one of the country’s most prestigious football programs despite a career coaching record of 5-19. Chizik’s hire was met with violent opposition by the Auburn fanbase, with AD Jacobs hounded in public by hecklers aiming to humiliate him for making such a move.

As you might expect, the Chizik hire left everyone in the college football world wondering why Auburn would hire someone with a 5-19 career coaching record.

Worse yet, what if I told you Chizik was the only candidate for the job ever presented Auburn School President Jay Gogue by the school’s athletic department to interview?

Why on earth would Auburn do that?

Could it be that the person who hired Chizik wanted a coach who would be completely beholden to him?

Meanwhile, have you heard one peep from Auburn’s school president since the sordid allegations about Cam Newton’s recruitment first surfaced?

Maybe that has something to do with what Gogue has in common with Chizik: He was the only candidate for his position at Auburn when he was hired.

If you go back and read about Lowder’s three-decade, checkered tenure at Auburn, you’ll note seemingly eternal, internal conflicts involving Lowder, Auburn administrators and coaches. But with the current AU President, athletic director and head coach, there’s no indication of such internal dissonance.

A first.

Perhaps that’s a sign Lowder is now completely out of the loop.

Or perhaps that’s a sign that Lowder, who maintains his prominent position on the AU Board of Trustees and as Chair of the school’s finance committee, for the first time has complete control over his personally-appointed Auburn school president, athletic director and football coach.

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