AUBURN - For Auburn football coach Gene Chizik, the questions are often unpleasant these days. They are about the losses that keep coming and about a future that is murky at best. So it was Sunday in the wake of a 38-0 shellacking at the hands of Georgia that left the Tigers with a 2-8 record and nine consecutive Southeastern Conference losses.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik
Chizik talked about an extensive evaluation that he plans for after the season, one that will look at every facet of the program, every decision.
There is no question, Chizik said, that he believes he can turn things around, that the misery of 2012 can be a one-year blip.
And immediately the question came. "Are you confident you will be the one to do that evaluation?"
"It's not about me," Chizik said in his Sunday meeting with reporters. "That's not my train of thought. My train of thought is about one thing and that is our seniors coming out and getting a win in their last home game. This is not me and it has never been about me.
"... You guys keep asking the questions about me and where I think I fall and where I think I fit. That's not what I come to work every day and consider. I'm the head football coach at Auburn. I have a great responsibility. That's what I am. I don't worry about what the next day holds unless it pertains to us winning a game. That's how I think."
Saturday, Chizik and the Tigers play their final home game of the season when Alabama A&M travels from Huntsville. It'll be Senior Day for Auburn. For Alabama A&M, it will be an unprecedented opportunity to take on one of the state's major powers. A week later, Auburn will go to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama in the final game of the season. Shortly after that, whether Chizik will return for a fifth season will be decided.
"Really and truly, I want to talk about our next football game and our seniors, that it's their last time playing in this stadium," Chizik said. "Those guys have done a lot for our program. They've been involved in a lot of wins and a lot of great things that have happened. That's the focus. It's not about me."
Auburn started this season of despair with a 26-19 loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game. Even in defeat, there was hope. The Tigers led 19-16 in the fourth quarter. But a week later they had five turnovers and lost 28-18 at Mississippi State and the slide had begun.
What caused it? How did a team with promise and confidence become unable to compete consistently? What can be done to change it?
"That's a little bit of a trap question because anything I say is going to sound like an excuse, and I don't make excuses," Chizik said. "We have a lot of things that responsibility-wise we have to claim as coaches. We have times we could have played better on the field when we were in position to make plays. It's a team game. You win with it and you lose with it.
"When you win a lot of games, it's the same thing. It's the coaches, it's the players, it's the team concept. We've lost a lot of games and it's the same idea .I still think it prompts you to go back and start all over and re-evaluate. That's what we would do in terms of starting again with everything we've done, every decision we've made and moving forward."
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Chizik's frequent praise for Auburn practices have gained attention as the losses have piled up. He offered an explanation Sunday.
"The passion and energy and being into it is one thing. The execution of what we do is something different. There has been times at practice when the execution hasn't been up to the level we would like it. That's when you repeat and keep going back to it and improving it. Our execution on the field on game day is just not up to the level it needs to be to be able to compete consistently. When I say we've had good practices, I'm looking for everybody to come out there and be focused and be into it and practice with energy."
The Tigers have been hit with a rash of injuries in the second half of the season. Cornerback Chris Davis, middle linebacker Jake Holland and defensive end Jake Holland misses last Saturday's game with injuries.
"It's been a little bit unique, especially the timing of some of them," Chizik said. "They weren't all necessarily game-related. You had guys that were a little bit banged up but tried to push through. Take Philip (Lutzenkirchen), for instance, a guy that was really hobbling and really trying to push through. A Wednesday night practice was kind of the last straw kind of scenario. It's happened like that several times."
Chizik said Davis should be ready to practice full-speed Tuesday. Holland and Davis, he said, face more uncertainty. It's also uncertain if freshman cornerback Josh Holsey, who suffered a quad injury against Georgia, will be ready to play by next Saturday.
After Saturday night's game, first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said Auburn's current defense is not built with size, strength and power. Chizik said he wasn't sure what to make of those comments.
"I don't really know how I interpret that. There are obviously some positions that we feel like we need to upgrade in terms of productivity. Other than that, I don't really have a lot as far as interpretation of that. I'm not really sure exactly what all that means. We can always be bigger, we can always be stronger. I think we have guys at certain positions we certainly can and need to upgrade."
True freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace got his first SEC start against Georgia. Though he produced no points, he completed 15-of-22 passes for 181 yards.
"He's in a tough situation. He played against a very good, very aggressive defense. I have to give the kid a lot of credit. He stands up in there and takes some hits, makes some plays with his feet. He made some things happen. He also missed some things that young guys miss. It's equivalent to a rookie starting in the NFL somewhat. It's a tough go the first couple of times you get in there and you have the whole gameplan."
Chizik was asked if he would be willing to make major changes after this season. He said the approach now is the same as it was in the national championship season of 2010.
"I think the ironic thing is that, really and truly, we haven't changed in four years. We've had three bowl wins, 30 wins in three years and all those things you already know. I'm not trying to read you a resume; I'm just trying to tell you the facts. We haven't changed a whole lot in terms of the way we organize things on a day in and day out basis. But things have changed. Coordinators have changed. Players have changed. Positions have changed. Is that an excuse? No. It's just a fact."
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