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For Love of the Game …

By on November 28th, 2012 in Football 34 Comments »

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt “Citizenship in a Republic” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

I am just a simple football fan.  I watch the game and pay heed because I truly love the game.

It is like a saga being told by an ancient poet.  It is a story filled with heroes and villains, barbarians and patricians, soldiers and leaders.  It unfolds before us on clear fall afternoons, with feats of heroism, tenacity, courage and skill that clutch our hearts, stimulate our minds, catch our breath, and forces us to believe, hope, and cheer at every turn.  Thus we are drawn in year after year to seek out the best for our team, our people, our heroes.  The stories are part drama, part tragedy, part comedy, and all consuming.

It is like no other entertainment I know.  It is our Iliad, in every sense of the metaphor.

I didn’t study journalism in college.  I’ve never written for a newspaper or any other media as a professional.  Nor did I play a down of football above high school.  I’ve never interviewed any official, player or coach of Auburn University.  I only know what I read about the team, what I have seen on the field of play, and what I hear and see in the popular press, Auburn’s team videos and assorted blogs on the Internet.  To these I give varying weight depending on my own set of values, education, and above all, experience.

That experience was gained on a number of amateur teams in a variety of sports and from service in the US Army where I was both a follower and a leader at various levels.  I even taught leadership for a time, both in the Army and in a civilian management position.

Scratch that first statement.  Let me clarify – In the Army I was a leader at various levels, but a follower at every one of them.  It is one of the fundamentals of leadership:  you are unfit to lead if you cannot adequately follow both the orders of your superiors and the general expectations of the organization.  More on that later.

I may not be the best source of insight into football at the collegiate level.  I’m not a semi-skilled weaver of innuendo, sentence fragments and poor grammar adequate enough for a full time job at a Birmingham newspaper. But I do know a thing or two about good leadership, maintaining your integrity and conducting yourself so that you are an asset to the organization and community you serve.

Gene Chizik accomplished all three of these while at Auburn.

He also brought a level of

achievement to the program unknown in the last half century.  He did not do so alone, or in the company of just one or two talented individuals.  Anyone witnessing a single game of college football in the SEC will realize that no amount of success is possible without a slew of talented players, a solid coaching staff and tremendous amounts of teamwork at every level of the program.  This was Auburn’s story in 2010.

2010 wasn’t all Cam Newton …

Or Nick Fairley, just like 2004 wasn’t all Cadillac and Ronnie Brown.  We had some other guys playing in both years, and some quality coaches at every point of the compass.

Great teams have contributors from all sides of the ball.  A talented player can make a difference, but clutch performances by the entire team and outstanding organizational skill are required for an undefeated season.  As much as I hold Cam Newton in awe for his performance on the field, without an exceptional front line, dynamic defensive play and decisive skill in many key positions on the field and the sidelines, he would have been no more successful at Auburn than he has been with his current team in Charlotte.

One measure of a good leader is the faith his followers have in him.  From what I’ve seen and read from sources I trust, Gene was genuinely respected by his players and coaches.  Former players, recruits, and people associated with the program have time and again cited his dedication, honesty, integrity and candid approach to his players and coaching staff.  He was an excellent ambassador for Auburn, who said the right things, and by any account I value, did the right thing.

So what went wrong?

Was it a loss of quality players?  Was it lack of development in key positions?  Were two coaching changes the reason? Was it morale/moral issues?

I don’t know and I suspect no one else outside of a very small circle of people on the Auburn staff know for sure.  I’ll bet those who really do wouldn’t speak a word about it to Kevin Scarbinsky or any other journalist grubbing for latest scoop of dirt.  That’s just a guess on my part, but like I said, I know a thing or two about organizations and leadership.

I further suspect that like other such collapses, they’ll be a lot of uninformed finger -pointing, recriminations and scapegoating to cloud the very real fact that a quality coach failed to follow his promise of consistent performance over time.

This is the crux of the matter.

In our conference, it is a death penalty of sorts to fail to do so.  It was true for Tommy Tuberville, and it is now true for Gene Chizik.  I doubt if anyone could continue to coach at Auburn after a season such as this one.  Sad as it was for me personally, I know that Gene had to go.  It would have been impossible for him to effectively lead this team under the scrutiny that would have ensued if he and his staff were retained.

In the SEC, you can do just about anything short of publically falling off a motorcycle with your mistress and lie about it. However, you’d better perform, improve, and challenge for the top of the conference every year, or risk being removed, no matter how fine a leader or person you are.  That is the goal to be followed here, and at many other schools in the conference.  At least, that is the one being publically portrayed by the fans, administration and popular press.

