Gene Chizik: 'I've reflected on the past. I haven't dwelled on the past.'
If you fell into a slumber from the moment Gene Chizik lifted the crystal ball in Glendale, Ariz., and woke up today, you would assume the universe had played out in a natural, linear way. Top-ranked Alabama visiting No. 4 Auburn in a monster game with the SEC West title - and a whole lot more - on the line between the two winners of the last two (and now four) national titles.
You'd look on the Jordan-Hare Stadium sidelines and see Gus Malzahn calling plays and Chizik's recruits executing them. You'd see everything Chizik built, but not Chizik. Though he still lives in Auburn, Chizik won't be at the game. Instead, he's taking his son Cally to Kansas City to see the Chiefs take on the Broncos, the younger Chizik's first NFL game. He's got that kind of time now.
There's no doubt Chizik has lived a lifetime in the last decade. From his personal 28-game winning streak with the undefeated 2004 Auburn team and the national champion 2005 Texas squad, to his 5-19 tenure at Iowa State, to his eventful four seasons at Auburn, where he went from 8-5 to 14-0 to 8-5 to 3-9 to out of a job.
A year and a day since his firing at Auburn, Chizik sat down for a lengthy interview with USA Today's Dan Wolken about his experience at Auburn, living through the final days of his tenure, what he's learned and what he's doing to fill his time as an unemployed coach for the fist time in a 27-year career. At just 51 years old, Chizik has the experience, perspective and financial wherewithal to do whatever he wants with the rest of his life. As he says, "Coaching is what I do. It's not who I am."
I've pulled some excerpts from the Q & A, but I encourage you to read the entire thing. Any coach at any level of game could learn something from Chizik.
On what he's doing now... I've had a great opportunity to spend a lot of family time. I've always said I'm a husband and a father and a coach. That's what I am. So I've really been able to kind of lay back, spend some great, great family time and do some really creative and cool things. This Saturday I'm taking my son to his first pro football game. I've been able to do that, and I've obviously done some TV and some radio. Not too much. Again, in this time I've really wanted to lay low and spend a lot of great family time, so I haven't fully devoted to the radio and TV world but I've done some of it. I've spent a lot of time, believe it or not, studying the game and really staying up on the game.
On how much time he spends reflecting on what went wrong at Auburn... I've reflected on the past. I haven't dwelled on the past. I'm a guy that always looks forward and always try to stay very positive in what can sometimes be a very negative world. But I choose not to go down that path because one thing I have realized, particularly in coaching, is that for the guys that it didn't work out at once place or another for them, coaching-wise, I've seen them very bitter where they look back and refuse to take responsibility for whatever happened. It was everybody else's fault.
What I've found from those guys is, everybody else moves on. The fans move on, the coaches move on, the players move on and the only one left bitter is you. I refuse to do that. Have I been reflective on the good and the bad? I've had 27 years of a dream career as an assistant and head coach, but if you stay in it long enough you'll have to deal with some of the downside of it to, and I've done that. I've definitely moved on, but I'm reflective as well.
On why he still lives in Auburn... Our children, if you ask them where they were born, they can tell you. If you ask them where they're from, there was a point in time where they couldn't tell you. Now if you ask them, they'll say they're from Auburn. That's very important to me. They've given up a lot because of my career and how it required you to move, and I didn't think it would be fair at all that just because dad isn't working for the university that we just up and moved again.
On where it went wrong... What we probably didn't anticipate was, we didn't anticipate the struggles at quarterback. And we struggled mightily at quarterback, to the point where the last four or five games we started a true freshman.
And you now in this league, that's just hard. So you've got new coordinators, struggles at the quarterback position, and if you just look at this league, the teams that play at a high level, you're getting high-level quarterback play. That's just the way it is. So you've got those two dynamics put together and then there was a momentum issue in there.
On why he transitioned from a spread to pro-style offense following Malzahn's departure... For me, what we tried to do is look at in our league, what type of offense was, through the test of time, consistently productive and winning? And we wanted to kind of shift gears somewhat. It wasn't a wholesale shift to a pro-style offense, because if you look at consistency of success in our league you're looking at the Georgias and Alabamas and LSUs because they can recruit really good players that you could win with in that type of pro system.
On what he'd have done differently in 2012 if he knew he could be fired within the year... I'd have never dreamed I had one year. That never crossed my mind. I was making decisions to transition to something I thought through the test of time would be the right thing to do, and looking back on it, knowing I had one year, there's two things that come to play for me when I look back. No. 1, I'd always make sure that I had viable options at the quarterback position. And No. 2, I'd be very cautious in changing so much so quickly meaning coordinators and offense.
On if or when he'll coach again... I'm going to enjoy the first Thanksgiving I've had in 27 years without the pressure to win a game and I'm going to enjoy that. But if the right thing hits, that will be great because I am a football coach.
