AUBURN – For Auburn coaches and players, there is no hesitation on where to look in times of trouble on the field or off. They look to Gene Chizik, their second-year head coach.
And it has been no different in the past two weeks as controversy has swirled around quarterback Cam Newton.
Senior center Ryan Pugh says Chizik is a steadying force, regardless of the circumstances.
“He’s the same Coach Chiz we know him to be – fiery, passionate, do anything for us,” Pugh said. “You do things right and he’s going to treat you right.”
Chizik passionately defended Newton last week when stories surfaced that he had been accused of academic impropriety at Florida. Since then, he and other Auburn officials have steadfastly declined to comment. But players and coaches say he has been their anchor ever since.
Trooper Taylor, Auburn’s wide receivers coach and assistant head coach, says it is Chizik’s way.
“It’s phenomenal,” Taylor said. “A guy asked me the other day what is the difference in his coaching from last year to this year. The answer is nothing. The one thing I know about him is he’s a father first, a Christian next and then he’s a football coach. Those three things haven’t changed since I met him 17 years ago.
“… The family side of it, the type of coach as far as the way he approaches the game, none of that has changed. I think his father has been a big influence on him with the military deal. He always has a plan. If the weather changes, he has a rain plan in his pocket. Who does that?”
Chizik, Taylor says, is as concerned about his assistant coaches as he is about his players.
“He’s the only person I ever worked for that tried to help and develop his coaches to become head coaches,” Taylor said, “even to the point of doing mock interviews with guys to help them get that experience.”
It was that belief in family that attracted cornerback Demond Washington, a 5-star recruit out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, to Auburn in February 2009.
“ I felt like the coaches were being honest with me and they were behind everything they said,” Washington said. “It just felt like a family with these guys. I felt like they had your back 100 percent. It helps anybody coming in that they build this team as a family.”
The No. 2 Tigers (11-0, 7-0) returned to the practice field Wednesday after three days off to begin preparations for the Iron Bowl at No. 9 Alabama (8-2, 5-2) on Nov. 26.
For the younger players on Auburn’s team, it will be the first trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the atmosphere will be loud and hostile.
“This will be a whole different environment for the young guys,” Chizik said. “It ought to be fun for them. They ought to be excited and ought to be ready to play. It will be a crazy environment against an extremely talented, very well-coached team. They have enough experience under their belt that, hopefully, it won’t be anything earth-shattering.”