It is a high standard, to be sure. But I wonder where that sort of criteria will eventually lead us, and what we and our organization will have become when we get there.


  1. AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

    Ausome post Sullivan

    .Enjoyed it.

  2. James James says:

    Great post.

    I wasn’t thrilled with the Chizik hire in the beginning, but as fans of the greatest college in the universe we have to stay true to the Plains.

    Chizik, regardless of what happened or what happens is still a classy guy. Not many coaches would give an interview while going to the locker room at halftime when you are getting blown out. That says a lot for the love he had for our University.

    Great column.


  3. Good read

    I agree that it was time for a change at Auburn but I also agree that Coach Chizik, “was an excellent ambassador for Auburn, who said the right things, and by any account I value, did the right thing.”

    Thanks for the post. It’s a side that needed to be shared.

  4. mikeautiger says:

    Well said, credit where credit is due, with direct understanding of the responsibility of being a coach anywhere. Chizik is a class act and I think he understands the situation and because of his faith and understanding he can react in a positive way.

  5. Im4Auburn says:

    Really good post.

    I’m thankful for what Coach Chizik did for our school in 2010 and I wish him well. Right now I’m hopeful that we get a really good hire to take over the program.

  6. Gene Chizik is without doubt a class act. Unfortunately he did not have the experience necessary to thrive as a head football coach at Auburn. He will succeed at whatever he chooses to do.

  7. Todd92 Todd92 says:

    Excellent article…. I couldn’t agree more.

  8. autgr4life says:

    Well said.

    No matter what happened on the field this year I will always be grateful for what Gene did at Auburn. He came into a tough situation and handled every bit of adversity that was thrown at him with class and dignity. Through all of the negative ad campaigns that have been thrown at him since taking the job I never once heard him snap.

    I will always follow and be a fan of Gene, support and cheer for him, he is and always will be part of the Auburn family. As long as he does not get a job at one very specific place of course, that would be grounds for banishment from the Auburn family.

  9. sparkey sparkey says:

    If you’re going to mention the Patricians, then you must make mention of the Plebeians. Outside of that, outstanding piece of writing! I’m thoroughly impressed and that’s not easy to do ask my students 😀

  10. Tiger95 says:

    Enjoyed your post and I am also very greatful for what Coach Chizik did for our AU Tigers. I hate to see him have to leave the way he did, but I realize it was necessary. It is my belief that we will look back on his tenure in years to come in a more greatful light. As I have heard Coach Chizik say, Auburn was great before he and any player arrived and Auburn will continue to be great when they are gone!

  11. Well put Sullivan,

    This year was a sad end to a story that began so well. I too don’t pretend to know the answers to why but I do believe in my heart that Gene is a man of integrity who genuinely loves Auburn. That makes it hard to see such a man not succeed. Now it looks like we will be turning to a hired gun who has no affection for our school. I just hope they get it right and he can pull the Auburn family together like Gene did in 2009 – 2010. If that happens, I believe the new guy will acquire the love for the school that the rest of us have.

    War Eagle for ever!

    • TigerWoman TigerWoman says:


      I believe that any one who comes to Auburn and stays for any length of time can not help but fall in love with her. Auburn does that to you and it will happen to our next coach. That being said, I really appreciate this article. Coach Chizik deserves to be treated with respect for the reasons you listed as well as well as for bringing us a National Championship.

  12. sparkey sparkey says:

    One thing though, are you coming out against what Phillip Marshall said? If you are, I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with you. Marshall has proven his integrity time and time again since the Newton saga and before that as well. He is not an Auburn man, but he is a solid and good journalist and he’s not just looking for dirt. He’s a class act and I’m offended if you’re trashing him.

    • Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

      I don’t think Sullivan is trashing Phillip, but I do think he is questioning what he is hearing versus what he knows, or thinks he knows, about Chizik. I think he knows Chizik to a degree and feels genuinly bad for what he is having to endure. I DO TOO, I hate that Chizik is leaving in disgrace after setting a new standard for futility in a season at Auburn. But what we do know for sure is that this team laid down, when it was clear that we were not a good team. So we went from a below average team to a disgraceful team that could not, or would notm compete. If that team respected Coach Chizik they did not show it at all. Not one element of that team got better during the course of the season. Even special teams took a nose dive. I can’t say I saw a single game where those players left everything they had on the field….or even worse none of them looked mournful about getting destroyed on the field. They looked and played apathetic. Those players may have said they respected Chizik, but actions ALWAYS speak louder than words, and the way they played said, “Get him out of here….NOW.”

