By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
The 77th annual playing of the Iron Bowl was nothing short of embarrassing for the Auburn football program.
The Tigers were outclassed, outmanned and outcoached in their biggest loss to in-state rival Alabama since 1948, when the Tide rolled to a 55-0 victory.
Unfortunately for Auburn, Saturday’s blowout loss was nothing new. It was simply a microcosm of the 2012 campaign and, ultimately, the final nail in what was already a well-punctured coffin for Gene Chizik.
When Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs announced Sunday that Chizik and his coaching staff would not return for the 2013 season, it came as little surprise to anyone in the Auburn circle.
“With the commitment we have to athletics, particularly the football program, 3-9 is just unacceptable," Jacobs said. “You have to win to be able to compete at this level, to be able to stay here and be a coach.”
Not only did Chizik not win, he didn't even come close to competing, as Auburn’s average margin of defeat was 22 points per game.
And in a year where the Tigers were supposed to get better as the year went on, they simply didn't.
If you need proof, look no further than the Tigers’ last three SEC games against Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama, in which they were outscored 150-21.
Auburn’s fall from grace couldn’t have made a bigger thud.
Chizik’s tenure at Auburn started out promising enough, winning eight games and taking the Tigers to a bowl game.
And everyone knows what happened in 2010.
Chizik brought a national championship to the Plains for the first time in 53 years, while winning coach of the year in the process.
Does he deserve credit for it? Absolutely. He held his team together amid the pressures of the game and NCAA allegations against superstar Cam Newton.
However, anyone who’s ever watched a football game knows that without Newton, Auburn’s 2010 team would have been a middle-of-the-pack SEC squad at best that year.
The case against Chizik simply outweighed any merits that even a national championship could have ever given him.
Here’s a look at some numbers:
— Chizik’s head coaching record before coming to Auburn was a very unimpressive 5-19, leading many to wonder how exactly he got the job in the first place.
— Chizik leaves Auburn with a record of 33-19, including the
aforementioned national championship, as well as three bowl wins.
— Here’s where the bad news starts for Chizik. His coaching record without Cam Newton? 19-19.
— Taking it one step further, Chizik’s head coaching record without Newton or offensive guru Gus Malzahn, who left for greener pastures at Arkansas State? 8-28.
The numbers don’t lie. And even if they did, all Auburn fans had to do was look at the production on the field to see how far their program has fallen.
Since Chizik’s arrival, Auburn’s defense has been a mess.
Missed tackles, missed assignments and numerous big plays allowed became staples of the unit during Chizik’s tenure.
The Tigers even brought in heralded NFL coordinator Brian Van Gorder to coach the D, but his presence never made a difference.
Off-the-field issues also plagued Chizik during his time at Auburn, which included the infamous four-player armed robbery, the departure of several players due to disciplinary issues, and, don't forget, the hiring of a private security firm to enforce player curfew in the middle of this past season.
Can you imagine Nick Saban having to hire a security firm to make sure his players stayed in line? The mere thought of Chizik having to do so borderlines absurdity.
Look, by all accounts, Chizik was a great guy. He brought a national championship to Auburn, and he will always be remembered for that and for carrying himself in all the right ways possible while representing Auburn University.
However, this is the SEC. This isn’t a place for nice guys, but rather, a place where nice guys get eaten for lunch.
Put simply, nice guys don’t win games.
Good coaches do.
Unfortunately for Chizik, he was more the former than the latter.
Auburn is currently searching for Chizik’s replacement, and several key names have popped up including, but not limited to former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, St. Louis Rams' head coach Jeff Fisher, Malzahn and Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher.
Who the Tigers hire remains to be seen, but my money would be on Petrino or Malzahn.
Petrino was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator in 2002 and would bring the type of no-nonsense, player-coach accountability that a team desperately in search of a culture change needs. He’s been successful during head coaching stints at Louisville and Arkansas, taking both teams to BCS bowl games. But, would Auburn’s athletic department bring in someone with his kind of baggage? That question remains to be answered.
Malzahn, on the other hand, spent three seasons as Auburn’s offensive coordinator, having plenty of success in the process.
He’s familiar with the current players on the roster, most of whom fit into his no-huddle, spread offense rather well.
If Auburn doesn’t make a “splash” hire, then I can see Malzahn getting a call sometime soon.
Regardless of who Auburn chooses to be their next head coach, they made the right decision to move forward without Chizik on Sunday.
The only question remaining is, “Will they make a smarter hire this time around?”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.