That Gene Chizik’s journey to the national championship happened with remarkable speed goes without saying. Fewer than 25 months after being named Auburn’s head coach, Chizik hoisted the crystal football at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Senior Editor Phillip Marshall
In his book, “All In: What It Takes to Be The Best,” Chizik details the events that took him from Iowa State, where he’d gone 5-19 and lost his last 10 games, to Auburn. And the story becomes even more remarkable.
In December 2009, Chizik interviewed in Dallas with athletics director Jay Jacobs and the Auburn search committee. He’d had back surgery two days earlier. Not even Chizik and his wife, Jonna, thought Jacobs could hire a coach with a 5-19 record.
Chizik, in fact, decided to end the process shortly after his interview. In his book, he details a call he made as he was headed back home.
“I’m getting ready to get on the plane and go back to Des Moines,” Chizik told him. “Listen, I really appreciate everything. I’m sure you’ve got great candidates for the job, and you’re doing a great job there, and I know you guys will have a great coach. I’m just gonna bow out of this.”
After hanging up, he made another call. He couldn’t get athletics director Jamie Pollard.
“As soon as I left the message for Jay, I called Iowa State. I talked to Steve Malchow, the associate athletic director, since Jamie was out of pocket for a few hours. I told Steve I had called Auburn to withdraw my name from consideration.”
Chizik thought it was over, that he would return for his third season at Iowa State. Instead, when the plane landed, he had an urgent message to call Jacobs. And Jacobs didn’t mince words.
“Chiz, I want you to be the next head football coach at Auburn.” Two days later, he was.
In the book, Chizik details what he found when he arrived.
“There were obvious divisions throughout the team, and the splits were among multiple lines – between offensive and defensive players, between younger players and upperclassmen. I sensed that there were cliques on the team, and there even appeared to be division along racial lines.
When he met with players, he saw even more problems.
“Juniors told me they wanted to give up and quit football their senior year. Younger players said they were ready to call it a career to and transfer to play at another school. One of the top players told me that he no longer loved Auburn football. It wasn’t that he didn’t love football, he clarified. He didn’t love Auburn football.”
The process of building trust between players and coaches, Chizik in the book, was challenging. Team functions helped. But the big turning point came when Kodi Burns, having lost the starting quarterback job to Chris Todd in August 2009, stood before his teammates.
“Looking back, I think the reason Kodi handled the situation in such an exemplary way was because he hadn’t come here to play quarterback at Auburn. He had come to play football at Auburn. The team door had swung in the direction of trust.”
Chizik’s book, set to be officially released Tuesday, details the journey that ended with a 22-19 victory over Oregon in the BCS Championship Game. The book significantly focuses on his faith and the role it plays in his life and in his career.
And it includes passionate support of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton. Chizik also makes it clear in the book that he had to be talked into offering Newton a scholarship in the first place.
On his focus on creating a family atmosphere
Chizik estimates that 60 percent of his players come from single-parent homes.
“I am adamant that our coaches’ families be a part of our football program. Our coaches’ families don’t merely model for our players what a family unit should be; they actually participate in making our football team a family.”
On the role of Christianity in his program
“It’s important to point out that we’ve never forced Christianity on anyone in our program. We have players who choose not to take part in FCA and players who aren’t Christians. We are not an FCA program that has a football team; we’re a football team that has an FCA program.”
On avoiding the influence of outside forces
“If I tried to lead my program based on message boards, blogs and everybody else who has an opinion, this job would quickly eat me alive. I pray constantly for peace, knowing that my character, my integrity, my manhood and all the things I stand for will at some point come under attack. I know those darts and arrows will come. But when they hit me, by the grace of God they simply bounce off.”
On the role of executive associate athletics director Tim Jackson
“His presence prevents what in many universities becomes a gap between football and the administration. He understands both sides and keeps us working together toward the same purpose. Tim is my right-hand man, and we work closely together on a daily basis.”
[b[On Newton’s relationship with his teammates[/b]
“He was a fine role model for his teammates. He didn’t drink alcohol. He worked hard. He was smart and he had a big heart.”
On saying “It’s a God thing” after BCS Championship Game
“When I say a God thing, I’m not really talking about the game. I watched our players grow through the year as a team and as a family, as well as spiritually. Gold blessed our team, and I would have said it was a God thing even if we had lost to Oregon or if we had finished the season with a 4-8 record. The only difference is that when you’re 4-8, you don’t have as many people listening as when you’re the national champions.”
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