  13. Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

    I like Gene Chizik, I really do. For winning it all in 2010 I could have lived with average for a LOOONG time. At this point though its pretty obvious that there was complete and utter rebellion on that team from the players to the coaching staff. You don’t have to get the misinformation to see that. What I don’t understand is how or why Chizik let it get to that. He did the classy thing by keeping things in house but at some point, say….when the house is burning… have to get out of the house and ask for help. A LOT of people on that team needed to get called out publicly…players included, if for no other reason than to serve notice to those that were paying attention and to back up the guys who were doing the right things. It was obvious to all that how he was administering to the players was NOT working. Nobody knew what was going on or why, so whether or not Kevin Scarbinsky’s article was accurate, or full of misinformation, it did connect a lot of dots on the road from National Champions to National Embarassment. It was a startlingly fast fall from grace that could only be attributed to the sort of rotting character accusations that were made in the piece. I hope that they were wrong but something calamitous happened in that program to drive enormous wedges between the coaches and the players and it wasn’t compound grief and it wasn’t just bed check by a security firm. Chizik lost his way and as a result lost his team and then lost his job. For his sake I hope he can turn things around for himself and for the players that are left I hope they can remember what hard work, determination, and integrity are, because they have no hope in life, much less the gridiron, if they don’t apply them in ample quantities….soon.

  14. Jay Coulter Jay Coulter says:

    Here’s an excellent piece in the Columbus Ledger Enquirer today…

  15. I’m hoping the Gary Patterson rumors turn out to be the true ones, I think he’d be a great fit at AU.

    • AUwaterboy AUwaterboy says:


    • Not to be a cold shower, but I don’t like that Patterson has had serious off-the-field issues…we really don’t need any more of that. Honestly, that’s the ONLY admirable thing about a Petrino-coached team-he did not get in trouble with the NCAA and he did not have extracurricular issues with his players.

  16. almightytmc1 says:

    Sullivan, that was a really well written peice. I enjoyed it and it made Gene Chizik much more human.
    I also read the Scarbinsky article, where Kevin basically tried to throw Gene Chizik’s ethical reputation in front of the bus. As a matter of record, anyone can go back and read how livid I was at the hatchet job. My reasoning was: if all of these things were true then why hadn’t the Auburn r’s at came forward with them sooner. It doesn’t require much intellect to see holes in alot of what Scarbinsky said. Scarbinsky, the same guy who was saying 2 years ago that Gene Chizik was the equal of Nick Saban in the art of Coaching football.
    I don’t know the type of man Gene Chizik was personally, nor am I going to attempt to say I understand much about the man. In retrospect though, I think Gene Chizik was a victim of the press. The machine made him appear as a king when he had success and a court jester when he did not have success. Most of us can figure that if a guy is doing 5-19 in the big ?? then he won’t be much better in the SEC, where the coaches players and schools are the premium standard of the NCAA game. Still the press painted Chizik as being a bright and shining star, the next messiah of the Auburn program. Chizik was indeed lucky in 2010. It was the perfect storm that a play or two could have changed from a championship season to a really good season. Fortunately for Chizik, he did achieve the pinnacle of the crystal ball. And that is something that cannot be taken away from him.
    Personally from watching the games, play-calling and development, I could see that Gene Chizik was no better the than the coach he was at ISU. Sort of in the Mike Shula mold. A nice guy who was swimming way over his head. And yet the press painted Chizik in the most glowing terms. Last year, Auburn was young and inexperienced according to the media. This year they were young and inexperienced. according to the same media. At least until the losses became unbearable.
    Thats what the media does. They create image until it becomes too controversial or not profitable. Look at Johnny Football for a great example. If he does not come out next season and wow the universe again the media will turn on him like he stole from a church.
    As I said before, I dont know the sort of man Gene Chizik is. I know he is not a good SEC coach and in the end that was his undoing. But….. before we all get too melancholy and such about Coach Chizik, I think it is worth mentioning that he will still be making $159,000 a month to do nothing at all. So I wont feel too sorry for him as that is a bit more than I make a year. I am sure Gene will be fine. And if not he will be crying all the way to the bank.

  17. KoolBell KoolBell says:

    Best post of the year thus far.


  18. DothanTiger DothanTiger says:

    Good Article.

    Thanks to Coach Chiz for all he did. But it was time for a change. Auburn will come back. We always do.

