Chizik Set for First Season at Auburn

Gene Chizik

Perhaps the most roundly criticized coaching hire of this past off-season was Auburn's selection of Gene Chizik to replace Tommy Tuberville. Chizik was the defensive coordinator at Auburn for three years, but had struggled mightily (5-19) in two seasons as the Head Coach at Iowa State.

A number of Auburn alums complained about the hire, particularly when the other finalist for the post was Turner Gil (15-23) who had turned around a putrid program at Buffalo leading them to the MAC Championship and the school's first bowl game.

Well Chizik gets his chance to start proving himself this fall, but he does so with an Auburn team that lost five of its last six games last season and really struggled offensively. First among the challenges is finding a quarterback. Kodi Burns passed for 1,050 yards last season with 2 TD and 7 INT. Chris Todd threw for 903 with 5 TD and 6 INT.

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Chizik spoke at SEC Media Days Friday morning. He avoided saying much of anything about individual players. Chizik did, however happily discuss his decision to hire Gus Malzahn to be his offensive coordinator.

"When Gus and I talked about coming to Auburn, I wanted to make sure philosophically we were on the same page. Being a defensive coordinator in this league and having a great grasp in this league what wins and what doesn't, I feel very strongly in the efforts of running the football. If you go back and do your homework on Gus Malzahn, the numbers his offenses have put up over the years, if you just go back to the last two, I believe last year they averaged 270 yards rushing a game on the ground. Unless you're an option football team, that's really hard to do. We want to run the football, but we also want to be able to have a very balanced passing attack, too. Everybody wants to have a balanced attack. There are very few teams out there that throw it all the time or run it all the time. If you go back and look at the record, Gus has had a great, great record of being able to be balanced and productive both running and throwing."

On comparing the SEC to the Big 12:

"(They are) two great conferences. I mean, arguably the two best in the country. I think time has proven that. I think the Big 12 has made leaps and bounds, since I spent the last four years in the Big 12, I think I can speak a little bit intelligently about it because I've freshly been in both. (The Big 12 as) made some significant strides in being able to claim it as one of the best conferences in the country. And it certainly is.

This is one man's opinion. But the SEC, when you travel stadium to stadium, the passion, the pride, all of the things that go with, you know, what make college football great, there's no greater league, in my opinion, than the SEC. Talent wise, I mean, it's hard to argue the talent level in the SEC. That's standed [sic] the test of time. I don't think it's changed. You got great players. You've got great coaches. And the interest, it's an all time high. Do I think this is the best conference in the country? I do. Do I think the Big 12 is a great conference? I do. But I can assure you I'm extremely happy to be back in this conference." On his expectations for this season: "The SEC West, it's tough, boy. Every week, as you know, it's a dogfight. Our plan is to contend for a championship in everything that we do. We don't think that's out of the realm of possibility. We talk to it about our players. Winning championships, that's what matters. That's going to be the goal, to win the SEC West. I think that in this league, again, anything can happen. It's not like the SEC West championships are a stranger to Auburn. So we'll work hard in that direction. I think our players feel very confident that we can be a very good football team. We'll just have to let it all play out on the field."

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You have to go back ten years, to Tommy Tuberville's first Auburn team to find a time when the Tigers entered a season with so little expectations. That can only help Chizik who has more doubters than any head man in the league. Not only was Auburn 5-7 last year they scored 14 points or less in half their games. If Chizik can find a way to win six or more he might be a candidate for SEC Coach of the Year, but don't count on it happening.

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