SANDESTIN, Fla. – If anyone would be adverse to change, wouldn’t it be the coach currently on top?
And it’s not that Auburn’s Gene Chizik voiced strong opposition to change. It’s just that reigning national champion keeps saying how comfortable he is with the way things stand right now.
Prior to the start of the SEC Spring Meetings, Chizik said he’s comfortable with his program, its mindset for next season and also with the rules being what they are in regards to oversigning and roster management.
“I’m very comfortable with where it is right now,” Chizik said.
With those words, Chizik cast himself – as would probably be expected -- in the group of coaches who are skeptical of those rule changes being discussed on the Gulf Coast this week. In particular, Chizik pointed out the problems with restricting signing class limits from 28 to 25, which is one of the possible shifts being debated in Sandestin.
“I know it's very difficult to try to hit a home run 100 percent of signing 25 guys and expecting 25 guys to be on your campus for fall practice,” Chizik said. “There's too much margin for error with all the variables that can happen with student athletes. … We adopted this (28-signee rule) a year ago. Here we are a year later discussing it again.”
But so many things would seem to have changed since that time last year for Chizik and his Tigers, who are now in the process of trying to defend a national title without key pieces from last season like quarterback Cam Newton and defensive lineman Nick Fairley.
Not to be flustered, Chizik explained to the leagues’ assembled reporters Tuesday how that could actually prove to be a positive in 2011, that loss of key players is “a different dynamic than maybe Florida or Alabama had” in defending titles in previous seasons.
“We’re not returning a bunch of guys that started on last year’s team,” Chizik said. “You’d probably have to be a little bit concerned about complacency and sort of a sense of entitlement maybe if you had a lot of older players and more experienced players on your team coming back, but that’s not the case with us. Ours is totally different. What you’re going to see with Auburn this year is a lot of new faces.”
Those shifts will involve players on the field, but other than defensive assistant Tracy Rocker leaving the staff, Chizik returns his staff from 2010. The key component is offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn who was courted for head coaching job but wound up remaining in Auburn for at least another season.
“The value of having our staff back is huge,” Chizik said. “We start everything with the continuity of our coaching staff. To me, that's one of the keys. We don't want our players to walk into a meeting room every two years and figure out who his coach is. That doesn't mean it won't happen, but it hasn't happened yet. I get great support from our administration on the idea of having some stability and continuity on our staff. That's No. 1 for me.”
As for personal change after the title? Nope, Chizik isn’t going there either.
While he has reached out to former boss Mack Brown at Texas about tips on defending a championship the next time around, he says “My life in particular has not changed.”
“It’s been great for our university,” Chizik said. “Applications are up almost 20 percent. It’s been great for our fans and our Auburn family. That’s been awesome. But as far as how it’s changed our life in particular, it hasn’t.”
TRANSFER TALK: Chizik suggested Tuesday that he would be open to the idea of adding a transfer quarterback – like N.C. State’s Russell Wilson, for instance – to his team prior to the 2011 season.
“If we feel like it's an opportunity for somebody to help our football team win, we'd be all for it,” Chizik said.
THE ETHICS DEBATE: Asked about the scandals and off-the-field turmoil that have snared programs nationally like Ohio State, Chizik replied, “I put my head on the pillow every night knowing that we're doing our best to do everything right. I can sleep good with that at night.
“For me to speculate on what everyone else is doing and burn that energy worrying about what other schools are doing, with me being a head coach I don't have time to use my energy to figure out whether everybody else is abiding by the rules or breaking them. I worry about Auburn football and that's all I worry about it.”