I left Auburn University as a student in 1998. Five men have served as president from that time until now — William Muse, William Walker, Ed Richardson, Jay Gogue and Steven Leath. That might sound like a lot, but it’s actually pretty typical among other major universities.
Alabama has had four men and one woman serve as president during that same time frame. Tennessee is on its sixth president since 1998. Georgia is a bit of an outlier having only two men serve in the position.
Auburn released a statement late last Friday the university and Leath had agreed to “mutually part ways.” In other words, Leath got fired.
There are a lot of Auburn people having discussions today about why exactly this parting of ways occurred. Plenty of people have plenty of opinions, but a central theme I keep hearing is Steven Leath was just never “a good fit.”
While that is an undoubtedly over-generalized and somewhat meaningless phrase, I think it pretty well describes the situation.
Steven Leath was hired by Auburn in 2017 after serving as the president of Iowa State University for a little more than five years.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever even contemplated what exactly makes a really good university president. What do they actually do on a day-to-day basis? I know they hand out diplomas at graduation, glad hand donors and try to raise funds like crazy. Surely, there’s got to be more to it than that.
OK, I’m kidding. It’s actually a pretty daunting job if you really think about it. They have to create a happy balance between the highest levels of academia and the absolutely sports-obsessed culture of the SEC.
Here’s a newsflash: Those two entities don’t always go together like peas and carrots. In fact, there are minority factions of both sides that don’t really care if the other exists or not. The president of a university has to convince both sides there are no sides and the success of one benefits the other.
I’m not sure I could tell you the name of any other president at any other school in the SEC right now off the top of my head. On the other hand, I’d be willing to bet a lot of people around the league knew the name of Steven Leath long before this past weekend. His name has been in the news quite a bit over the last two years mainly revolving around athletics.
Leath was the driving force behind Gus Malzahn’s seven-year, $49 million contract extension. He was in the news making (let’s say unproductive) comments about Bruce Pearl during the Chuck Person fiasco. And that, I believe, was one of his biggest problems — Leath seemed to be under the impression he was the director of athletics.
Considering he was the one who hired Allen Greene as the athletics director, that seems a little odd.
In the end, I suppose it’s all water under a bridge or over a dam or down the drain. Theoretically, everyone on campus answers to the president and the president answers to the Board of Trustees. The BOT need to take its time and make a very good decision on who will be the next to lead Auburn University.
It needs to be someone with good vision who hires good people and lets them do their job.