During the week leading up to the iron bowl, on into the following week of the SEC championship, and until now… it has been a whirl wind of emotion as an Auburn alumni and fan. And I must say publically that I am eternally thankful.
It should come as no surprise to anyone here at “Track’em Tigers” that I have been and continue to be not only the most rabid of fans, but one of the staunchest critics of anything blue and orange. If you have ever taken the time to read my rants you probably have asked yourself why? And that’s a fair question.
I have always felt Auburn had just as much resources and ability as bama, if not more. Our path is always the one less traveled. It requires more work… and sacrifice. Being counted in our lot is not for the faint of heart. You see, nothing is ever “given” to Auburn. We are the lone wolf… the proverbial underdog. It’s a role I have always cherished as a fan. It’s us against the world! It’s in my DNA. I am not driven to follow the masses… but I am driven to belong to a family.
I guess depending on how you look at it, it’s either a blessing or a curse. For me, it’s always been a blessing. I would be the first to admit that it’s not been all bad times either though I have seen my fair share. I grumble a lot. But growing up in the 1970s life seemed a little bleak at times. But God has seen fit to ensure we have been blessed with good times. I think that is something He will continue to do. And that has kept me deeply rooted in institution I love and love them all the more. Not as an idol as one might expect… but as a model. So as we prepare for the start of the bowl season I am reminded of where we have come from since 2010. And frankly, it makes look back on the last two years and realize the opportunity lost.
I am not sure if you read the Gene Chizik interview in USA today. I did. And I also have listened to Gene Chizik’s commentary on Sirius Radio. I will be the first to admit when he was hired after Tommy Tuberville’s PR debacle that in my opinion was self-inflicted and four years overdue, I was fairly satisfied. I was pretty certain that we didn’t hire a rock star, but I knew we had found a guy that had experienced Auburn first hand. I felt comfortable that together, we would have a mutual idea of what we were getting into.
Yet when you read the article, as it pertains to his firing, this image starts to unravel. Right about where he says “I’ve reflected on the past. I haven’t dwelled on the past. I’m a guy that always looks forward and always try to stay very positive in what can sometimes be a very negative world.” The expression he uses is very descriptive of Chizik I think. If you didn’t realize it, he has an ego. Any coach worth his salt does. Where the interview turns south for me is where he starts talking about the perfect storm. He said, “It was really the perfect storm scenario and if you stay in coaching long enough sometimes you hit a perfect storm scenario.” Really Coach? That’s how you see it, it just “happened”?
Chizik goes on to explain “If you start out and look from a roster standpoint, in 2010 after we won the national championship we lost somewhere in the area of 27 players – 24 seniors and our three best juniors in Cam (Newton), Nick (Fairley) and Darvin Adams. And when you lose that many players, you’re basically starting over. So we knew 2011 and 2012 we could take some lumps in both of those years. We felt that. Obviously not to the degree that it happened in 2012, but again, we knew those two years would be basically starting over.” While what he said is true in terms of losses, where he starts to deviate from reality is that he conveniently forgets that while he is experiencing losses… he is also recruiting. Part of the job of the coach is to prepare and develop players to replace the ones lost due to injury and graduation. The talent that was recruited… for the most part stayed as raw talent. I saw no improvement. And did he just say lumps? So that’s what we call the utter and complete melt down of a football program that had just won a national championship!
I have another word…. inexperience!!!
Since his firing, Chizik was more or less banished to Sirius XM Radio with his parting gift from Auburn. He does a few guest appearances on different shows. The one I have heard him on the most was Jack Arute’s show. The reason I listen to Sirius is because during 2011 and 2012 I got thoroughly disgusted with Jocks in Birmingham… who featured any Auburn fan’s nemesis, Paul Finebaum. I finally had enough. So I started to listen to the college football radio programs there. Over several different shows I heard bits and pieces of this same argument that was finally captured for austerity in the aforementioned article right before the iron bowl. Chizik has always been quick to point out that fans have unrealistic expectations. And that we have short memories. And it’s always “what have you done for me lately”. Again, I think what he says is partially true. But that reality goes both ways. Ultimately I think this article is Chizik’s attempt to revise the past. I think with Auburn’s and Mulzahn’s success he must think that fans have moved on. And that needs to be set straight! Not that we haven’t moved on… obviously we have. But that he has no responsibility in the melt down.
Obviously, I take issue with Chizik on the subject of historical revision. And in order to look at this objectively, I think we need to go back before he got the job. This gives me the ability to come clean. I think I was a bit over-zealous with Coach Tuberville. Yes, that’s right. While it’s hard to admit, I do think I have been too hard on the man. I felt he didn’t appreciate Auburn. But now since Coach Chizik wants full credit for his success (and failure) I think it’s important to illustrate where the program was at and how far it dropped with Chizik at the helm.
