So how's Gene Chizik going to do? It's a question I'm asked at least twice a day lately. I'm sure you get the same thing. We've heard it now for nine months. Two Saturdays from now, the Chizik era finally begins.
So how do you answer that question? When you think about history it's really easy. Success at Auburn is defined by how you do against Alabama. The same goes for the guy in Tuscaloosa. Using that as the measuring stick, the odds look to be long for the new guy on campus.
Never mind the controversy surrounding his hiring. Even without the drama, history says Chizik will have to come from behind - and quick. Can it be done? Not only can Auburn come from behind, history tells us it has already been done.
Looking at the Alabama program today it's hard for even the most optimistic Tiger fan to see Auburn overtaking Nick Saban anytime soon. Following an undefeated regular season, nationally ranked back-to-back recruiting classes and a preseason top five ranking heading into 2009, it seems like a decade ago that Auburn won six in a row.
As mismatched as the two programs appear now, they are nothing compared to the perceived differences heading into the 1993 season. Alabama was coming off a national championship year under Gene Stallings and Auburn was replacing arguably its most successful coach in school history in Pat Dye. To make matters worse, Auburn was beginning another round of NCAA probation that kept them off television and ineligible for bowl play.
And how can we forget the hiring of Division I-AA Samford coach Terry Bowden. He made his Jordan-Hare Stadium debut a year prior when he brought his Bulldogs in for a 55-0 whipping and a big payday. Looking back, there probably should have been similar outrage to what we saw in December with Chizik.
Sixteen years ago, Auburn fans were much like the fans of today - hopeful, yet realistic. Dye finished his career 1-4-1 down the stretch in 1992 including a 17-0 loss to the eventual national champions at Legion Field. A six win season would have been viewed as a step in the right direction on this day in 1993. Had the internet been around then the media would have buried Auburn before the ground thawed in early March.
We know the rest of the story. Bowden would lead Auburn to an undefeated season, a 22-14 win over Alabama and a number four national ranking at year's end. Three seasons later Stallings was gone and Bowden managed a .500 record against a coach regarded in the same light as Saban is now.
So while the divide between Auburn and Alabama looks big today, history says neither program is ever terribly far apart. On paper this season, like it did in 1993, Alabama looks to be near unstoppable. Auburn's use of the term, "rebuilding" looks generous at best.
Chizik knows what he has to do to be successful at Auburn. He has to not only win, but reestablish Auburn as the dominant program in Alabama. Doing that means beating his cross state rival more than he loses to them.
As the clock at Pat Dye Field begins its countdown to the 2009 season, the career of Gene Chizik will be decided like those who've preceded him. There can only be one team on top in this state. Chizik is officially on the clock.