On Wednesday Auburn’s contingent met with the media in Hoover, Alabama. The following is a transcript of Head Coach Gene Chizik at 2012 SEC Media Days provided by the Southeastern Conference. In his comments, he addresses the shooting tragedy, the state of the football program and answers questions ranging from where the quarterback race stands to his thoughts on an early commitment period. While I’m glad he’s the Tigers’ coach, no one can speak better “coach speak” than the Chiz.
Coach Gene Chizik: Thank you. Very lucky, very blessed to be here today for my fourth SEC Media Day.
I’d like to take this opportunity to start out to thank, first opportunity I’ve had to publicly thank, so many people for their outpouring of love and prayers and emails and phone calls to the Auburn family since that tragic night, June 9th, when three young men were shot and killed, two of them being former Auburn football players. I do want to say thank you. I don’t think it would be right of me to stand up here in my first opportunity publicly and not do that.
So many of you guys gave our community and our university, families, our football team, a lot of strength and encouragement by that outpouring of a lot of love and prayers. So I do want to say thank you very much.
I’m very proud of our football team. I think in the midst of some very difficult times they’ve really bonded together and done a great job of trying to move forward.
They, without question, are still dealing with some of those issues. We got to still plow through some of those tough days, and we know that. We’re providing all the resources for them possible to keep them moving in a positive direction.
But, again, I want to thank so many of you from all over the country that really did a great service to us in praying and communicating. That was very much appreciated.
On the football end of things, I’m going to go back and start with …
The Chick‑Fil‑A Bowl, December 31st. I thought it was a big moment for us. You might ask, Well, year before you played in the national championship, now you’re in the Chick‑Fil‑A Bowl, but it was a very big moment for us because that night there were a lot of young football players that stepped up to the plate, and we beat a very good football team in Virginia. That’s a team that went into Florida State and beat them at Florida State. They went into Miami and beat Miami. They beat Georgia Tech I believe when they were undefeated. That was a big win for our team. I think a lot of young guys stepped up to the plate.
I think that gave us some momentum as we propelled ourselves through the off‑season. I don’t think there’s any question that it put some of our young guys on the map in terms of confidence.
Since then it’s really been a good thing watching our guys grow. I think a year ago today, as I stood up here, I think we’re in a much stronger position as a football team than we were a year ago. I really believe that. I think one of the reasons that we are there is that, you know, we finally, in my opinion, after so many years, have developed some depth and we’ve got a little bit of experience.
If you look on paper right now, we have 16 returning starters. But the truth of the matter is we have guys, in many cases, right behind those guys that are considered one of the starters pushing them for a starting job.
We still certainly have some question marks at a few positions. But, again, I think if you go back and you look over the previous three years, we’ve got guys right now that are pushing for jobs. The depth and experience is really the reason that’s happening. Those are some good things.
We have, on paper, as I said, 16 returning starters. Five or six of those being returning senior starters, which isn’t a lot. But to whom much is given, much is expected. We feel like those seniors that have been starters in the past, we feel like their leadership is key. It’s very paramount. They’ve had a lot of success.
Our senior class that’s up right now has had a lot of success. They’ve averaged 10 wins a year for three years. They’ve been undefeated in their post‑season play in bowl games. They’ve got a national championship ring on their finger. They’ve had some great experiences in their last three years at Auburn.
We’re going to lean on guys like Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen, Onterio McCalebb, and Daren Bates, T’Sharvan Bell. It’s important that those guys step up to the plate for us and continue to lead.
Those are some kind of important things that have happened getting up to this point.
Another thing I’d like to note obviously in the off‑season is we have a new offensive and defensive coordinator which we’re very thrilled about. Number one, Scot Loeffler, our offensive coordinator has come in and run a little bit different type of offense than we’ve been used to doing, but it’s not completely different in every phase.
Scot has had a lot of different experiences in his background as an offensive coach. He’s a tremendous quarterback developing type of football coach. That’s very important. He has experience in this league, which is extremely important. He has experience in the NFL. So we’re extremely proud to have Scott here. Again, the transition with Scot has been seamless.
