A couple of weeks ago, while I was bogged down researching that Ears Whitworth cover story, I let the six-month anniversary of my column slip by unnoticed.
Now Iím not high on sentiment, nor am I under some grand illusion that a half-year anniversary is an occasion to pull the sterling silver serving dish out of the crawl space, but hey, Iím proud Iíve made it this far without getting fired. Remember that time I missed nearly every single pick with my mock NFL Draft? Good times. And to think Iíve written roughly 30 columns and only called Lane Kiffin a bum in two of them. That number seems low to me for some reason.
I mention this because June also marks six months since Gene Chizik was hired as Auburnís new head football coach, a move critically panned by yours truly in my second column, ďPlain Stupid: Tigers hire a DuBose of their ownĒ. If you didnít read it Ė who am I kidding? Ė since you didnít read it back then, hereís the short version:
Auburn made a terrible mistake replacing a proven winner (Tommy Tuberville) with a guy (Chizik) who failed miserably in his first and only other head-coaching gig (Iowa State). This is not Chizikís fault; he simply found himself in the right place at the right time. Instead, it is the fault of the Auburn administration (athletic direcor Jay Jacobs and President Jay Gouge), which failed to effectively plan out a post-Tuberville strategy before firing him.
Now I havenít really changed my mind on the hire. Iím still just as confused by his selection now as I was in mid-December. And as it stands right now Ė with Chizik both undefeated and winless as the Tigersí head coach Ė thereís nothing that the new coach can do between now and the beginning of the season to outshine the incompetence Auburnís brain trust exhibited in his hiring. But, that being said, Coach Chizik has made a few excellent decisions during the offseason that might (might) vindicate the two Jays come this fall or the next.
First, of the two new and relevant SEC head coaches (sorry Dan Mullen), heís the only one whoís been able to keep his mouth on vibrate. The other one, that bum Lane Kiffin (hey, column No. 3!), has offended coaches and players from four different states (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida) in just six monthsí time. And those are just the occasions we know about.
Watching the two men from afar reminds me of that old cartoon strip we had to read at Vacation Bible School when I was a kid, ďGoofus and Gallant.Ē Remember G&G? On one side of the strip was Gallant, a well-mannered, clean-cut kid who loved his mama, kept off the grass and posted no bills. On the other side was Goofus, an ill-mannered child who practiced poor hygiene, popped wheelies on the neighborís grass and thought Timothy Leary was on to something. Every comic had a caption that set up the moral juxtaposition between the two boys: ďGallant bought his father a card and a gift for Fatherís Day, while Goofus stole money from his fatherís wallet to purchase prophylactics.Ē
As you can well imagine, Goofus had a lot more fun than Gallant, but Gallant didnít contract Chlamydia after engaging in unprotected sex with that anesthesiology student from the community college.
Thereís no doubt that the Knoxville media is loving the story lines that UTís Goofus provides on a near-hourly basis, but seriously, if Lane Kiffinís Vols canít manufacture a bunch of wins early in his tenure, then how much longer will they put up with his shenanigans?
On the other hand, Gallantís Ė uh Ė Chizikís measured, disciplined approach doesnít make for sexy headlines, but it is a page out of arch-nemesis Nick Sabanís playbook, a system that has produced two top-ranked recruiting classes in the last two years.
Second, speaking of recruiting, a tip of the hat to Chizik is in order for his assembly of a top-notch staff and snagging a solid 2009 freshman class. From the coordinators (Gus Malzahn on offense, Ted Roof on defense) to the position coaches (Curtis Luper, Trooper Taylor, Tracy Rocker, etc.), Chizik has put together a diverse and experienced group of assistants.
Of particular significance is Malzahn, who was coaching high school ball as recently as 2005 before landing the offensive coordinator gig at the University of Arkansas later that year. His supercharged version of the spread offense is getting looks from top recruits across the nation, all of them lured by the sirenís call of prodigious point-scoring and high-yield yardage output.
No doubt aided by Malzahnís star power, as well as the ingenuity of recruiting coordinator Curtis Luper, Auburn signed 28 commitments in February, including nine four star athletes (as rated by Rivals.com). Within that class could be the future of the Auburn offense: Onterio McCalebb at runningback, Tyrik Rollison under center and DeAngelo Benton spread wide. Not bad for two months work.
However, Auburn really made hay with their post-Signing Day strategy. A couple of months ago, Luper and Taylor crafted a recruiting scheme so simple and practical that it must have driven Saban crazy to know he didnít think of it first. Armed with the knowledge that 18-year-old kids are nuts about sparkly things, the Tiger coaches rented a stretch Hummer limo and drove it across the state, stopping at every high school they came upon along the way. At each stop, future football stars stood with mouths agape, fogging up school windows as their lips pressed firmly against the glass in a vain attempt to inch themselves closer to the machineís mega horsepower and wide turning radius.
At that very moment, their still-adolescent brains connected the dots. The future (fame and fortune in the NFL) was in some way connected to this stretch Hummer limo, and this stretch Hummer limo was connected to Auburn University. Therefore, Auburn is the means by which they achieve fame and fortune in the NFL. It was a most magnificent strategy, brilliant even. And the media, starved for a juicy football story during the anti-football season, jumped on it like the last copter out of Saigon. The next thing we knew, 18-year-olds across the nation were busy connecting the dots in front of their TVs, faces pressed up against the screen like their Alabama brethren before them, watching the limo roll around live on ESPN.
Now, a rented limo alone cannot transform Auburn into a national powerhouse. Football fans can cite dozens of instances where top-notch recruiting staffs didnít translate into top-notch coaching staffs. (Off the top of my head: Mike Shula and Ron Zook.) Itís possible that Auburn could stockpile a capable arsenal of pieces and still not be able to connect a prize-winning puzzle. But things seem better now than they did six months ago. I think Iím a better writerÖor rather I hope I am. I think Gene Chizik is a better football coach, and for his sake, I hope he is.
Auburn fans are hoping he is, as well.
And Lane Kiffin is still a bum.
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