TUSCALOOSA — Despite being the head coach of a 3-9 Auburn team, coming off a 49-0 shellacking to No. 2-ranked Alabama, Gene Chizik’s Saturday night postgame press conference was a standing-room-only affair. Dozens of video cameras, still cameras and anxious reporters waited silently as the embattled coach took the podium.
Media members packed the small visitor’s press room not so much to hear what he had to say — what could he say coming off a 49-0 shutout to his team’s bitter rival — but because it could possibly be his last press conference as the head coach at Auburn.
Everyone else in the room seemed to know it. Judging by Chizik’s downtrodden demeanor, he knew it, too. Coaches who go winless in SEC play don’t usually last long, even if they are riding the goodwill earned from winning a BCS national championship just two years ago.
The usually fiery coach didn’t make excuses but seemed sheepish as reporters hurled questions at him — most of them about if he’ll survive to lead the team next season.
“I’m not going to go into the job situation. This isn’t about me,” was Chizik’s refrain throughout. “I’ve got a locker room full of guys very hurt and struggling ... That’s my focus.”
Chizik was the first to admit a 3-9 season is unacceptable at a school that went undefeated in 2010 and has continued to sign star-studded recruiting classes the past several seasons.
“I thought we went south, collectively, as a team,” he said.
Though Chizik wouldn’t address the future status of his job past Saturday night, the coach did say he believes he’s still the man who can right the ship.
“Y’all saw what you saw out there tonight. I’m very disappointed for our fans. We’ve been in tough times before, and we have to continue to come back and work and fix things as we have before,” he said. “What you saw as a result of this season and tonight, we’ve got to start working on it ... I am the head football coach at Auburn and there’s no question in my mind that we can get this thing turned around.”
Chizik stressed his point with a statement many fans would agree with: “It’s not acceptable.”
After just a few questions from the press, Chizik headed out the side door, quite possibly for the final time.
Now it’s up to the Auburn administration to decide exactly what “unacceptable” means in practical terms.
Chizik’s overall record at Auburn is 33-19, buoyed largely by the undefeated season in 2010 when the offense was led by Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton.
Outside of that year, Chizik averaged a good-but-not-great 8-5 heading into the 3-9 disaster that was 2012.
In a season that saw perennial conference punching bag Vanderbilt go 8-4 and newcomer Texas A&M contend for the West (blowing out the Tigers along the way), the administration has to decide sooner rather than later if Chizik is the man who can keep Auburn relevant.
If not, the Tigers could very well become the SEC’s latest bottom-feeder.
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.