Embarrassing. That is the word I heard the most from the Auburn Nation last year when the Tigers gave up two fourth quarter touchdowns to Kentucky in a 21-14 loss at home. Many blamed the defense but the offense was just as guilty for the loss as was the defense. Like any good coach would, Gene Chizik blamed neither the defense nor the offense that day. Instead, he blamed himself.
At the time, the fans knew that Coach Chizik was not too blame. Even the fair-weather fans, who know very little about football, were not pointing the finger at Chizik. Those fans that knew best were the ones who knew that Auburn's lack of depth was keeping them from having a better year.
I have always believed the lack of depth on Auburn's defense in 2009 was the main reason the Tigers lost two or three games late in the fourth quarter. Kentucky and Georgia were not better than Auburn in 2009. Auburn should have won both of those games but the defense was simply worn out. They could barely catch their breath late in games and it cost them from going 9-4, 10-3, or maybe even 11-2.
On the opposite hand, in all reality, that same worn out defense with no depth chart could have folded two or three times and Auburn could have easily finished the 2009 season at 7-6, 6-7 or worse, they could have gone 5-7 with no trip to a bowl. Instead, they finished 8-5 with an victory in the Outback Bowl.
What kept the 2009 Tigers, a team with no depth whatsoever at several key positions, from finishing with a losing record and no trip to a bowl? Coaching. Plain and simple. The players believed in themselves at all times and although they made a lot of mistakes at a lot of critical moments, they always fought hard and believed they could be winners.
This was certainly not the attitude fans had seen in 2008 in what would be Tommy Tuberville's final season on the Plains. Neither the coaches nor the players believed in anything much that season, except for the fact that the offense was terrible and no one knew how to right the ship.
When the season was over, so was Tuberville's tenure at Auburn. Recruiting had faltered over the past two years and the team was in total disarray. A new leader was needed. Who would that be?
After a somewhat lengthy search by Athletic Director, Jay Jacobs, it was announced that Iowa State Head Coach, Gene Chizik was coming back to Auburn, this time as head coach. Chizik had been the Defensive Coordinator under Tommy Tuberville when the Tigers went undefeated in 2004. From there, he went to the University of Texas where he won a National Championship under head coach, Mack Brown.
Iowa State would be his next calling but it would not turn out so well. Gene Chizik would come to Auburn with a record of 5 wins and 16 losses as a head coach. For days and weeks, that is all anyone could talk about. Auburn fans were whining and complaining. Alabama fans were laughing and making fun of the 5-16 record. Once again, those who knew best knew that Gene Chizik was special.
Gene Chizik's first move as headmaster was most likely the best move he could make for the future of Auburn football. Chizik hired Gus Malzahn to run the offense, Ted Roof to run the defense, Curtis Luper and Trooper Taylor to work with the offense and with recruiting, Jeff Grimes to work with the offensive line, former Auburn standout, Tracy Rocker to coach the defensive line and Jay Boulware to coach special teams. A strange combination some would say but oh my, how well they gel together.
The coaching staff at Auburn under Gene Ghizik's leadership has been a huge asset for the football program and for the entire athletic department. Slowly but surely, beginning in 2009, Gene Chizik found a way to get his team to believe in what the coaches were teaching. Once the players believed, they executed on the field and achieved success. As a result of that success, and from the family atmosphere the Auburn coaches create on campus, the Auburn Tigers were able to finish in the top five in recruiting for the first time in a long, long time, if ever.
It has been one success after another. Am I preaching Auburn to win the National Championship? I am not. Do I think they are capable of winning a National Championship in 2010? I certainly do.
Coach Gene Chizik is the man who has turned Auburn football around. His coordinators and assistants have been outstanding. Together, they have produced an offense that is currently 7th in nation in net total yards and 7th in rushing offense. The defensive side is not too shabby either, ranking 9th overall in the country in total sacks. Most of all, there is now depth on both sides of the ball and consequently, the players are fresh in the fourth quarter.
Much praise has been offered this season on star players such as Cam Newton, Mike Dyer, Emory Blake, Nick Fairley, and Josh Bynes, just to name a few. Although he would not wish it, much praise should be given to the man who has turned things around. Coach Chizik would say the praise belonged elsewhere. After all, he is a very humble man and perhaps his humility is one of the reasons that he has been successful in Auburn.
Slowly but surely, the number of wins on Coach Gene Chizik's resume continues to grow. When the 2010 season has ended, the number of wins should finally outnumber the losses but then again, who's counting? Coach Gene Chizik isn't. No sir. He is only thinking about beating Kentucky on Saturday.
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