Brian Van Gorder, who we hired from the Atlanta Falcons, it’s been a great transition with Brian as well. We go back a long ways. Philosophically we’re on the exact same page with what we believe in defensively and what we think is the right mixture of a lot of different things, coverage and front‑wise. Just philosophically, Brian and I are on the same page. Another guy that has SEC experience and NFL experience. So that was a great thing.
Last, but not least, certainly the recruiting. This is our fourth year. I stood up here four years ago and talked about building a foundation at Auburn that lasts a long time. We’re still doing that. There’s no question in my mind that your fourth full recruiting class, which is where we are at, is very pivotal in solidifying the foundation of what you’ve tried to build in the previous three years.
So this recruiting class that we’re putting together is extremely important to us and it’s very pivotal in what we’re trying to do, where we’re trying to go. The previous full recruiting classes we’ve had, we’ve tried to stack one on top of another, again, in the name of building a foundation for Auburn for a long time.
Our administration has done a fantastic job of giving us resources to be able to recruit, building indoor facilities, upgrading dorms, all kinds of athletic facilities. Again, our goal is to be tops in the country in anything that we do. That certainly has been something that our administration has done a great job of really helping us with in terms of resources.
Overall state of the union address with Auburn football, feel good about the direction it’s headed. Again, with our football team, very proud of them and their resilience, where we have come since December 31st. We’re looking forward to a 2012 season coming up here that’s going to be full of excitement.
With that I’ll open it up to the questions.
Question: You talked about how the new offensive coordinator is good at developing quarterbacks. Can you talk about how that’s important for a guy like Kiehl Frazier, who is stepping into his first season?
Coach Gene Chizik: It’s not just important for Kiehl. It’s important for obviously any quarterback in our whole football team. It was imperative that as I went out and looked into who the new coordinators could potentially be, that was a huge point of emphasis, the way I saw it, in who we hire. Scot has been great with developing quarterbacks. I think that’s been his forté. Even though he’s a young coach, that’s what he’s been known for, back when he coached the quarterbacks at Michigan with Lloyd Carr.
That’s a comfortable position for him, he was really good at it. It’s been good to watch him work with our quarterbacks.
I think the importance of it is paramount, I think it’s huge. Again, it was a pretty seamless transition. I think our quarterbacks have embraced it. I think this is something that, moving forward, is going to be really, really good in terms of us going out and recruiting other quarterbacks knowing that Scot has been a proven guy when it comes to the development of that position.
Qt: Last season you started 2‑0, but you didn’t play two very good football games in the beginning of the season. How do you ensure that doesn’t happen again?
CGC: Well, I think that’s why you practice. I don’t think there’s any question, you can win games and it can be an ugly win. What I’m proud about about our football team in so many ways is that when you come down to the end of the game, our kids have found ways to win ‘em. I feel like since we’ve been at Auburn, if those games are decided by seven points or less, there’s a good chance Auburn is going to win it. I think in the last several straight, when it came down to a game that was decided by seven points or less, it’s been ingrained in our football team and players that that is our game, that is the game we’re going to win.
We don’t try to look at the negative things. Obviously when we get done playing, whether we win by 24 points or 1 point, by the end of the game, we’re going to go back and review it and assess what we can do better. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning.
We need to get off to a strong start this season. Our schedule is definitely tough in the month of September. You open up with Clemson, then Mississippi State, which is always tough, then a home game with Louisiana Monroe, and then LSU comes marching in.
So it’s going to be big that we start out fast. We’re going to keep practicing to make sure that that happens.
Qt: Corey Lemonier at defensive end, can you comment on his ability to stop the run.
CGC: I think your take on that is well‑documented. I think he is a very good pass‑rusher. I think he’s got the art of pass‑rushing down. I think he is very good at it. His body is built for it.
What we’ve done in the spring is we’ve tried to work with Corey in great depth of understanding the importance of the run game. Not that he doesn’t understand it, but really imparting that to him, this is a game where you have to do both. I think he’s still growing in that regard.
He’s still growing as a pass‑rusher as well. There’s no question that Corey in the run game, he has some room for improvement, he knows that, we know that. He has to balance up his game the whole way around. He is a very good football player, but at the end of the day he’s like the rest of the guys on our team, they all have room for improvement.
