- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Just two years ago, Gene Chizik won a national championship. Now he's on his way out.
In his short tenure, Chizik proved you can win big at Auburn, but more importantly than that, he proved that you can recruit at Auburn even against the juggernaut of a program that Nick Saban has created across the state at Alabama.
It's not easy, but it can be done.
In two of Chizik's first three seasons, Auburn finished with a top-five recruiting class. He and his staff proved they could recruit nationally, landing ESPN 150 stars from across the Southeast such as running back Michael Dyer, defensive tackle Gabe Wright and athlete Ricardo Louis. Chizik also had success within the state, taking players like LaDarius Owens, Reese Dismukes and Cassanova McKinzy from the Crimson Tide.
The former AU head coach was well on his way to putting together his best class yet for 2013 before he was fired Sunday.
The Tigers currently have commitments from the state's top two players, defensive tackle Dee Liner (Muscle Shoals, Ala./Muscle Shoals) and linebacker Reuben Foster (Auburn, Ala./Auburn), as well as the No. 2 player nationally, defensive end Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga./Milton).
The first task for the next head coach at Auburn should be to try to keep the 2013 recruiting class intact. If he can do that, the talent is there to succeed right away. That's what makes the AU job so appealing.
The downside to taking the job at Auburn is having to compete against in-state rival Alabama. Since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, he has dominated the state of Alabama when it comes to recruiting, and with two national championships in the past three years and the chance for another one this year, the balance of power in the state isn't going to shift anytime soon.
Still, as both Chizik and former Auburn head coach Pat Dye can attest, sometimes all it takes is one player to turn things around.
In 1982, freshman running back Bo Jackson arrived, and the Tigers ended a nine-game losing streak in the Iron Bowl. They defeated Alabama again the next year and went on to win the SEC championship.
For Chizik, it was quarterback Cam Newton. The junior college transfer played just one year at Auburn, but he led the Tigers to a come-from-behind victory over Alabama, an undefeated season and a national championship in 2010.
So again, it can be done.
When searching for its next coach, Auburn needs to find somebody who can recruit at a high level and somebody who's not afraid to go up against the best in the business.
The state of Alabama continues to produce talent year in and year out, and it's vital for Auburn to start winning some of the in-state battles against the Tide, as the former staff did this year with Foster and Liner. There's no better time to start than with the next year's class. The state is loaded in 2014. It's a group that includes 11 ESPN Watch List members.
The program is not that far off from being among the nation's elite again. It just needs to find a coach who can deliver both on the field and in recruiting.