In December 2008, then Iowa State football coach gene Chizik was offered the head football coaching job at Auburn University. He took the job despite proclaiming to the Iowa State fans less than a month before that he was committed to Ames for the long haul despite his 5-19 record in his two years as the Cyclone coach.
In June 2011, Gene Chizik was at the White House with his Auburn Tigers football team to meet the President and celebrate their undefeated championship season. Two days after his White House visit, Chizik received a contract extension and a raise to three and a half million dollars a year. His book ‘All In: What It Takes To Be The Best’ entered the bookstores less than a month later.
On Sunday, less than 18 months after his White House visit and contract extension, Gene Chizik was fired as the Auburn football coach. As part of his contract he will receive 7.5 million dollars in monthly installments over the next four years.
What did Chizik do to lose his job just two years after an undefeated season that led to Auburn’s first national championship football team in 53 years? There was the small matter of four players arrested for armed robbery in March of 2011, but Chizik promptly booted them off the team and he did get a contract extension 3 months after the arrests (and subsequent convictions). The football program is also currently under investigation by the NCAA for recruiting violations, but there have been no findings yet and the NCAA long ago declared there were no violations in the recruitment of the 2010 championship quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton (who was accused of being sold by his advisors to the highest bidder).
The plain and simple reason Chizik was fired was he stopped winning. Auburn has a long history of firing coaches after just one or two losing seasons regardless of past success. Pat Dye won 3 consecutive SEC championships in the 1980’s but was gone after following that up with an eight win season and then two five win seasons. Chizik's predecessor, Tommy Tuberville finished first or second in his SEC division eight straight years (including an undefeated 2004 season) and he was fired after going 5-7 in 2008. Clearly Chizik’s 3-9 overall record, 0-8 SEC conference mark, and a 49-0 drubbing to in-state rival Alabama was not acceptable.
I give Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs a lot of credit for his honesty by making no excuses for firing Chizik. He made it crystal clear when he said 'I had hoped our team would show some improvement this season…Unfortunately it didn't. The competition in our league is fierce. I decided we could not risk falling further behind by waiting for another year and hoping for improvement.' Last year Auburn was 8-5 with a 4-4 conference record and a bowl win. For a school like Iowa State this would be the best season they had in a decade and a slightly disappointing season for the Iowa Hawkeyes. For mighty Auburn with two national champions in over a century of football, this record needed improving upon according to Jacobs.
I’m sure Jacobs’ actions were prompted by the knowledge that if the football program isn’t turned around and quick, the deep-pocketed Auburn boosters would have him on the chopping block in short order (if he isn’t being fitted for the guillotine already), but I appreciate a person telling it like it is and Jacobs made it clear that at Auburn it is about winning.
I thought Chizik was a lowlife for the deceptive way he bolted from Iowa State to take the Auburn job, but I may have misjudged him. His players seemed genuinely upset that he got fired and Chizik’s assistants will collect over 3.5 million dollars in their own buyout money. When a football coach is fired, normally the assistants are also fired and have to uproot their families when they get new employment so I’ll take the buyout for his assistants as something Chizik negotiated on their behalf. On the other hand, maybe they read this blog post by Iowa’s foremost sportscaster, and having seen how shabbily Chizik treated Iowa State asked for some guaranteed money to work for him.
Despite Chizik’s contract extension and book deal, Heisman Trophy winner Newton received most of the credit for Auburn’s championship season. Chizik failed to get the accolades a national championship coach normally receives and was mostly seen as an innocent bystander who happened to be the beneficiary of Newton’s transcendent season. It didn’t seem to matter that he coached the Auburn team to bowl wins both before and after the Cam Newton season (Newton arrived as a junior college transfer and left school early to turn professional).
Will Chizik get another high profile coaching job? I can’t see it happening anytime soon. As the defensive coordinator for a national championship Texas team, Chizik was a hot coaching prospect whose hiring was seen as a coup for Iowa State. His 5-19 record at ISU didn’t get him the Auburn job. He got it because he was so highly thought of as the Auburn defensive coordinator in the 1990’s.
Having been fired two years after winning a national championship is a black mark on his record and makes him a risky hire for a big time athletic director. The fact that he has won a national championship will probably make schools shy away from hiring him as a defensive coordinator since he would be seen as a threat to the head coach. But he is one of only a handful of college football coaches with a national championship and being able to flash his championship ring should be more than enough to get him a head coaching job at a mid-major school and then he can start to work his way back up to the coaching food chain.
I wonder what kind of football coach Jacobs will get to coach the Auburn Tigers. I can't imagine him getting a big name coach or hot prospect. Why would a coach with options be attracted to a football program that is such a meat grinder that winning a national championship doesn’t buy more than a year’s grace period. I think Jacobs will end up with a proven coach that had to leave his job in disgrace like former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.