AUBURN, Ala. -- Charles Barkley was pulling for Auburn to hire Turner Gill as football coach long before Gene Chizik emerged publicly as a candidate for the job.
Barkley's take on why his alma mater hired Chizik instead: Gill is a black coach, Chizik is white.
"I believe race had a factor. Of course I do," Barkley, a former Auburn and NBA star, said Monday in a phone interview with the Associated Press hours after Chizik was introduced. "First of all you can't compare these two, their records. That's not even close to being fair.
"I look at things from a commonsense standpoint, how do you interview Turner Gill and pick Gene Chizik over Turner Gill?"
Athletic director Jay Jacobs denied that race was a factor, saying he picked "the best fit for Auburn."
Chizik took over a difficult rebuilding project at Iowa State and went 5-19 in his first two seasons as a head coach after successful turns as defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas.
Gill led Buffalo to a Mid-American Conference championship this season. The program was 10-69 in its first seven seasons in the MAC before Gill took over in 2006.
He was among the early candidates Auburn interviewed for the job. Chizik interviewed last Thursday and was hired two days later.
"I was really pulling for Turner Gill when the job first opened," said Barkley, who doesn't know Gill personally. "I went on a couple of (radio) shows in Alabama. I just can't believe they picked this guy over Turner Gill. I'm just in shock."
Then, Barkley said the decision "doesn't surprise me at all."
He said he agreed to serve on Auburn's search committee to hire a basketball coach before the 2004-05 season on the condition the school hire a black candidate. He pitched Mike Davis, Mike Anderson and Jeff Capel as worthy candidates, and says now all three wanted the job. Auburn hired Jeff Lebo.
"They said, 'We're ready to hire a black coach,"' Barkley said. "I figured out right away they were not going to hire a black coach."
He said he went public with his complaints.
"They kicked me off the committee the next day," he said. "I have kept the secret about that for quite awhile. Clearly it's got something to do with race."