2013 Defensive Coordinator of the Year - Finalists
The FootballScoop Coaches of the Year awards, presented by ProGrass, are the only set of awards that recognize the most outstanding position coaches in college football. Finalists were selected based off of nominations by coaches, athletic directors and other athletic department personnel. The winner will be chosen by the previous winners of this award and will be announced on Tuesday December 10th.
The 2013 FootballScoop Coaches of the Year will be recognized and will receive their awards at an event held in their honor at the American Football Coaches Association's annual convention in January.
Previous winners of the Defensive Coordinator of the Year award are Nick Holt (USC, 2008), Kirby Smart (Alabama, 2009), Vic Fangio (Stanford, 2010), John Chavis (LSU, 2011) and Bob Diaco (Notre Dame, 2012).
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Yep, the Iron Bowl now has its own theme song
Sports songs are usually the happy kind of nonsense in life, and it's only fitting that the rivalry with more hoopla surrounding its periphery than any other in college football would have its own theme song. A country rap theme song.
Mobile native country artist Walker Hayes (that's an Alabama name if I've ever heard one) released this song back at the beginning of August, but it only came to our attention now thanks to a tweet from Ivan Maisel.
Try to get this song out of your head between now and the 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff between the nation's No. 1 and No. 4 teams.
There's a new acronym to worry about in college football
After 16 long years of tyranny and horror, the Bowl Championship Series at long last spits out its last convoluted formula a week from Sunday, and then joins the tear-away jersey and the tie in the garbage bin of college football.
Fittingly, of course, as the BCS falls by the wayside, a new computer formula and a new acronym takes its place in the college football lexicon.
With the announcement of the 24-team field in the 2013 Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, the FCS was introduced formally for the first time with the SRS. Standing for Simple Rating System, the SRS is more a cousin of the RPI - which you'll see bracketologists reference every March - than the BCS. No human polls are taken into account, just numbers.
As the NCAA explains, SRS mostly measures strength-of-schedule (of both your own team and your opponents') and the manner in which a game was won, whether on the road, at home, or at a neutral site.
The NCAA maintains margin of victory and the timing of wins and losses are not factored into the equation, although that is a factor that clearly weighs heavily on the minds of the selection committee.
Among those sitting at home today without a playoff game to prepare for: SRS No. 16 Charleston Southern, No. 22 UT Martin, No. 24 Youngstown State, No. 26 Chattanooga and No. 28 Lehigh. Among those selected for at-large bids: SRS No. 21 Southern Utah, No. 24 Sam Houston State, No. 25 Samford, No. 29 New Hampshire.
As Craig Haley of the Sports Network points out, Charleston Southern dropped its final two games, UT Martin lost two of its final three, Youngstown State started 8-1 and finished 8-4, and Lehigh lost its de facto Patriot League title game to 4-6 Lafayette on the final day of the season.
Clearly, how you finish still matters.
Although, each of Southern Utah, Sam Houston State, Samford and New Hampshire lost at least one game in November as well.
Formulas are fun, aren't they?
Kentucky unveils renovation plans for Commonwealth Stadium
Quick question: What's the youngest stadium in the SEC? If you read the title of this article, you can probably guess the answer: Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium.
On Monday, the Wildcats announced their long-awaited plans to renovate the 40-year old structure. First bullet point: the capacity will drop from 67,942 to 61,000. Consider it a time of the 60-inch HDTV times.
“Most of them are in that 60,000-65,000 (seat) range. There's a reason for that,” Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “I think the NFL's pretty smart about what they've done. They've done a really good job of market analysis. … The reality of it is that we're still competing with the fine balance of television. We've got to provide an experience that people want to come, competitively and from a fan-amenity perspective.
“I think this is the right size for us. And if there’s someone else in 15 years that disagrees with what the old guy did, then so be it. But for now, I think this is the right size for Kentucky.”
Kentucky-fying Commonwealth Stadium was a major goal for Barnhart, and he believes the renovations will provide a more intimate, college-like atmosphere. "We want it to feel like Kentucky, look like Kentucky," Barnhart said.
Among the other highlights:
- The south end zone will be completely reconfigured. On the outside of the playing surface, UK will build a new game day locker room and coaches' area, plus a recruiting/multipurpose room that will oversee the field. The players will now enter through a tunnel in the center of the end zone, instead of the corner.
- A completely new press box, 20 new suites and added club space at the mezzanine and field levels. The school will also install between 80 and 85 loges, which Barnhart described as "a cross between a club suite and a seat," and 2,300 new club seats.
- Total expected price tag? $110 million.
- The project should be complete in time for the 2015 season.
Bill Moos keeps a "no bowl ticket" file for nasty emails
Late last season, Washington State hit a rough patch in Mike Leach's first season as a head coach, losing eight of their last nine games before finishing 3-9. That's around the time that athletic director Bill Moos started to get flooded with emails criticizing Leach and his staff, some even calling for his job.
