"Coach leads us. They follow his lead. If he says tomorrow is Thanksgiving, they wouldn't ask any questions. They'd buy a turkey, put it in the oven and be ready to go because they've bought in." Such is the testimony of Auburn Assistant Head Coach Trooper Taylor when speaking about his boss, Gene Chizik and how Chizik came to Auburn with a plan to succeed early.
Taylor says "I think it started last year when he told the seniors that we weren't coming here to rebuild, we want to win now, and they took that attitude. We started talking about championships the very first day, and the kids bought in. If you talk to any of our players and ask them, ‘What did we come here to do? They'll answer, ‘win championships' because that's what we started with."
Even though there was some initial skepticism over Athletic Director Jay Jacobs decision to bring Chizik back to Auburn, Jacobs said he felt confident that Chizik was the man with the plan to get the job done. "I knew Gene had a plan and that he was the right guy. I knew he would stick to his plan and Auburn people would eventually embrace him. And that's what we've seen."
Jacobs added, "I knew he was an Auburn Man. I knew he had Auburn values. I knew he understood the Auburn family. I knew he knew what it was like to compete in this league. More importantly he understood Auburn and appreciated it."
When Jacobs hired Chizik two years ago, he had been impressed with his reputation for integrity and hard work. He also was impressed with his record as the Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator of the Texas National Championship team. And he was especially impressed with his three years at Auburn where he helped the Tigers go 13-0 in 2004, and won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach.
Those points seemed to be lost on some talking heads back in 2008. Chizik not only knew big-time football, he also knew how to battle for recruits in the South. He knew what it took to win in the SEC and in the Big 12. He had been a part of 29 straight wins as the Defensive Coordinator at Auburn and Assistant Head Coach at Texas.
His top-five recruiting class and Auburn's 14 game winning streak show that Jay Jacobs got it right. Chizik is the first coach in Auburn football history to win a bowl game in his first season and win 21 games in his first two years.
Now after two years on the job Jacobs says that, "Gene has done exactly everything he said he'd do, from the first interview to building this program back. Gene put together a blueprint, and he stood by his plan. He worked his plan. These football players have come to trust in these assistant coaches and in Gene. Some of these guys have gone through three coordinators, so to be undefeated is nothing short of miraculous." And it is further testimony to Chizik's coaching ability.
Chizik's has shown an ability to recruit both top notch coaches as well as top notch players. He has proven his ability to motivate and run a strong program. Yet his major strength as a coach may be the one thing that eludes so many other good men. That's the ability to keep his coaches unified and his players focused.
No other coach in the country has had to deal with as much outside distractions in 2010 as Gene Chizik. Still he's had the Tigers ready to play every week. Linebacker Josh Bynes said he's a tough coach who has set an example with his leadership and the way he has handled adversity.
Jacobs said, "He's as focused of a man as I've ever seen. He doesn't let outside distractions bother him, just like this team. A team will take on the personality of their coach. They play smart and he's smart. Distractions? We've had a few. But he doesn't let it bother him."
Former Coach Pat Dye said that there is no doubt that Cam Newton and Nick Fairley have been playmakers but "Chizik has been the glue. You can cut it any way you want to cut it, but Gene has done an unbelievable job in keeping that team focused, keeping them getting better and making them believe they can do something that nobody thought they could do."
Gene was recently asked if he feels vindication by his early success. His reply: "There's no vindication in my world. That's not how I live. That's not what's important to me. What's important to me is that as the head coach at Auburn, I give our football team and our fans a chance to win every week and that we do the best job we can as coach, and that's it. It's that simple."
Yes with this Auburn man, it truly is that simple. He's a man with a plan - A plan to keep Auburn in position to win championships. And that's why this author feels good about Auburn's chances in Glendale.
Our man has had a plan since he came to Auburn and that plan is working far ahead of schedule. It would be good advice in the future for odds makers not to count Gene Chizik out. As for me, come January 10th, 2011 ...
My money will be on Chizik's Tigers.