  19. domaucan1 domaucan1 says:

    Thanks for a great article. Coach Chizik did many good things for Auburn. For that, he should be remembered. As for the hyatt article, he is another scarbinsky kicking Auburn for the great uat’s.

    Never forget, “It”s great to be an Auburn Tiger!”

    WAR EAGLE !!!

    GO BIG BLUE !!!

    domaucan1 from Big BR,LA.

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      As re: the Hyatt article,

      First, the very title of Hyatt’s article is an attempt to cast Auburn as cheaters and smacks of Danny Sheridan tactics of guilt by innuendo. And I personally take offense by it.

      Second, I know it’s become fashionable to attack Jay Jacobs. Apparently he has done some things that have not set well with some people. I get that. But for the media to call him out for Chizik’s severance pay is at best misinformed and at worst down right wrong.

      Admittedly it is definitely a lot of money by anyone’s standard . But it is not out of line with today’s market in big time collegiate football. In fact $7.5 mil that decreases by the salary amount Chizik might get from any future job is not a bad deal for a coach that won you your first National Championship in 53 years. And if he stayed the amount would have decrease by 2.5 mil. every year till it was time for a new contract.

      That was a lot better arrangement than what other schools have done for coaches that haven’t won ‘any’ championships. Two examples that come to mind is Houston Nutt and Turner Gill . Nutt left Ole Miss after 4 yrs and got $6 million dollars just 4 years removed from getting a multi million dollar buyout from Arkansas.

      And then there is Turner Gill, the guy that a sizeable amount of people wanted hired at Auburn instead of Gene Chizik. He coached Kansas for just two years, lost 19 games and got $ 6 million when he was dismissed.

      But it’s Auburn’s buyout for an SEC & National Championship Coach the media wants to talk about. Reminds me of the case where Miss State boosters colluded with an illegal “sports agent” to pay to get Cam Newton to sign with the Bulldogs. But it wasn’t MSU that got drug through the mud by the so called journalist; no they chose to hammer Auburn about it.

      • here here on the Miss. St. point. I’ve never understood why the team that admitted to attempting to pay a player never got in trouble. NCAA logic at it’s finest.

  20. jedivett says:

    Well said! Changes needed to me made for sure. Sorry to see a class act like Coack Chizik go, tho.

  21. Randyc37 Randyc37 says:

    Great post! I am a former walk on athlete from the 70s and I knew that something was up with the program when I was no longer allowed to enter the athletic complex this season. I suppose they thought that I might leak information to Finebaum.

    Regardless of who Auburn chooses, I do feel that the football program will rebound. Spring practice will be interesting because I do believe that some of the players will be released from their scholarships. I have met a lot of coaches and they all have a past.

    Enjoy the coaching search and the holidays!

  22. A+ stuff, Sully! I really enjoyed it.

    War Eagle!

  23. JRoweMDN says:

    Chizik is a class act and would have been a great ambassador for Auburn. Unfortunately he was a horrible coach or a horrible leader. I wanted him to be our “legacy” coach and be the coach we would always love. I defended him last year after losing all the talent and seniors from 2010 that he had done a good job against teams a year or two ahead of him in recruit development. This year the wheels came off and he just seemed to fiddle while Rome burned. His statements were lackluster and his performance was worse.

    I now believe 2010 happened in spite of Chizik. We had a perfect storm of talent in Newton and Fairley leading some other good guys, we had an OC who knew how to do more with less. Our defense struggled all year under a “strong defensive HC” and the real leadership and motivation appears to have come from everywhere else on the sidelines other than the HC. I can see it now in hindsight which we all know is 20/20 and I wish it was not the truth but his abysmal record before was only briefly interrupted by a moment of brilliance and luck.

    Thank you Coach Chizik for leaving with dignity and class. I appreciate that you are taking the money with grace and that you did not stand in the way of our 2010 National Championship. Good luck with your future endeavors and I hope you find employment soon.

  24. AU74 says:

    Just a note on the end of the Tubs era. Tubs contract had a clause that required AU to notify him if another coach was to be approached. Tubs found about a non-notification contact about mid-season his last year. He quit then and there (which I do not respect) but played out the season. He went to Jacobs and resigned and said you owe me the $5MM for breach of contract. AU paid. Tubs was not fired, he played Jacobs and won. That adds up to over $16MM of buyouts under Jacobs just for football. The guy is a tool.

    • James James says:

      Amen. I wish we would have retained CTT. Miss the ole’ ball coach.

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