Thursday, September 24, 2009

...and 19

If you're an Auburn fan reading this blog, I'd like to indulge you today. If you're not, you can probably skip this post, because it's not going to be interesting to you. Take a moment and think back on the moment you found out Auburn had hired Gene Chizik to replace Tommy Tuberville as head coach. Think about where you were, and what your initial reaction was. I can still remember thinking it was all a hoax; a mean prank played by some Alabama fan media type. Once several of the major media outlets started reporting the news as fact, however, most of Auburn nation went into meltdown mode.

While you probably weren't quite as vocal or as angry as this fellow, you probably were extremely disappointed by this hire at the time. I know personally I thought that Auburn would be entering a sort of dark ages that would take years to recover from. I've heard about the Barfield days, but wasn't alive at that point. I thought Auburn would be an awful program fighting it out for the cellar of the SEC West year-in and year-out, and this was a quite depressing prospect.

Then, something funny happened. Chizik hired the man who coordinated the nation's number one offense for the past two years.

He hired Curtis Luper and Trooper Taylor, two of the nation's finest recruiters, away from Oklahoma State. He hired former Auburn player and Outland Award winner Tracy Rocker away from Ole Miss. Things started looking better for the program, but the one overlying phrase that kept being thrown about was "5-19."

Gene Chizik went 5-19 at Iowa State, therefore, he couldn't possibly be a good head coach. Football is the one major American sport where coaching matters the most. Look at what's going on in major league baseball right now. Jim Tracy, largely thought of as a poor manager because of his stints in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, has turned the Rockies around from 18-28 when he was hired, to an 86-66 record as of the time of this writing; the club has a record of 68-38 with him at the helm this season. If you put me in charge of the most talented teams in the four major professional sports leagues in America, I'd imagine the baseball team would perform the best and the football team would perform the worst. Why? Because baseball is a team sport filled with individual performances, while football is a team sport that completely relies on the team. That's why hiring someone with a 5-19 record was viewed as such a blunder.

However, everything Chizik has done at Auburn so far has worked. He brought in a top 20 recruiting class after giving the field several months' head start. He (and his staff) continue to impress recruits nationally. While Lane Kiffin grabbed all the headlines up in Knoxville for running his mouth and committing secondary violations, Chizik quietly went about his business and got work done.

Probably the thing that has most endeared Chizik to the Auburn faithful thus far is his desire to completely embrace the Auburn essence. He "believes in work, hard work," and he distills the notion in his team that they "can only count on what they earn." In many of his interviews, he has referred to his players as "Auburn men." He understands Auburn. He embraces Auburn. He loves Auburn.

And that is why Gene Chizik, despite all of the naysayers (self included) in the immediate aftermath of his hire, has turned out to be the right man at the right time for the job. He's made shrewd hires, he's put a major emphasis on recruiting not just locally, but also nationally, he's embraced the university and community, while getting them excited about their football team again after the boredom found at the end of the Tuberville era, and put in hours upon hours of hard work while letting his actions and his team speak for themselves. So here's to you coach, and here's to your team keeping the "and 19" at the end of your record there as long as possible. War Eagle.

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