December 16, 2008

Auburn did what??

You gotta love sports sometimes. In what other world of entertainment do you have as many jaw-dropping moments as you do in sports?? Whether it is on the field or off the field, sports are always unpredictable. You never know what is going to happen next. Saturday night, we're over at a friend's house watching the Crosstown Shootout, enjoying the game, when all of the sudden the following headline shows up on the ticker on ESPN2:

"Auburn is expected to hire Iowa State head coach Gene Chizik."

WHAAAT?!! I almost fell off the couch. We immediately flipped over to ESPN News just to make sure we saw it right. And sure enough, there it is under the "Breaking News" section. Gene head ball coach at Auburn.

Just when you thought you had seen it all in college football, Auburn goes out and hires Gene freaking Chizik to take over their football program after he went 5-19 in two years at Iowa State. I still can't get over this hire. You have potential rising stars like Turner Gill and Skip Holtz sniffing around this job, and they jump into the pool with a guy who was close to getting fired by his former employer.

Here are some of the lowlights of the Gene Chizik era. Iowa State went 2-10 this year and went 0-8 in the conference. 0-8!! They lost to Baylor by 28! His only wins this year were against South Dakota State and Kent State. They lost their final ten games.

Not only was he not winning at Iowa State, he was on the verge of getting fired!! I get the impression that Chizik had one more year to turn it around before getting canned.

The reaction from Iowa State fans?? RELIEF! My god, how would you feel as an Auburn fan knowing that Iowa State fans are happy that the guy is leaving?

It would be like Penn State firing Joe Paterno tomorrow and hiring Charlie Weis a week later. I would literally be pouring champagne on myself right now if that happened. And that's basically what has happened at Auburn. They hired a coach who has never been successful as a head coach and who was about to get fired.

Maybe Gregg Robinson should send his resume to Auburn in a few years if/when Chizik inevitably gets fired. If they are willing to hire Chizik, why not go for the jugular and bring in Gregg Robinson after that rousing success he had at Syracuse?? Or maybe Ty Willingham!

Can you imagine Nick Saban's reaction to this hire?? He must have started laughing out loud. Auburn is so spooked by Nick Saban it's not even funny.

Is it possible that Chizik could work out at Auburn?? No doubt, and you never really know in sports. For all I know, he was in a bad situation at Iowa State that was going to take 5+ years for him to turn around, so maybe the Auburn job will give him the talent that he needs to win. Maybe Iowa State was just a bad fit. Maybe he's got better networks and connections at Auburn that will let him hire a better staff and get better players. He went to Florida for college, so maybe he's not comfortable in Iowa and needs to be back in SEC country to be successful. I'm not willing to discount that possibility. If he hires a great staff, recruits his face off, and gets his players to buy in, maybe he'll do well there.

But based on what we know about Chizik, this move is right up there among the worst hires in the history of college football. He's been a complete failure as a head coach so far, and now he's stepping into a hornet's nest in the SEC. The only move I would put down as a more egregiously bad hire was the Bengals' hiring of David Shula almost immediately after Shula got demoted from offensive coordinator to defensive backs coach by Jimmy Johnson with the Cowboys. But Chizik would be in that conversation for me (if you've made it into the "David Shula" category with me, that's the lowest of the low). It makes absolutely no sense to me, especially when you consider that there were a lot of good young coaches out there who they probably could have lured to Auburn. Turner Gill, Skip Holtz, Brady Hoke, etc. All guys who have won at their respective jobs and made their programs better.

Chizik took over a bad program and made them significantly worse. It's not like he's recruiting well or showing some slow signs of improvement. He's brought nothing to the table in Ames. And now he's headed to the toughest conference in football to compete against the likes of Urban Meyer and Richt and Saban and Petrino and Miles and Houston Nutt and now Lane Kiffin. Auburn just went from having a solid coach who was in the top half of coaches in the league to a complete unknown who may turn out to be among the worst.

