Auburn head coach Gene Chizik celebrates the 41-34 win over Mississippi State on Sept. 10, 2011.
Dec. 4, 2008, was a dark day for the Auburn football program. Tommy Tuberville resigned as the head coach and the Tigers had to start all over again. After ending the season with a miserable loss against its biggest rival, the team was in pieces, and someone had the duty of coming in and putting it all back together again.
When Gene Chizik was hired in later that month, he had more to do than reunite a broken locker room. He had to win over an Auburn fan base that was -- to say the least -- a little bit shocked when his name was announced as the new head coach. Fans immediately wrote him off, and rival fans believed Auburn would become the doormat of the SEC West. Three years and a 30-10 record later, Chizik still has to convince, and yes, he's still learning.
From the very beginning, Chizik knew that Auburn deserved the very best -- the best facilities, best coaches and the best players. He knew expectations were high at Auburn, and because of his attitude, Jay Jacobs looked past the 5-19 record at Iowa State and bought into Chizik's ideas.
He went out and hired a great staff. Some coaches had more success than others, but all in all, a national championship in 2010 meant that the staff as a whole was a success. The Gus Malzahn hire, for instance, was the right hire at the time. The offense was coming off a horrible year using Tony Franklin's spread, and bringing in Malzahn eased the learning curve for the unit. The offense had some initial success -- top 30 numbers in 2009 -- and became one of the top units in the country in 2010. The prolific offensive output in 2010 validated Chizik's hiring of Malzahn.
People are quick to write off Chizik's involvement in the 2010 season. Sure, the offense was lead by one of the best quarterbacks in SEC history, but it takes more than a quarterback to win a championship. The head coach helped the team regain its confidence, and he built the character which was needed to succeed that season.
Chizik had the final say on bringing in Cam Newton in 2010, and he had to stem the tide after news broke that Newton's father had shopped around the QB. Chizik had to keep the team focused through the hard times and bring it back to life. It wasn't easy, and many coaches would have allowed their teams to struggle, but Chizik held firm and did his best.
But Chizik's efforts range further than on the football field. Off the field, he has redefined Auburn's recruiting reputation and brought in three fantastic classes, a fourth one pending. Chizik and his staff haven't taken a back seat to anyone; they've been fighting from Day 1 for most of the top players in the country. Chizik sells what Auburn is really about, and according to this Rivals Recruit Survey, his style has paid off as he was voted as the easiest coach to talk to. Chizik's honesty is refreshing. He tells it like it is, and recruits respond to that. They don't want coaches telling them lies, they want honesty, and all in all, they want head coaches that they can trust and who can guide them through the tough times.
And after the 2011 season, Chizik knew that changes had to be made. Auburn could no longer survive on razzle-dazzle offense and nervy defense. He had to make the changes that would push this team to the next level and put it in contention for the West again, hence the hires of VanGorder and Loeffler at the coordinator positions. VanGorder, someone with whom Chizik is on the same page, brings in a new defensive structure that the players and recruits are responding to positively. On offense, Loeffler has success running the ball and game-planning a more conservative attack. Both were brought in to breathe new life into this team.
Chizik isn't your typical head coach; he gives his assistant coaches freedom and doesn't interfere unless he has to. He is in just his sixth year as a head man, so he's still learning. He's had to make the best of every situation and do whatever it takes to succeed as a SEC head coach.
As far as the Auburn fanbase is concerned, Chizik has done everything right. Sure there have been some bumps in the road, but the real test of character is how one respond to those bumps. So far, Chizik has responded well, and he's pointed the team in the right direction.
If the success continues, the credit will have to go to the rightful man.