Shadow Days – Auburn’s Post-Chizik Era Begins
“Did you know that you could be wrong and swear you’re right?” – John Mayer, Shadow Days
John Mayer’s track, Shadow Days, bears no similarity to Auburn athletics, but this opening lyric lines up perfectly with where Auburn’s football program now finds itself. Gene Chizik banked an enormous amount of trust when he led Auburn to the BCS National Championship in 2010, and it was just enough to buy him the time necessary to destroy his own creation. Never has the pendulum of fate swung more swiftly or violently, and looking back, Chizik’s “glory days” in Auburn were almost over before they started.
The 2009 season brought promise and hope to a fan base that desperately needed something to be proud of, and the new regime delivered in a big way. Offensive records were broken and Auburn was not the laughing stock it had become in 2008. There were moments of ridiculousness (Auburn’s rushing attack against Mississippi State, Chris Todd throwing multiple 50+ yard touchdown passes) and moments that made you proud of being part of the Auburn family (Kodi Burns anyone?). What a difference a year made for these Tigers. 2008 was avenged and a warning shot was sent to anyone listening that Auburn wasn’t dead, but very much alive and ready to compete at the highest level. That year’s Iron Bowl all but guaranteed a return to glory for the Tigers, and it came much sooner than most expected.
2010 will forever be remembered as one of Auburn’s greatest and most magical seasons, but it was not without tribulations. On the field the Tigers caught every break, but off it, they were pelted by accusations of cheating and soliciting the services of Cam Newton. In the end, Auburn had the last laugh by winning the BCS National Championship. Against all odds, Gene Chizik steered the team through the roughest seas imaginable. Unbeknownst to the Auburn family, he had also set the program on a course for self-destruction at the worst possible time.
2011 officially started the downward spiral of Gene Chizik. Auburn entered the season with lowered expectations after losing many of the contributing players from the Championship team of 2010. Auburn fans knew that the team would struggle, but it was clear from the opening game against Utah State that this would be a season of trepidation. Many expected this team to preview future success for the program and for young talent to begin shining in certain moments, but what they got was a mixture of underachievement and apparent lack of coaching. Progress was miniscule at best, and in many aspects the team regressed.
The Tigers limped to an 8-5 record which included a bowl victory over the Virginia Cavaliers, but there were red flags all over the program. Sophomore running-back Michael Dyer was suspended for the bowl game and released from his scholarship shortly thereafter. Quarterback Barrett Trotter would also be absent from the team prior to this season after deciding not to return for his senior season. Auburn would also replace both the offensive and defensive coordinators for the upcoming season. The entire framework that had made the 2010 team so strong was now either dismantled or directly contributing to the struggles of the Tigers.
The 2012 season speaks for itself. A wildly talented roster underachieved ten-fold and even when playing well seemed to be doomed by a flawed philosophy. It is apparent that none of the talent from the previous 3 classes has been developed and the Tigers better resembled an upstart program rather than a storied SEC program loaded with blue-chip studs this previous season. Gene Chizik took all of the resources gained from his 2010 championship run and made every wrong move with them. What he left in his wake is a program in much worse shape than he found it. “This place was great before you got here.” Remember that, Gene?
We now enter the post-Chizik era in an extremely vulnerable state. The vaunted SEC Western Division looks to only get stronger in the years ahead, and Auburn is on the brink of slipping to the bottom of it if the current administration does not get the next coaching hire right in a big way. Many fans and alumni are concerned that Jay Jacobs will once again provide a lack-luster hire and for good reason. He has done little to nothing to justify his continuing involvement with Auburn athletics and, considering his heavy interest in the football program, should be associated with the blame laid upon Chizik’s undoing of it. The right hire could propel us into a new era of success, but the wrong one will set us back tremendously. This is the volatile situation Auburn football now faces. After the most exhausting 4 year stretch ever, the Tigers have yet another daunting obstacle to overcome in order to get back on the right track.
In Shadow Days, John Mayer proclaims that, “[his] shadows are over.” Hopefully Auburn’s aren’t far behind.