Corey in the run game certainly understands the importance of that. He’ll continue to work at that. He’s one of the hardest working kids that I’ve been around. He’s been that way since I got to Auburn.
Qt: Could you talk about Kiehl Frazier’s development, where you think he is, your quarterback situation going into fall camp.
CGC: Well, the quarterback situation in general is probably everything that you know it is. It’s up for grabs. We’re looking for the guy that can take Auburn and lead them to win football games. Kiehl is strongly considered in the mix. I think he’s grown a lot as a football player since he has been here.
There was some means to the madness last year to make sure we played him in football games when the game was on the line, where there was a lot at stake. We played him early in the games, middle of the game, late in the game, particularly when he was ready. I think he’s got that feel.
That compared to being the starting quarterback is still different. But, again, you’re looking at a young man that strategically we played for that reason. So this year as he competes for a starting job, playing in a game on national TV in front of 90,000 or 100,000 people is not foreign to him.
Clint Moseley has done the same thing. A lot of snaps last year. We made a change at the halftime of the Florida game. Clint has a lot of room for improvement and he knows that and we know that.
It’s going to be a battle. Obviously in two‑a‑days is when that’s going to be decided. You’re going to ask when it’s going to happen. I’m not going to put a timeline on it. However, I will say the sooner the better.
Qt: I’d like to hear your opinion on the commitment process and would you like to see some changes made?
CGC: The commitment process? I’m assuming you’re asking what does that mean, how does that work.
The bottom line is that recruiting’s tough. We’re in a very tough league. Recruiting is arguably, in the SEC, very competitive. Just like competing on the field and off the field. That’s part of it.
Getting commitments from young men obviously is not binding. I don’t know that there’s a lot you can do about that. You got to try to recruit the right guys and hope that their word is what they say it is.
Some guys get caught up in the spur of the moment. They do it. They’re young. It sounds good. It sounded good on that day. Two days later, two weeks later, it doesn’t sound as good. That happens, too. That’s the reality of recruiting. That’s the way it goes. We’re all big boys, we all know what to expect, we all know how to recruit. It’s happened to all of us both ways.
You know what, we’re going to continue to recruit the way we do. I don’t know that anything will ever change with the commitment process.
Qt: Having spent time in the Big 12, what are your thoughts on Missouri and Texas A&M coming into the league?
CGC: Well, you know, I haven’t really heard a whole lot. The things that I’ve heard right now, I’ll tell you what, I don’t think a lot of people are giving Texas A&M and Missouri the credit they deserve. I will say that standing up here because for four years I played in that league.
Gary Pinkel is one of the best football coaches in the country. If you look at what he did in turning Missouri around, the point he’s got them to, you know, I hear a lot of things. Missouri and Texas A&M aren’t coming into the SEC with their hat in the hand saying, Thank you for letting me be here. They’re coming in here to compete and play their tail off on the football field. You can bank on that one.
I was in the league for four years and I played both of them. There’s a lot of tradition, a lot of pride. Kevin Sumlin, look at his body of work, as an assistant at Texas A&M and Oklahoma, and then as a head coach at Houston, his body of work speaks for itself. This is a great league, it’s a tough league, we all know that. To think that Missouri and Texas A&M are going to come in here and all of a sudden they’re going to have their eyes open to football, that’s insane.
These are two dang good football teams with dang good football coaches. They’ve got players. They’ve got coaches. They’ve got great venues. They’ve got great backing. It’s a perfect fit for our league. They’re going to fit right in here.
There’s probably some missed notions with people that they’re going to come in here and struggle. Like anybody, they’re going to have good years, they’re going to have bad years. Overall, Kevin Sumlin and Gary Pinkel, they can coach. And Missouri is a good football organization, and so is Texas A&M. So it’s going to be a good fit. There’s going to be some good football added to our league.
Qt: You open up against Clemson in the dome in Atlanta. What does playing in a game of that magnitude do for your program?
CGC: We play games of that magnitude a lot. That’s nothing new to us. Playing our opening game in that venue is very exciting to our football team and our fan base, which is very important. Playing a team like Clemson, who has had so much success under Dabo the last couple of years, it’s exciting for our players. This is the third game in a series that started back in 2010 and have been good games ever since.
