Two seasons into the Chizik era, with Auburn at 11-0 and still gunning for a National Championship heading into today’s Iron Bowl, it would be easy for the man who made the hire to say, “I told you so.”
That’s not Auburn Athletic director Jay Jacobs’ style.
“Nobody needs to admit they were wrong,” Jacobs said Tuesday. “It all goes back to not who is right, but getting it right.”
Even with the ongoing furor over the recruitment of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, Jacobs is convinced he got it right.
“I knew Gene had a plan and that he was the right guy,” Jacobs said. “I knew he would stick to his plan and Auburn people would eventually embrace him. And that’s what we’ve seen.”
What everyone has seen is a remarkable turnaround for Auburn football. The Tigers were 5-7 in 2008, Tommy Tuberville’s last season as head coach, including a 36-0 thrashing at the hands of Alabama in the final game.
After going 5-19 at Iowa State, Chizik’s first season was a three-game improvement over Tuberville. And even after the modest turnaround no one could have predicted this — a national championship inching closer every day.
While he’s obviously happy where he’s at — coaching the frontrunner for the Heisman trophy — Chizik remains convinced he would have been able to turn Iowa State’s program around had he chosen to stay.
“It was a building process, and we felt really good about where the building process was at that time,” he said. “I still feel like the track that we were on was going to lead us to be very successful. I don’t think there’s any question about that. And that helped me. But moving forward here, it’s a different scenario, different situation.
“But the two years for me as a head coach, those two years were very valuable for me.”
If there are any naysayers now, they are certainly doing a good job of hiding. After so many questions, Chizik has but one thing left to prove with months to go before his two-year anniversary: Beat arch rival Alabama.
As an overwhelming underdog, the Tigers almost pulled it off last season. It doesn’t take one long to see the truth in statements the players make today about the coach that was hired in controversy.
“I never had any doubts,” Auburn senior linebacker Josh Bynes said. “The older guys who knew him as the defensive coordinator said he would be good. They told me how tough he was. Then I got the chance to talk with him one-on-one several times, and I was like, ‘This might be the perfect man for the job.’ He had the right mindset, no matter what was going on.”
And Chizik gets the same support from his staff. Something the former regime couldn’t always say.
“He leads us,” Taylor said. “They follow his lead. If he says tomorrow is Thanksgiving, they’d buy a turkey. They wouldn’t ask any questions. They would put it in the oven and be ready to go because they’ve bought in. I think it started last year when he told the seniors that we weren’t coming here to rebuild, we want to win right now, and they took that attitude. We started talking about championships the very first day, and the kids bought in.”