At the end of the 2008 season, the program was left in what we thought was a smoking ruin after the duck hunter, or said another way “the hay is in the barn”, Tommy Tuberville, took the money and ran. Still, throughout his last season Auburn was competitive… but it still lost seven games. Throughout that season Tuberville kept telling everyone that he could fix the program, that it wasn’t so bad. And true to his word Auburn fought every battle and seemed to just come up short. If you remember, that is the season that Toney Franklin was fired or resigned after a couple of games as the offensive coordinator. As the season wound down to the end Auburn experienced its worst loss… and in it, it wasn’t competitive at all. The loss came to our cross state rival – bama – in the iron bowl. Auburn lost that game 36-0. Ultimately, that loss led to Tuberville’s undoing. The one time, most powerful man at Auburn University, that had seen the resignation of a University President and Athletic Director after a botched plane ride to Louisville, was let go (either being fired or resigning depending on where you get your facts).
Auburn still had a core team that was fairly decent but it was obvious that with Saban in control in Tuscaloosa and that Auburn’s talent level had taken a hit. I think it was something that had been happening over time. Tuberville had a habit of getting JUCO talent to fill in the void. Also, Auburn’s ability to for predict players who would actually contribute using full scholarships had taken a major hit in the last few years of Tub’s reign. Kids weren’t panning out and dropped out of college all together. So our numbers were off. During his last season recruiting the best Auburn did was #18.
So as the plane arrived in Auburn and the fan greeted Chizik at the airport wheels were put in to motion that started Auburn on a trek to rise back to the top of the conference. Chizik quickly hired his staff and AU went into full recruiting mode. It promptly landed a #16 class. This action quickly salvaged the hiring action by Jacobs and prevented a potential disastrous first outing for the new coach.
In 2009 Chizik and his staff started the season with a retread QB, Chris Todd, and the remnants of the 2008 team. Auburn finished the season 7-5, beating MSU, West Virginia, Tennessee, and a ranked Ole Miss squad. But it lost key games to Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, and bama. While it lost big against Arkansas and LSU, Auburn battled against Georgia and bama. The future looked better for Auburn. As a result of the campaign Auburn was rewarded with the Outback bowl and traveled to Tampa and faced Northwestern that it beat in overtime.
Bring on the 2010 season. Auburn celebrated a recruiting renaissance and finished with a #6 class landing running back Mike Dyer. It also saw the transfer of Cam Newton to Auburn. And Auburn went unbeaten through the regular season, the SEC championship game, and the National Championship. Seemingly, the good news didn’t stop there. Auburn had a #2 ranked recruiting class in 2011.
But recall Chizik’s description of the perfect storm?? This is when the lumps start…. Off field issues saw to the arrest of four tigers due to an armed robbery right before the first spring practice. It also saw to the loss of another player during the season. So before the season ever started… it saw the dismissal of five key players. Then add to that the folks who quit during the spring, and we would have another loss of six players. Your roster is already eleven players down… and that’s due to nothing but a lack of discipline. Ultimately, I don’t fault Chizik for getting rid of the thugs… but I do fault him for environment that allowed this to happen. Again, I think this is another example of Chizik’s inexperience at being a head coach.
As AU entered the 2011 season, it ultimately lost five games. Unlike 2009, AU didn’t really compete in any of the losses. Losses came to Clemson, Arkansas, LSU, UGA, and bama. Still, AU received a bowl bid and again it beat its opponent. But the handwriting was on the wall. Change was coming. Right before the bowl game Ted Roof departed as Auburn’s defensive coordinator. And after the bowl game… Gus Malzan left Auburn enroute to his first coaching job at Arkansas State. Still, AU’s recruiting class that season was #8.
For 2012, Chizik brought in new coordinators Scott Loeffler and Brian VanGorder… and things quickly went to crap. Again, before the season started Auburn lost more key players. Seven more names were lost from the team including Mike Dyer. And ultimately Auburn would lose nine games… the only one of them that was close was surprisingly to LSU. I watched Auburn’s opener against Clemson… and walked away wondering more if Clemson was just that good or we were just that bad. Auburn hung with them until the end and faded as it went into the fourth quarter. The next week as Auburn went to Starkville… I actually traveled there to see if AU would bounce back. But what I saw totally discouraged me. AU quit shortly after the kickoff return in the 3d quarter. And when I say quit… I really mean we looked like we hadn’t practiced or prepared any. We didn’t play another competitive down for the duration of the game. I was livid. I knew Auburn had problems. A blind man could see it. I figured that with a new offense and new coordinators on both sides of the ball… maybe things would get better. Add to that the personalities on the team were so different… I found it an interesting thing to watch the facial expressions. The defensive coordinator, for example, was so truthful in how bad things were I would shake my head and ask myself… “but our recruiting, our recruiting… how could we be so bad”.