To have that game at the beginning of the season is interesting for our guys. We haven’t necessarily had a game opening team since I’ve been there that is going to be this exciting for our players. Not that the other games weren’t, but this is a big game, against probably a top‑10 team. I don’t know where all that is, but it’s a team that’s really had some great success.
They do a great job. It’s going to be a great test for us early. We’re going to have to play extremely well to beat this football team, who is loaded, the offensive side of the ball, a bunch of returners coming back. Their special teams are off the chart. They have a new defensive coordinator. I know Coach Venables does a great job. Wherever he’s been, he’s been a force to be reckoned with.
Great opening game for Auburn, we’re looking forward to it.
Qt: What are your thoughts on the upcoming four‑team playoff in 2014? Would you be in favor of putting Alabama and Auburn in the east and Missouri and Vanderbilt in the west to keep that geographical?
CGC: I’ll start with the last question and work to the first one.
You know, really and truly, I’m not going to comment and speculate which would be the best, things of that nature. That’s really not for me to decide.
Geographically, to the outside looking in, some of that probably makes sense. It’s like anything else, till you sit in the meetings and go through all of the different things that you know are involved in making that decision, we don’t probably have all the facts. Geographically is not a reason necessarily to do something until you put all of the factors in there together.
With a four‑team playoff, I’m going to be honest with you, that depends on what glasses you’re wearing. Let me give you an example.
In 2010, if we had the four‑team playoff in place, I was at Auburn, just went through this league undefeated, won the SEC championship game, am I in favor of playing another one to prove that I deserve getting into the national championship game? No, I don’t.
But if you go back up to 2004 when we were undefeated and we didn’t get in the national championship game because we weren’t 1 or 2, then I’m totally in favor of it.
I think, as anything, you can shoot holes in anything you want. I think it’s a movement in the right direction. I think there’s two main keys to the point of how they structured it. Number one, they kept the bowl systems pretty much to the best of their ability intact so that there’s still a reward for all of the players at the end of the day. I feel that for the traditionalists out there, the bowls that are out there, they get to stay as a reward. That’s big for the players and coaches.
Second thing, I don’t think a four‑team playoff diminishes whatsoever the intensity of week‑by‑week trying to get down to the final four. I think there’s a lot of value in that for the fans. Essentially every week is a playoff, certainly in late October and November.
So I think those are good things.
At the end of the day, 12 years from now when they go back and they start‑‑ they start this two years from now, they do it 12 years, this system we have now, when they put that in however many years ago, that looked great. We decided there were holes in that. To be honest with you, the same thing is going to happen with this. There’s going to be unintended circumstances or consequences that a lot of people didn’t think about. I can think of scenarios in my mind right now.
If the fifth team beat the third team or the second team, they didn’t become No.4, they’re going to have the same argument the No.3 team did. We all know that. We’re smart enough to figure that out.
Another scenario could be if No.1 and No. 2 are in the same conference, they play a championship game, 2 beats 1, right, then 2 becomes 1 and 1 becomes 4, they’re going to rematch the next game.
There’s scenarios out there that can happen. Look, there’s a lot of things. But I definitely think it was well thought out and I think there was a lot of movement in the right direction. I think it’s going to be very exciting for everybody.
But, again, eight years from now, what will be the scenarios that popped up that will make people rethink this, because that’s going to happen. But for the most part I think it was a really, really fine job and well thought out in terms of for everybody, the fans, the players.
Probably a long answer to a short question, but that’s how I feel.
Qt: Could you talk about the decision to bring Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen and what you’re expecting from them at seniors?
CGC: To talk about all three, we look at the big picture. It’s not just what they accomplished on the field, it’s how they carry themselves, what they represent, who they represent. I thought that was three great choices. I thought that Philip has been as productive as any guy on our football team. Emory and Corey, as well. It’s what they’ve done off the field, too.
It’s how they represent themselves and their families and Auburn. They’re great students. They work really hard at it. They work hard off the field in terms of the weight room, trying to be leaders on our team. I think it’s well‑deserved.
Corey we know is a junior. Again, Emory and Philip were juniors last year and we brought them here last year, as I recall. There’s a bunch of others, too, that I felt like could have came here and have represented Auburn and themselves and their teammates very well. But those are the three we have to narrow it down to.