Kicking it with Gene Chizik, Part II
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn coach Gene Chizik is the first to admit that it took a lot of courage for athletic director Jay Jacobs to hire somebody that was 5-19 the last two years.
But the fact that Jacobs knew Chizik, knew his work ethic and had worked with him previously at Auburn allowed him to look deeper than just those two losing seasons in Ames, Iowa.
Had it not been for that prior relationship, Chizik wouldn't be here right now.
Taking the Iowa State job was a gamble. It was a major rebuilding task. But as Chizik points out, when you start passing up head coaching opportunities as an assistant, you never know when another one is going to come your way.
And while some have fixated on what Chizik didn't do at Iowa State, Jacobs was more interested in what he did do at Auburn and Texas as defensive coordinator.
At one point, Chizik was part of 29 consecutive victories, beginning in 2003 at Auburn and ending in 2006 at Texas. In 2004, his last season at Auburn, he won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach. He also coached three consecutive Thorpe Award winners for the nation's top defensive back.
Here's the second part of my Q&A with Chizik:
You've sort of locked it down here as far as releasing information about your team, closing practice and closing scrimmages and have generally been pretty guarded. Why is that?
Gene Chizik: Everything that I do is to protect what we're trying to do here at Auburn. Things over the last few years have gotten so out of control with technology. It's changed the whole world. The world right now is different, so I do what I think is in the best interest of our football team at all times. That's our players. That's injuries. That's rumors. That's whatever gets out there. I want to be able to have control of whatever's out there. I still won't always have control, just like no coach has complete control. But to the best of my ability, I'm here to protect and do what I think is best for our players, and that's the bottom line. I don't close practices because I want to close practices. I close practice for a reason, because the people I need to be at practice are the ones I want to know what is going on in depth with Auburn football, and I don't need it in 200 chat rooms 15 minutes later.
Some coaches take over a program and go out of their way to bring attention to themselves and to their team. You've sort of been the opposite. You've kept your head down, gone to work and haven't made a lot of waves off the field. Is that just your style?
GC: Here's the deal: I do my job, and I go home to my family. I want to do what I can to help Auburn win football games. Now that entails a lot -- recruiting, re-recruiting my players everyday, doing everything I can for this program. I ask myself every day: Does this help me win football games? Does this decision affect my guys in a positive way or negative way? That's everything I do, because at the end of the day, the only thing that gets you attention is whether you win or you lose. I don't get validation by the outside world. I get validated because I have a job to do for these players, for the guys who hired me and for my family. So if it doesn't tie into winning football games, all that other stuff doesn't matter. That's not who I am, and I'm never going to be that.
Where are you with this football team two weeks away from playing your first game as opposed to where you thought you would be?
GC: That's a hard question because we're playing against ourselves everyday. We're a very, very thin football team. We're 10 players under the (85-man scholarship) limit.
How did your numbers get so low?
GC: Part of it is natural attrition. But before I even got here, it was down. Again, depth is a huge concern for us right now. Couple that with the fact that we don't have an off date until 11 games into the season.
How have those factors impacted the way you've structured preseason camp and how much you've hit?
GC: Just look at it. We've been in camp two weeks and have 14 more weeks before we get a week off, so you're practicing four straight months before you ever get some reasonable time off. It's a very fine line. We've hit them, and we've pulled off. We've practiced them long, and we've practiced them short. We really take it day by day.
You're on record as saying you won't be one of those head coaches that meddles into what your offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, is doing on that side of the ball. Is there a big difference in being involved and meddling?
GC: One thing Gus and I have been on the same page about from Day 1 is that philosophically we agree on what we're trying to get accomplished. We spend countless hours going over situations so that on game day it's not our first rodeo. We're watching the ends of halves of games together, how they're handling time, how they're handling what they're doing, how they're handling what they're calling and talking about communication on the sideline. We go over what's four-down territory, what's not four-down territory, all those things so it's been like we've been together before. But I can assure you that philosophically we're on the same exact page. We meet a lot, not on how he calls plays, but situationally what I would like to see in certain situations and see called in certain situations.
How much healthier is Chris Todd now with his shoulder, and has it been obvious with the way he's thrown the ball in camp?
GC: I think he is healthier. I think he's more confident with it. He's really made some nice throws. We're at the point in camp where we need to be very careful with it, because your arm gets tired. But that happens with everybody. I don't think any of that is shoulder-related. I think going with Chris (as the starter) was a home run.
With Chris being out for the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, was he at the forefront of your mind in the quarterback race coming into the preseason?
GC: One of the things we said was that we were going to be very open-minded and very specific when we're accessing these guys. When you put all the factors out on the table right now, he's got game-time experience. He's played with an unhealthy shoulder. He hasn't gone through spring practice, yet he comes in and picks up the offense fast, which is what you get from a guy who's played. He's made some really good throws, which tells you his shoulder is on its way to being what you want it to be. And in a short period of time, he's made up a lot of distance. So what does that tell you? At the end of the day, as long as you give him the right reps, we felt like he gave us the best chance to win. It doesn't mean he gave us the only chance to win. But we felt like down the road, the longer he's in it, that he's going to give us the best chance to win.
The rap on Auburn has always been that the board of trustees and other boosters have manipulated what went on with the football program. How realistic is that?
GC: You've got passionate people here who really care. They want to be a part of things. It's no different from Florida or Georgia. If that's the rap against us, I would take a little bit of issue with that. They are simply passionate people that care like everybody else does. We'
;ve got a great leader now. The guy over there in that office, Jay (Jacobs), played here, has been here and has done it for X amount of years. He's a great leader and has a firm grip on running this athletic department now.
What role do you think former Auburn coach Pat Dye played in your hiring?
GC: I really don't know all the details in it. I don't know what role, if any. I just know that I always respected the heck out of coach Dye and what he's done here. But I can't really answer what role he had. I'm just glad I'm here. I know that.