Today, Auburn director of strategic communications Jack Smith produced an e-mail exchange with the Roopstigo report’s author, Selena Roberts, all within the past eight days.
Since Roberts’ story, which was published Wednesday, made further allegations than what she indicated was her intent in seeking an interview with Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs, Smith had a harsh conclusion regarding Roberts’ exposé, released Wednesday on her web site.
“This is gotcha, hide-the-ball journalism at its worst,” said Smith, a former newspaper editor and publisher of the Eufaula Tribune. “Plain and simple.”
In a time-stamped e-mail Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 11:40 a.m. CT, Roberts contacted Auburn associate director of athletics Kirk Sampson.
“Hi Kirk – I’m working on a piece about the armed robbery charges involving (Dakota) Mosley, (Shaun) Kitchens, (Antonio) Goodwin and (Mike) McNeil. After interviewing more than a dozen people about that night, I had some questions regarding Auburn University and former Coach Gene Chizik’s role in the case. I’m requesting an interview with Jay Jacobs about the information I have received. Thank you, Selena”
Smith was the Auburn representative who responded to Roberts, and his e-mail was time-stamped Monday, April 3, 2013 at 3:50 p.m. CT.
“Selena, Good afternoon. Kirk Sampson forwarded to me your email requesting an interview with Jay Jacobs about the former football players involved in the 2011 robbery. We respectfully decline the opportunity to be interviewed for your story at this time. Best of luck and thanks for reaching out to us. Respectfully, Jack”
In her report, Roberts wrote, “Auburn athletic officials declined comment when contacted by Roopstigo.”
The second half of Jacobs' official four-paragraph statement Thursday read as follows: "Unfortunately, the reporter who published this story did not fully represent to us what the story was about when requesting an interview. We were only told that the reporter was working on a story about the alleged armed robbery involving four former football players, which occurred over two years ago.
"We were never told the story would include allegations about academic fraud or improper benefits. Had we known that, we would have responded immediately."
Both defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spoke with reporters after Friday’s spring football practice, and were asked about the Roopstigo and ESPN reports.
“I don't know anything about it. I have no knowledge of it,” Johnson said, who was not employed by Auburn before this past November. “People above my pay grade are handling all that.”
Said Lashlee, an offensive graduate assistant at Auburn from 2009-10: “You know, our administration’s handling that. My job is to coach football. That’s all I’m really worried about. We had practice this morning, we’ve got a big-time coaches clinic going on – I’m getting ready for that – that’s all I can deal with.”
Head coach Gus Malzahn, who was offensive coordinator at 2009-11 and was named in ESPN The Magazine’s piece, was not available to reporters Friday as previously scheduled. He next addresses the media following Saturday’s practice.
In response to Selena Roberts' Wednesday article alleging violations, an NCAA spokesperson told the Ledger-Enquirer in a Friday morning e-mail, "The NCAA cannot comment on current, pending or potential investigations."
Aaron Brenner covers Auburn athletics for The Anniston Star and The Columbus Ledger-Enquirier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @WarEagleExtra.