SEC fans know that The Auburn Creed is a huge part of the school’s tradition. But The Auburn Conundrum is what’s making news down in Alabama today. And that conundrum is this: How much heat should a coach feel just 15 games removed from an undefeated season, SEC championship, and BCS title? Oh, and throw in a victory over Bama, too. At Auburn, Gene Chizik’s 2010 win over Nick Saban is probably as important as all those other achievements.
But since Chizik won the national crown with one-year wonder Cam Newton at quarterback, his Tigers have gone just 8-7. Remove the 14-0, Newton-led season from Chizik’s record on the Plains and it currently stands at 16-12. Toss in his two rough years at Iowa State and Chizik’s slate reads: 21 wins, 31 losses overall.
Again, that’s if you remove the Newton season. And who’s to say it’s fair to remove that season in the first place? After all — by hook or by crook (pun intended) — Chizik was the man who actually lured Newton to Auburn in the first place. That should count for something.
Unfortunately for Chizik, his career Iron Bowl mark now stands at 1-2. While his recruiting classes are consistently rated very highly by the pundits who measure such things, many of his signees have quickly washed in and then straight back out of his program. There have been nearly as many Auburn football stories in the police blotter as there have been in the sports pages.
And after capturing that BCS championship back in 2010, Auburn AD Jay Jacobs presented Chizik with a $3.5 million contract that put him among the highest-paid coaches in the country. With that kind of money, pressure increases.
When Chizik arrived at AU, the word from Jacobs and others was that Tommy Tuberville had left the cupboard bare. The next year, Chizik won his title with many of the players making up that bare cupboard (and no thanks to Tuberville was ever given). Since then, Chizik’s had to build up his roster all over again. And as we’ve stated many, many times, the SEC is no place for teams relying heavily on freshmen and sophomores. From Bobby Petrino to Derek Dooley to Joker Phillips, ask any current or former SEC coach and you’ll find that the best SEC squads really do play “old man” football because they literally have older men starting.
Which brings us back to Auburn’s conundrum. How much heat should Chizik be feeling after bringing Auburn its first national title since 1957 just 15 games ago? Fifteen games!
In a perfect world, he probably shouldn’t find his seat warming at all. He’s building again with several freshmen and sophomores in his two-deep, two new coordinators, and two new systems on offense and defense. That’s not easy. In addition, Kiehl Frazier hasn’t turned out to be the passing quarterback most folks expected him to become when he signed two years ago. Most importantly, Chizik’s won a national championship. That’s not an easy thing to do. Even with Newton at quarterback.
But in reality, you better believe Chizik’s ship is now sailing into dangerous waters. Even though several key players have graduated, Chizik’s had four recruiting classes to build depth and find new stars. Clearly he’s taken some risks on the recruiting trail and several of those have blown up in his face (and in the crime sections of many newspapers). Chizik’s also the one who changed both his offense and defense and brought in new coordinators. Chizik, Chizik, and Chizik.
In a perfect world — a world before multi-million dollar salaries for coaches and a culture of instant gratification — Chizik’s national crown would buy him tons o’ time to truly build his program. Example: This conversation probably wouldn’t be taking place if this were 1952 instead of 2012.
In reality, if it’s Year Four of your regime and you’re barely .500 over your last 15 games and your team is 0-2 to start its new season and it just got clubbed by Mississippi State 28-10 in its last outing… yeah, that means trouble.
How much trouble? That’s the Auburn conundrum.