Transition In Plain Sight On The Plains

Chizik and newly assembled staff

Chizik and his newly assembled staff

By: AuburnChopper1

This weekend marks the fourth weekend, and possibly the most important of Gene Chizik’s young tenure as Auburn University’s Head Football Coach.  It’s his first official visit weekend for recruits on campus. Listening to the talking heads on radio, television and in print, you just had to know that Coach Chizik would be a one year, or two year anomaly, and then Auburn would once again be moving on to supposedly newer, greener pastures.   I mean, come on now, a Head Coach that had only managed a meager 5 and 19 record at Big Twelve juggernaut, Iowa State?  Auburn’s fan base was split, and passionately debated the hire from a much maligned and scrutinized Athletic Director, Jay Jacobs, and his hiring process that had taken seemingly months, and not the few weeks that actually passed.   

Rumors were rampant, as racism, favoritism, past coaches, and every other back door, and scandalous issue you could possibly imagine found it’s way into mainstream discussion.   Again, the Auburn family found itself deeply divided, confused and frankly had no idea where to start when it came to deciding on whether or not to support this hire, or grab a pitchfork and torch on the way to pillaging the Athletics Facility.  A Fiery Tiger Walk from hell seemed all but inevitable.

In the end, cooler heads prevailed, and Auburn fans, alumni and other supporters decided to wait and see what Coach Chizik provided before taking him to task on a hiring process and future that was out of his control at the time.  Chizik, knowing his challenges, stood firm and acknowledged the aggressive scrutiny and faced it head on in interviews and other appearances.

First steps to calm past issues included the subsequent departure from long time, and deeply rooted agent, Jimmy Sexton.  Sexton seemingly was at the root of many of former Head Coach Tommy Tuberville’s off-season coaching waltzes that drove Auburn faithful mad.  Every year, it was someone else, some other school that ultimately had Tommy Tuberville coming or going.   

Next, Chizik worked with Auburn to structure a salary that would allow them to pay better salaries for better assistants.   Evidenced by the hiring of Gus Malzahn, a highly touted up and coming Offensive Coordinator.

Gus Malzahn is duly recognized for the successful usage and play-calling abilities while coaching Felix Jones, now of the Cowboys, and Darren McFadden of the Raiders, at Arkansas.  With formations such as the “Wild Hog”, Malzahn’s running attack terrorized the SEC for a season, and took a much overachieving Razorbacks squad to an SEC Championship berth against eventual National Champion Florida in 2006.

Malzahn, leaving a tumultuous situation under Houston Nutt, headed to Tulsa, Oklahoma.  In two years, and an recruit star average of 1.57, Malzahn took Tulsa to the top of the offensive scale putting up numbers that only Oklahoma and other national powers were able to strive for.   

Malzahn now comes to Auburn, with better players, talent level and supporting staff, including newly hired RB Coach Curtis Luper, formerly of Oklahoma State University.  Luper, known for his aggressive recruiting and experience in spread formation running game, has been nothing short of outstanding in that role thus far for Auburn.

Also coming from Oklahoma State, is Wide Receivers Coach, Trooper Taylor.  Coach Taylor, regarded as one of the top recruiters in the country by national recruiting authorities such as Rivals, and Scout, was being pursued by programs such as Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State in the past few weeks and months.  In the end, Chizik, Malzahn and closer friend, Curtis Luper convinced Taylor that Auburn was building something special.

Also joining the staff is former Iowa State assistant, and former Utah assistant under Urban Meyer, Jay Boulware.  Jay will be coaching Special Teams under the new Chizik staff and is the only “hold-over” from Iowa State.

On the defensive side of the ball, while maybe not as sexy as some of the other names, Ted Roof comes to Auburn as Defensive Coordinator.  Some will argue that his Golden Gopher defense was not the top defense in the country, but at the same time don’t see the progression they made in the single year Roof was at the helm.  Minnesota’s Gopher Defense improved almost fifty positions in NCAA rankings this past season under the former Duke Head Coach’s tutelage.   They were better off for him being there, and Auburn should be glad to have him working along side, arguably one of the best defensive minds this decade, Coach Chizik.

As this coaching staff comes together during another hotly contested recruiting season, they’ve had to endure bowl games and dead periods, but in the less than five to ten days total of open recruiting days, the new staff has shown a dedication to the expansion of our recruiting base, not only in state borders, but in talent level as well.   Gene Chizik’s hands-on approach has impressed many recruits that either had de-committed, or at minimum showed a level of apprehension immediately following his hiring.   Some say that retaining recruits is not really an impressive feat, but in reality, with the unpopular response at the beginning, and charges of racism pumping from the national, and local radios, to only lose the few Auburn did was nothing short of phenomenal.   Some will recognize this some do not.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

Recruiting needs and priorities will change and get sorted out as the new staff prepares for the 2009 season, and also after evaluations of the current roster of talented players is mulled over as well.   Auburn fielded a young and talented team last year that suffered from a lack of consistent, and aggressive coaching.   Many players got caught up in political in-house scuffles between staff that either believed, or didn’t believe in the newer offensive and defensive philosophies that defined the 2008 football season.  With this new staff and new off-season, Auburn finds itself with a common philosophy and common goal among the staff.  They all understand, and have experience running the offense that Auburn will field in 2009.  That’s a major step in the right direction.

Recruits that would never look at Auburn in the past, are not only looking at Auburn now, but visiting as well.   Although former Auburn personnel spoke with number one WR Rueben Randle early in the process, it was apparent that we never stuck with it.  After only one visit from Curtis Luper, Randle arranged an official visit.   Same can be said about Tyrik Rollison, the number two dual threat QB in the nation.   Same can be said with the five star RB Bryce Brown.   Five Star DB Greg Reid is looking to set up a visit to Auburn.  All Greg Reid did was go out and intercept all world everything QB Matt Barkely, three times in last Sunday night’s Under-Armor HS All-Star game on ESPN, and win himself an MVP trophy at the same time. Suddenly recruits that were “Bama locks” are not so locked any more.  It’s true that Auburn might not pull many of these recruits, maybe none of them, but the sheer fact they’re coming, and that we’re in the discussion, is something Auburn hasn’t been a part of in years.   In the next year, many new recruits that may not have gotten that knock on the door, or letter, or phone call from the Plains will suddenly begin to get those memos with the AU on the header.

It is clearly evident that with the efforts being made by Luper, Trooper, Malzahn, Roof and Chizik himself, that they already have a larger, and more aggressive vision for Auburn, and that is something that Auburn desperately needed.

There is a long way to go, and the first game of the 2009 season is too far away to even begin thinking about, but one things for sure, it will be a different Auburn Tigers Football team that hits Pat Dye Field that day.   At this pace, hopefully it will be a different, but unified, and excited Auburn Family that hits Jordan-Hare’s seats as well.

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