Here's a small piece of what makes Moos one of the most unique athletic directors in the country. Moos read each and every email, responding to even the nastiest messages with a tone of support for Leach and his staff, that they're working on changing the losing culture of the program, and then ended most of the correspondences with hoping that they will continue to support the team.
That's just the tip of the iceberg, according to The News Tribune.
Some of the nastier messages really didn't sit well with Moos, and it was those emails that got forwarded to an assistant athletic director with the acronym "NBT", meaning No Bowl Tickets.
Moos doesn't mess around after a 10 year bowl drought, and with the Cougs at 6-5 and bowl eligible in year two under Leach, his message to fans is clear; support us in the good times, as well as the bad...or else!
“I answer all of those emails, then I send them to the Cougar Athletic Fund to see what their gift history is, and what their ticket purchase history is. Pretty amazing — about 85-90 percent of them are not members of the CAF." Moos told The News Tribune.
"I’ve got a no-bowl ticket file, and I want people on board and believing in what we’re doing, and trusting how we’re going about it. If they don’t want to be on the train, the train’s already pulled out of the station.”
While selling bowl tickets is obviously important, and Moos acknowledges that packing the stands with Crimson and Gray at any bowl venue is paramount, he adds that he may be able to make exceptions for a few on the "NBT" list, but there are some fans that won't be attending the bowl game as long as he has a say in the matter.
“We’ve got to sell bowl tickets, so I may give it a second consideration, but there’s a couple that aren’t going to get them. I can guarantee you that.”
When it comes to administrators, Moos is certainly one of a kind. My hat is off to him for this one.
Belichick's OT gamble came from a lesson learned from Parcells
There are few constants in the coaching profession, but one of those would have to be to never give Peyton Manning the ball when the game is on the line.
Sunday, fighting their way into overtime after being down 24-0 at the half, Bill Belichick sent the New England captains out for the coin toss with specific instructions to take the wind if they won the toss. While that would obviously mean that Manning would have the ball in his hands, it also means that the star quarterback (and Denver's field goal kicker) would have to earn every yard by battling some stiff winds in order to escape with a win.
After the Pats escaped with a 34-31 win in overtime, Belichick looked like a genius, and later explained to the Providence Journal that it was a lesson from Bill Parcells in the 1986 NFC Championship game that reminded him of the importance of the wind during crunch time.
“Coach Parcells against the Redskins took the wind to start the game and we went ahead 17-0, and that was the final score of the game. I really think that that decision was a big decision in that game and a big decision ultimately in that team’s championship." Belichick explained.
“I learned a lot from that. I’m not saying that that’s always the right decision. Clearly each situation is different, but there’s a place for it. I think there’s a time when it’s right. I just thought that last night was the right time for us. But that decision by Bill in that game, it just was a good lesson for me that it’s such a huge factor in the game, if the conditions are what they are, it can be such a big factor in the game that it’s worth making that decision if you feel it’s that significant.
“He did it in, there are not many games bigger than an NFC Championship game, he did it in that game and I think that was probably the difference in the game.”
The wind was such a factor that Belichick believed that there was a solid 20 yard difference between the two sides of the field.
"I felt like there was about a 20-yard difference in field position to just attempt a field goal, let’s put it that way. I’m saying getting to the 25 on one end, to the 45 on the other. You could fudge a yard or two there, but basically that’s what it looked like to me at that time. I felt like that was a big enough advantage to try to keep the wind.”
Sometimes there is no substitute for game experience, especially when it comes from working under a legend like Parcells. Someday in the not too distant future, coaches from Belichick's coaching tree will attribute the same kind of decision to their time working under him.
Greg Byrne: 'Rich Rod starting laying the foundation here in his first team meeting'
According to athletic director Greg Byrne, the moment that Rich Rodriguez arrived on the Arizona campus as the program's head coach, he was building a foundation. There was no acclimation period or feeling things out, Rodriguez jumped in with both feet starting with his first team meeting.
"From the second that coach Rodriguez had gotten here, he's been laying the foundation for long term success." Byrne told Sirius XM Sports Nation.
"I remember sitting in the first team meeting and he went in there, and his very first message to the team was, 'You are MY guys'. You know, sometimes the new coach comes in and the guys who are already on the team, they sometimes wonder if the new coach is just waiting to bring in his own players, and he set that tone right off the bat."
That attitude and mindset allowed them to win 8 games in his first season (and 7 so far this season), and notch a signature win like Saturday's beatdown of Oregon in just his second season.
With it being the time of year that coaches are accepting jobs all over the country, this is an important reminder of how vital it is to set the tone right away in a new environment.
Rodriguez and his Wildcats will face in state rival Arizona State on Saturday (9:30pm EST).