How would Auburn fans feel about Gene Chizik had he arrived on the Plains last year from Austin instead of Ames? In other words, what if the past two seasons never happened in the life of Auburn's new coach?
It's safe to say it would have been applauded as one of the best hires of 2009. The headlines would have read something like, "Auburn goes into Texas and grabs Mack Brown's top assistant as its next head coach." The move would have been compared favorably to what Georgia did when they plucked Mark Richt away from Bobby Bowden at Florida State.
Unfortunately for Chizik, those two painful years in Iowa did happen and because of that his hiring has been met with bemusement and intrigue around the country. So much has been made about his failure at one of the great coaching graveyards, that his accomplishments prior to that have been pretty much banished to the back of the book.
The truth is, Gene Chizik is a pretty good coach both on paper and in reality. How soon we forget - myself included.
Recently, I was thumbing through my copy of Mark Murphy's Inside The Auburn Tigers preseason publication and began to read again all of Chizik's accomplishments. Quite frankly, they were astounding.
Here's a quick laundry list of his career highlights:
- For three years running Chizik coached the nation's top defensive back. Auburn's Carlos Rogers (2004) and Longhorn defensive backs Michael Huff (2005) and Aaron Ross (2006) all claimed the Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defender.
- While at Auburn, Chizik claimed The Broyles Award, presented to the top assistant coach in the country.
- In his first season as coordinator at Auburn, he improved his unit from 39th nationally to 26th in total defense. The following year, Auburn's defense climbed to fifth in total defense.
- In the championship year of 2004, Chizik's squad finished the year ranked first nationally in fewest points allowed at 11.3 per game. Overall, they finished the season ranked sixth nationally.
- His Auburn defenses held 24 of their 39 opponents to two or less touchdowns while 14 times the opposition failed to score 10 points.
- Ten of his Auburn players were taken in the NFL draft.
- At Texas, six of his players earned All-American honors.
- During the Longhorns' national championship run in 2005, Chizik's defense ranked eighth nationally in fewest points allowed, fourth in passing efficiency defense and 10th in total defense.
No wonder ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit got downright angry this week on College Football Live when they showed the YouTube clip of the Auburn fan booing Jay Jacobs at the airport in December. Herbstreit defended Chizik and Auburn, saying the school got it right. He went on to predict a 7-5 season for the Tigers.
We wrote recently about Auburn getting its swagger back. This year is also about Chizik getting his back. Just two years ago, he was arguably the top assistant coach in America. He starts 2009 as the most maligned coach in all of football. Through the first nine months on the job Chizik has shown the qualities that made him the nation's top young coach.
I believe all of us would like some do-overs in life. Rarely do we get that chance and certainly not on a national stage like Auburn. Who knows what will happen, but give the new man credit. He's dotting every "I" and crossing every "T" to ensure failure never comes his way again.
Auburn will likely be the biggest to benefit from Chizik's life lesson.