And the fact that Tommy Tuberville was a legitimate success at Auburn (probably one of the best coaches in their history) is only compounding the problem here. Tuberville won games at Auburn and probably would have won games in the future once he settled the problems from this season. An absolute BEST CASE SCENARIO for Gene Chizik would be for him to be the next Tommy Tuberville at Auburn. A worst case scenario is that he runs Auburn into the ground, Saban completely takes over the state for the next decade, and Auburn football goes through a long term malaise that permanently puts them into the second tier in the SEC. Throw in the likelihoood that their recruiting is going to hit rock bottom this winter, and all bets are off on how bad this could potentially get.

I hate to be banging on Auburn because I like Auburn. They have a good program, and I've enjoyed watching them over the years. The Bengals have drafted a lot of good players from Auburn (Rudi Johnson, Takeo Spikes, Willie Anderson, Pat Sims, etc), so I've always had an affinity for the program. But somewhere along the line, they forgot that they are Auburn!! They are the second best program in their own state and probably the 5-6th most prestigious job in their conference at best. What is Auburn's upside?? I'd say that Tuberville was getting as much out of that program as anyone could. They are a 7-9 win program at their core that can have runs of success when the other heavy hitters in the league are down, but they are never going to be the elite program in the SEC (especially when programs like Alabama and Florida and Georgia are all "up"). I know they are worried about Saban, but why would you make a panic hire as an attempt to counteract Saban?? Why not ride it out with Tuberville until you have a great candidate lined up?? Does anyone really think recruits are going to be flocking to Gene Chizik over Nick Saban?

So what does this say about ND?? It seems like the coaching searches of 2008 were an absolute crapshoot. Auburn hires a coach with a 5-19 record. Washington hires an assistant. Tennessee hires a coach who has never been a head coach in college and got fired from his job in the pros. Clemson hires an assistant. All of these hires could turn out great, but chances are that several of them (if not all of them) will be complete busts.

At the end of the day, even if it is possible (likely?) that ND may not have any clue what they are doing, it will probably benefit us in the long run that we made the decision to keep Weis around for next year. If ND had fired Charlie Weis, the coaching search would have been an absolute train wreck. It would have made the Auburn coaching search look downright shrewd. And the result of a coaching search would have led to a hire that divided the fanbase and killed all the momentum in the program. Recruiting would have taken a complete nose dive, and there were no hires out there that would have made fans excited about this program.

Bringing back Weis gives ND all kinds of options. We get an entire year to really start making critical evaluations of the good young coaches out there, it gives us time to see if any big coaching moves shake out in the offseason (college coach to the pros or some other big move), and it also gives us one last look at Charlie Weis to see if he can revamp his staff and start winning games next year with an experienced team. I have admittedly lost faith in Charlie, but there's at least a glimmer of hope out there that he will right the ship and correct the problems with this program. If ND could get tougher up front, mix in more of those young d-linemen, and get some big stuff from Cierre Wood in the running game and on special teams, maybe this team makes the leap next year. We're already on the hook for $20 million to Weis or whatever. We might as well find out for sure what he's got, and buy some time to get the right coach if Weis isn't the answer. Rushing out and hiring Jim Grobe does us no favors.


k said...


Gotta respect the dedication of the writers on this website (posted at 4:30am!). Totally agree. Worst hire in the college game I can remember. The Saban-factor compounds this situation exponentially. If this guy doesn't get it done it literally might be the end of Auburn's football tradition. At the most critical point in the history of the program the AD and the President decided that this was the guy who was going to lead Auburn against the Nicktator in the recruiting wars. Egregious error and I think it will be remembered as the day that Auburn football died forever. What a disaster.

Mike said...

When I first read the bottom line on ESPN, I just saw "Gene Chizik" and I assumed that the headline was "Iowa State fires Gene Chizik."

Needless to say, I was stunned when I saw the real headline the next day.

Doug said...

Indeed. Don't know why I was writing a blog post at 4:30 in the morning. I just started a trial yesterday, but I couldn't resist getting in some thoughts on the Gene Chizik era! Figure I might as well pound them out in the wee hours before this trial starts back up. Just color me passionate about Auburn sports!