Charles Barkley

yesterday said that race played a role in Auburn's hiring of

Gene Chizik

as football coach.

"I believe race had a factor. Of course I do," said Barkley, who starred at Auburn before joining the 76ers in 1983.

"I look at things from a common-sense standpoint, how do you interview

Turner Gill

and pick Gene Chizik over Turner Gill?"

Athletic director

Jay Jacobs

denied race was a factor, saying he picked "the best fit for Auburn."

Chizik went 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State after turns as defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas. Gill, an African American, led Buffalo to a Mid-American Conference championship this season.

Barkley revealed he had served on Auburn's search committee for a basketball coach before the 2004-05 season, on the condition that the school hire a black candidate.

He pitched

Mike Davis, Mike Anderson

and

Jeff Capel

and said 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.

"They kicked me off the committee the next day," he said.

Elsewhere:

Ball State football coach

Brady Hoke

has resigned to accept the same position at San Diego State. It is uncertain if Hoke will coach Ball State (12-1) in the GMAC Bowl on Jan. 6. . . . Senior quarterback

Mike Teel

was named the most valuable player at Rutgers' 70th annual awards banquet Sunday. . . .

Tailback

Donald Brown

of Connecticut, the nation's leading rusher with 1,822 yards, will return for his senior season.

Golf

Tiger Woods

said he was disappointed by his caddie's disparaging comments in New Zealand newspapers about

Phil Mickelson,

whom Woods referred to as a "player I respect."

Steve Williams

was quoted in the Taranki Daily News as saying he wouldn't call Mickelson a great player "because I think he's a [expletive]."

Williams later confirmed making the comment.

"I was disappointed to read the comments attributed to Steve Williams about Phil Mickelson, a player that I respect," Woods said in a statement. "It was inappropriate. The matter has been discussed and dealt with."

Williams began working with Woods in the spring of 1999 and has been on his bag for 13 of his 14 major titles.

Ireland's

Padraig Harrington

was voted player of the year by the Golf Writers Association of America, receiving 75 percent of the vote to end Woods' three-year run with the award.

Lorena Ochoa

was the overwhelming choice over

Paula Creamer

for female player of the year, and

Jay Haas

became the first golfer to win senior player-of-the-year honors three times in a row.

Noteworthy

U.S. women's soccer coach

Pia Sundhage

received a four-year contract extension through the 2012 Olympics after leading the Americans to the gold medal at this year's Beijing Games.

Hugh McCutcheon

was named the head coach of the U.S. women's volleyball team after guiding the men to an Olympic gold medal following the fatal stabbing of his father-in-law in Beijing.