Auburn Football: Did 2014 Tigers Suffer From a Lack of Senior Leadership?


The Auburn football team takes an 8-4 record and a No. 19 national ranking into the Outback Bowl against Wisconsin. It wasn’t a bad season, but with sky high expectations following an SEC Championship and an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game last year, it’s somewhat disappointing.

The Tigers entered the 2014 season as a legitimate national championship contender. They were ranked sixth in the nation in the initial AP poll, rose to third in the first two College Football Playoff rankings, but fell hard in the second half of the season.

Thanks primarily to a struggling defense and a few untimely offensive mistakes, the 7-1 Tigers lost 41-38 to Texas A&M. The upset carried over to the following week, when Auburn was blown out 34-7 by Georgia. After a less than spectacular win over FCS opponent Samford, the Tigers played great early before imploding late in a 55-44 loss to Alabama in the regular season finale.

More from Auburn Football

The poor defensive performance in the second half of the season cost Ellis Johnson his job as defensive coordinator. But was there a bigger problem at the root of Auburn’s struggles down the stretch?

Did the 2014 Auburn football team suffer from a lack of senior leadership?

All-American center Reese Dismukes and veteran defensive lineman Gabe Wright are team captains and senior leaders, and by all accounts did a great job in those roles. But, there were other players – a trio of seniors, specifically – that because of their roles on the field found themselves in natural leadership positions. And, despite those roles, all three made mistakes that set a poor example for younger players on the team and also caused them to miss playing time.

Consider the legal issues Nick Marshall and Jonathon Mincy had this summer.

The senior quarterback was cited for marijuana possession in mid-July, just days before he was scheduled to represent Auburn at SEC Media Days.

“I believe it’s a reward and privilege to represent Auburn here at SEC Media Days,” head coach Gus Malzahn said shortly following Marshall’s citation. “I believe he lost that right Friday. We have high expectations for our players, but specifically our quarterback being the face of our program.

“Up until last Friday, Nick has been a model student, a model teammate, a model citizen but he made a mistake and he’s going to have to suffer the consequences for that mistake. I’m not saying what that consequence is right now, but it will be addressed.”

It was addressed when Marshall did not start, and did not play in the first half against Arkansas in the season opener. Mincy also did not start against the Razorbacks as punishment for his marijuana arrest in late June.

“I put myself in that position and it was a mistake that I have to pay the price for,” Mincy said in August.

Nov 15, 2014; Athens, GA, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall (14) watches from the sideline in the fourth quarter of their game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium. Georgia won 34-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

With 29 starts in the previous three seasons, Mincy entered 2014 as the most experienced member of the 2014 defense. Like Marshall as the team’s starting QB, that experience puts a player in a leadership role, regardless of their personality or leadership status in previous seasons.

Even though the pair played in all 12 games this season, and started the last 11, their mistakes had an impact in the locker room and among the coaches. As a former coach, I understand it would be impossible not to, despite the public support Marshall and Mincy received from players and coaches shortly after their respective incidents.

“I’m on their side. Those are my brothers and I’m here to fight with them and for them,” fellow senior and team leader Jermaine Whitehead said in August. “They tell me their stories and I can only go by what they say. I know how life is. We’ve just been there for them, because I know they’re going to need to be picked up.

“For us to have a great season, we’re going need both of those guys to make a lot of plays this year. I don’t have the time to think about the negative aspect of it. It happened and it’s time to move on.”

Unfortunately, Whitehead also found himself suspended this season.

Details were never officially announced, but a rumored verbal altercation between the senior safety and an assistant coach led to Whitehead being left at home ahead of an important non-conference game against Kansas State in September.

Whitehead missed four games total and didn’t play again until the South Carolina game October 25. He didn’t play defense until the loss to the Aggies, and didn’t start until November 15 against Georgia.

The loss of Whitehead was a big one from an experience standpoint. He entered the 2014 season with 27 career starts, making him the second most experienced player for the Tigers on defense. Yet, like Marshall and Mincy, Jermaine Whitehead made a disappointing decision that cost him time on the field and set a poor example for the younger players on the roster.

Live Feed

Auburn vs. Texas A&M Prediction, Odds, Trends and Key Players for College Football Week 4
Auburn vs. Texas A&M Prediction, Odds, Trends and Key Players for College Football Week 4 /


  • 2023 Week 4 AP Poll Top 25: Every SEC team’s highest, lowest spot on ballotSouth Bound & Down
  • SEC Football: Florida, LSU rise in Week 4 2023 power rankingsSouth Bound & Down
  • SEC Tailgating: Where should you go in each town?South Bound & Down
  • SEC football standings based on yards per play through Week 2FanSided
  • Auburn Basketball: Projected starting lineup and depth chart for 2023-24 seasonBusting Brackets
  • Whether they are captains or not, every senior player is expected to lead by example. Freshmen and other younger players look up to the most experienced players on a team, especially those that have been such important on-field performers as Marshall, Mincy and Whitehead. The mistakes these players made were selfish and hurt their standing as team leaders.

    When a player breaks the law, disrespects a coach, or commits some other sort of infraction against team or university rules, it messes with team chemistry both on and off the field. It also puts the coaching staff in an awkward situation to determine an appropriate punishment, which will be judged by the fans, media and players – a no-win situation in itself.

    “He was very respectful and apologetic,” Reynolds, Georgia Police Chief Lonnie Holder said of Marshall and his citation. “I just explained to him that a lot of kids look up to him and see him as a role model. I told him he’s a role model if he wants to be or not and I was disappointed in him and I wasn’t going to treat him no different than we treat anybody else.”

    Except Marshall wasn’t just anybody else. He was an Auburn football player. The starting quarterback. Like the officer said, kids look up to him. Many of them on his own team.

    College football players make mistakes all over the country. We see the headlines every day it seems. But when a team has championship aspirations, legal and disciplinary issues are difficult to overcome. Especially when the players involved are expected to be senior leaders.

    Next: How Good Can the 2015 Auburn Defense Be Under Muschamp?

    More from Fly War Eagle