I remember it like it was yesterday. Sitting in a hotel in Atlanta on a cold December day, the news hit me like a case of malaria. Auburn had settled on Iowa State’s Gene Chizik as its new coach. It was official: Auburn was circling the drain of college football.
On December 13, 2008, I wrote, “To say this move (hiring Chizik) is shocking is an understatement. For many Auburn fans, this is a worst case scenario. There appears to be little logic in the choice.”
I’ve never been more wrong about anything in my life.
As time expired Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium, I realized something else – Gene Chizik is one of the top five coaches in the country. He may even be the best. Call me a homer. I don’t care.
Facts don’t lie.
His ability to guide a group of freshmen and sophomores to six wins in nine tries this year against the toughest schedule in college football has been nothing short of amazing.
Maybe at year’s end the SEC coaches will acknowledge something they shamefully failed to do last season and name him coach of the year. Of course, he doesn’t need a plaque to understand what he’s accomplished in three short years.
While nothing will ever take the place of the 2010 National Championship season, this year has undoubtedly been Chizik’s best effort.
Few defending champions have ever been given up for dead in August. The nation’s media took it a step further and went ahead and held memorial services. Noted prognosticator Phil Steele, who to his credit nearly got it right a year ago, picked Auburn dead last in the SEC West.
He didn’t even have Auburn among his top 50 teams in the preseason. He wasn’t alone. And let’s face it, who among us would have dreamed Auburn would go 3-2 in the month of October?
Who among us sitting in Jordan-Hare Stadium for the season opener against Utah State would have dreamed Auburn would even go 2-3 in October? Rather than blaming the media, we should all be applauding Chizik and his coaches. No staff in recent memory has done more with less.
Let’s do a little comparison. Media darling Nick Saban returned his quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner among others following his 2009 national championship. He started last year the preseason number one team and struggled, losing all of his big games on the way to a three loss season. Contrast that with the hand Chizik was dealt this year and you see the difference.
Tell me who’s done the better coaching job?
Whipping an awful Ole Miss team is hardly reason to celebrate, but going 3-2 against South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss with a bunch of freshmen is something that should bring a smile to your face.
Former Auburn coach Pat Dye always liked to say his first team in 1981 was his favorite. They were way short on size and talent, but were overloaded with desire. Finishing 5-6 that season, they laid the foundation for Auburn’s future.
If you are old enough to remember, you can’t help but see the similarities in that team and this year’s bunch. Auburn will almost certainly not win out over the next month. There will be no BCS bowl game or SEC West title.
However, if you love Auburn, then you can’t help but smile when talking about this team. Like Dye’s first season, these groups of players are laying the foundation for the future of Auburn football.
Gene Chizik continues to be the gift that keeps on giving.