What is the most important element in Auburn’s 8-0 start this year? Is it great players? Auburn has those in Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, and others. Is it good coaching? Auburn has some of the best around. Is it a stable coaching staff? The Tiger coaches are the only SEC staff to remain in tact after the 2009 season. No, none of those is the answer. The key factor, the most important element … is that invisible sometimes elusive ingredient called unity.
Unity, team chemistry, camaraderie, togetherness, whatever you want to call it; this team has a close nit relationship with each other. Coach Pat Dye used to say, “I learned that when a team doesn’t hang together, they can’t be as good as they need to be. A team has got to come together and they ain’t together until they get together and share a single heartbeat. Having fun and playing with one heartbeat – that’s the key.”
Well that seems to be what this team is doing – “having fun and playing with one heart beat.” And it started not with two a days, not in summer workouts, not in the weight room, and not with the addition of a top five recruiting class. No it started with the arrival of Coach Gene Chizik and his emphasis on family. Chizik has had his team not only working hard together but spending time together.
Like any family this team shares special times off the field. In the off season Chizik planned team outings to the movies, to the bowling lanes, and to the Auburn water park. And like any family, sometimes it is good to be at home together. Consequently Chizik had pool tables and video games put in the athletic complex because he wants the guys to hang out together, study film, or be able to talk to their coaches anytime they want.
There also have been reports of players hanging out at some of the coaches homes, in particular Trooper Taylor’s domicile. Craig Stevens said, “This is the closest I have ever been on a team.” Ryan Pugh led some of his teammates on a mission trip last summer. Cam Newton eats a meal with his linemen the night before the games. They eat, laugh and have a good time together and Newton says, “It’s the little things like that (that) count.”
This team works together, eats together, plays together, and hangs out together. So when they hit the field they have a cohesiveness born of family, nursed in brotherhood, and tempered by trials. That’s a formula for believing in each other – a formula for success.
There is no better evidence of that family bond than what we witnessed at the end of the MSU game. The Auburn players stood in the locker room after their 17-14 victory over Mississippi State and sang “Lean On Me.” It was that moment, more than any other that defines this Auburn team.
Coach Chizik said he sees that family atmosphere and team bonding as “one of the biggest parts of the puzzle” when trying to get a team to play at its highest level. Sounds a lot like what Coach Dye used to say about “playing with one heart beat.” Most Auburn fans remember Dye’s locker room quote at the ’89 Iron Bowl: ” It doesn’t matter who’s carrying the ball, or who’s catching it, it don’t make any difference who’s rushing the passer, or who’s making the tackle …as long as they have a blue jersey on.”
The Dye quotes are analogous to Gene Chizik’s appeal to the Auburn family to be “All In.” And when everyone, the players, the coaches, the fans are “All In”, giving everything they have to the cause, it makes for a scenario that is hard to beat.
How far will this team go on the road to success? Maybe this ingredient has them playing above their heads or … maybe they haven’t even hit their full potential. This writer believes it is the latter; but only time can answer that question. Yet the value of the lessons learned by these men during their time at Auburn will be with them the rest of their lives.
I hope all of us can take a lesson from their example of what it means to be an Auburn person; to be so committed to our family, to our school, to our nation, that we strive in all that we do – to do it with “one heartbeat.”
War Eagle beat Ole Miss !