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Friday, December 30, 2011
Smooth SEC coordinating transitions

By Edward Aschoff

Gene Chizik couldn’t wait to leave Atlanta.

Shortly after speaking with the media at the Chick-fil-A Bowl news conference inside the fast food chain’s headquarters, Chizik went straight into overdrive getting back to Auburn for meetings and practice.

Gene Chizik
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik answers questions about his plan to also run the Tigers' defense.
He wasn’t necessarily having a bad time being surrounded by the aroma of chicken sandwiches and milkshakes, but he was on a schedule that was shorter than usual with his new job as both head coach and defensive coordinator for the Tigers.

Days before, Ted Roof left to take a similar job at Central Florida, so Chizik, who has 11 years of defensive coordinating experience, took over the position through bowl season.

“I did that for so many years,” Chizik said of coaching Auburn’s defense. “You just kind of jump back on the horse and get back at it.”

Still, with time management and time constraints being just two things changing for Chizik, you could imagine there’s a little more stress in the Chizik household these days.

Bowl anxiety is truly setting in and his double duty act will really be put to the test Saturday night against Virginia.

While Chizik might be stressing more than usual, his players aren’t. Sophomore defensive end Nosa Eguae said things are relatively the same for players. To him, the defense hasn’t changed much when it comes to preparation, and Chizik’s defensive knowledge has made the short transition easy.

“He has a great football mind,” Eguae said. “Anytime we’re in a meeting, everybody gets it and understands it.

“I love it. There are people who can balance the two of being head coach and defensive coordinator and he’s great at what he does.”

The only real difference, outside of not seeing Roof overlooking the defense, is Chizik’s demeanor. Eguae said Chizik’s defensive passion is glowing, and it can get a little intimidating.

“When he’s focusing more on the defense you can see that intensity in his eyes and hear it in his voice,” Eguae said. “I love it.”

Auburn isn’t the only team dealing with change. Arkansas has welcomed in a new offensive and defensive coordinator in Paul Petrino and Paul Haynes. Florida lost offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who is now the head coach at Kansas, and temporarily promoted running backs coach Brian White.

No one was probably more caught off guard by change than Florida’s players. Weis said weeks before taking the Kansas job that he expected to be in Gainesville for the long haul. But his abrupt exit left players shocked.

While Florida struggled tremendously on offense this season, White said he wants to keep some order by maintaining the same offensive philosophy. There will be some tweaks, but plays and formations should be relatively the same.

“It’s pretty much status quo. This is what our players know,” White said. “This is what we’ve coached all year. We can’t all of the sudden go and do something out of the box in a couple weeks. That would be foolish.”

Unlike Auburn and Florida, Arkansas’ coordinators are locked into next season.

Petrino is very familiar with the Hogs. Not only is his big brother the head coach, but he was also on staff in 2008 and 2009. Even with Garrick McGee now UAB’s head coach, Arkansas’ offense shouldn’t change much under Petrino, but he does have some big shoes to fill.

Haynes, who takes over for Willy Robinson, left Ohio State to work in a conference where defense truly is king. Arkansas’ defense took an unexpected step back in 2011, ranking no higher than eighth in the SEC in major defensive categories.

In order to keep things easier for defenders, Robinson isn’t changing much, either, and plans to show a multiple defense attack.

While it isn’t always easy to say goodbye to a coach, these replacements appear to be making life better. Limiting the thought process seems to be the recipe for smooth transitions.

“There’s not going to be a lot of thinking come Saturday,” Eguae said.