That’s when the stories of things going on behind the scenes at Auburn started being whispered. Former players wouldn’t comment on anything except for example of something that they might have seen in the game. The first thing that I remember someone commenting on… was the “hands on hips”. Normally this means that folks were fatigued. But in the 1st Qtr? Come to find out… AU’s players were tired for a reason. Eventually the story got out that Chizik wasn’t really even running contact practices anymore. The ability that AU demonstrated in 2010 in tiring out opposing teams with the no huddle offense… was now its own modus operandi in explaining its losing.
When I heard the rumor, I found it hard to believe. How could this happen with Kevin Yoxall? He was legendary. It wasn’t until later that we heard through various sources that players were no longer even going to strength and conditioning practices. And Yoxall had been remanded to leaving the players alone. Chizik had instituted volunteer workouts.
Chizik tries to explain the drop off by saying “There was just momentum issues that you need, particularly when you have new coordinators and new quarterbacks. You have to have some momentum in there, and we just had a real hard time closing the door on those fourth quarter games.” I am still trying to determine what fourth quarter games he is talking about?? I mean… if we lost by 3 with the last drive… but we were losing big… and early. And did he really just throw his coordinators under the bus? I believe he did. He goes on to say “Then momentum started rolling the other way and here you are at the end of the year and you play Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama – and I don’t care what anybody says, you’re looking at arguably three of the best teams in the country with no momentum, playing a freshman quarterback.” Let’s add the poor ability of our quarterbacks to the list that he has thrown under the bus. Chizik closes his explanation with “Those aren’t excuses. That’s real. That’s just real. That’s the reality of it. You can say it with Andy Reid, Will Muschamp this year, Gary Patterson. It’s part of the game. Perfect storm scenarios happen, and momentum plays a part of that. Hey, it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility for everything that happened at Auburn, period. But you asked as you reflect back, that’s what I see. And I will say this: I don’t think we were near as far off as the record indicated.”
Whatever! Did I say inexperienced? I meant delusional. And Gene, Will Muschamp comes from a known pedigree… Nick Saban. Trust me… if he is given another year… and they bomb… Muschamp will go the same way as Derek Dooley.
Still, Chizik was a rolling conundrum. The fan at the airport apparently knew more than I did. For someone that wants to compete, to be physical on the field… I can’t for the life of me figure out why he made the decision to hamstringing Coach Yoxall the way he did. Ultimately, I will have to agree with Paul Finebaum who called Gene Chizik the “worst coach ever to win the National Championship”. I think that title fits pretty well.
Obviously Chizik didn’t have the managerial skills necessary to put together a successful program. The key facets of running a successful program: recruiting, strengthening, training, preparing and actually fielding a team. It was when his original staff started to dissolve after the 2011 season… that AU started its downward plunge.
Even in recruiting, AU was already starting to slide. The scary part was while Chizik had Trooper Taylor, who was about the only thing effectively looking at talent Taylor was getting attention from the NCAA. While that is something that mere speculation I absolutely believe that eventually, sooner or later, AU would have started falling off in recruiting as well.
Besides the players the person I feel most sorry for is Coach Yoxall. I am sure that Coach Yoxall was ready for a change after being at Auburn fourteen years, but something tells me I don’t think he was ready to move to Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston Texas. The sad news was that when Coach Mulzahn came in he had no choice but to make a change for the program after Yoxall had effectively been castrated in front of the team by Chizik.
Personally, the only positive thing Chizik did while at Auburn besides the 2010 NC and recruiting was handling the NCAA the way that he did. But now I see it was more about his personality than it was a given strategy. I think it was about ego. Thank God that there was nothing here for the NCAA to find.
I think Coach Gene Chizik is best suited to be a coordinator. And he would be lucky if he got a break to go to the professional ranks. For now he is where he needs to be in radio. He might be the John Gruden of college football. And I don’t think that’s damning considering. He needs time to mature. And he needs time to experience what it is that makes a program successful. I don’t like taking anything away from anyone… but I think 2010 was an anomaly and we were lucky to have the supporting cast that we did.
Speaking for me, I am glad we now have a coach that players identify with; a coach that players want to play for. I think Auburn has things moving in the right direction. The rot and mildew of the past years under Chizik have effectively been stripped and removed from our lexicon. As we stand ready to play in the 2014 National Championship we need to give thanks. We should be thankful and know that everything happens for a reason. Because if the program had been in worse shape under Tuberville … Auburn would be decades behind the rest of the SEC.
As we move into 2014… and look beyond, Auburn could be used as a graphic example of extremes a coach or even a fan will have to face. Coaches must stay hungry…and engaged. They must develop their players while following the rules of the NCAA to the letter. That’s why they don’t get paid pennies… and held in such high regard. Here is to hoping Coach Malzahn is the man we think him to be. If he is… AU will continue on the path it is on… and we might actually realize the vision David Housel mentioned so many years ago… a dynasty.
War Eagle! Beat FSU!!!!