Auburn’s choice of Chizik raises some questions

Published 11:41 pm Saturday, December 13, 2008

I admit it. I was shocked to hear that Auburn hired Gene Chizik to succeed Tommy Tuberville.

That’s not to say that Chizik is a guaranteed failure. But on its surface, the move mirrors the waving of a white flag and relinquishing of the state to Nick Saban.

Since Tuberville’s resignation, rumors surfaced daily as fans and media followed the Auburn coaching search.

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Mobile-based WALA-TV reported on Thursday that Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp — who succeeded Chizik at Auburn — would be introduced as the Tigers’ new head coach on Friday. The day he was supposed to announce, the Texas “head coach-in-waiting” denied the report.

Buffalo coach Turner Gill was often linked with the Auburn search as well. It was even rumored that Steve Spurrier would leave his post at South Carolina to take the job.

Enter Gene Chizik to squelch the rumors.

When Chizik left Auburn to take over at Iowa State in 2006, he was a highly sought after head coaching prospect. Basically, he was Rutgers coach Greg Schiano circa 2007 or Gill this year.

But Chizik struggled in Iowa City. In two seasons with the Cyclones, he has guided Iowa State to a miserable 5-19 record. His predecessor, Dan McCarney, fared better in his last two seasons with an 11-13 record and a bowl appearance.

To say that Chizik’s star has lost its luster would be an understatement.

If the hire works out in the long run, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs will deserve immense credit for spotting and snagging an SEC-capable head coach who was under the radar. After all, Mississippi State and Tennessee were also in need of a new head coach, but neither offered Chizik a job.

For the Tigers, this hire must be productive. Alabama is on the upswing under Saban, and the Tide is not the only team resurging.

After choosing a poor replacement in former coach David Cutcliffe, Ole Miss snatched Houston Nutt — a proven head coach — from Arkansas. Now, one year after finishing with an 0-8 SEC record, the Rebels are primed to participate in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2.

LSU will likely bounce back as well. The Tigers’ 7-5 mark in 2008 was not indicative of their talent level. It was the result of quarterback Ryan Perriloux’s dismissal and a reliance on quarterbacks Jarrett Lee, a redshirt freshman, and Jordan Jefferson, a true freshman.

With the Tide, Tigers and Rebels on the rise, there is a chance that this hire will determine the next decade of Auburn football. Tuberville inherited a bad situation when he took over in 1999 and suffered a losing season because of it. But he made enormous strides during his next eight years on the Plains.

On the surface, his replacement does not approach his level. So Auburn fans, take a deep, collective breath, and hope Jay Jacobs knows what he’s doing.

I’m not sure he does.