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Kenny Smith on Gene Chizik: (Nature of) Life Coach

Chris Todd fires a round of mind bullets for Chizik to practice on.

“In the Mississippi State game, an impostor that showed up was that we were up 14-0. Now if we start believing it’s going to be that easy or if we start believing that’s the way the game’s going to unfold. All of a sudden you look up 17 points later and we’re down by three. So we talk about those things that go back and forth right now, you’ve just got to keep playing through those things that aren’t necessarily indicative of the way the game is really going to unfold. So we call them impostors. West Virginia it’s 14-0 with five minutes after the game starts. So do we really want to believe that? Is that the way the game is going to unfold? So we try to play through what we call impostors. We try to play through those impostors because those things aren’t necessarily indicative of the way the rest of the night is going to go. They’re not real. You’ve got to play through those things and get back on track to do what you do and play through them.”

— Coach Gene Chizik

The Amazing Kreskin didn’t bend the spoon to impress audiences. Keanu Reeves didn’t bend the spoon to hold off Agent Smith. More impressive than the world’s foremost mentalist and the progressively less-important Matrix is the mental fondue melted in this comment from Auburn’s Gene Chizik. For, you see, there is no spoon.

None of it is real. Except for the holding and the blocks in the back on special teams. Those things are haunting the coaches in a way that Matrix III never could. Sure, all the little robots swirl together, millions becoming one, speaking in a unified voice with a human face to a blindfolded Neo. They’re all impostors. Sure, Kreskin is rubbing a spoon down to nothing, finding water with a stick and reading your mind. He’s an impostor too.

What may be real is now the second appeal for tempered expectations. Early this season Chizik discussed the strategic problems of reading too much from beating two packs of Bulldogs. With a 4-0 start, though, many fans are beginning to do what they do best when it comes to unreasonable expectations. Chizik, to combat that, could be going subtle. Four-and-oh isn’t necessarily indicative of the way the rest of the season is going to go.

What really exists, then, is simply that pre-game speech occasionally shown on the jumbotron and that walk from the lockerroom to the field. All that happens after, from the coin toss to the moment where Chizik celebrates with fans as he hustles back inside didn’t really happen. Impostors. Except for the muffed punts. They are very much real.

For more unreality, consider the Associated Press and the coaches polls. Apparently without discussing it,they have collectively figured out that Auburn doesn’t belong in their listings. Again the Tigers are left out of the top 25. Given the sorry state of the top 25 — the AP has 14 one-loss teams, the coaches poll has 13 teams that have already been victory challenged and each poll has four squads with a loss in their top 10 — this might not be a bad thing for Auburn. Given the poll’s success as a metric so far in gauging the season this is not the worst oversight possible. Admit it, this is more fun than the last few years of poll watching anyway. Bah humbug and who needs ’em.

So the polls are merely an awkward construct on which a hastily assembled group of sportswriters jot out hastily assembled notes on hastily read box scores which don’t, as Chizik suggests, really exist. He’d call them impostors, but saying it out loud would suggest that they are actually there. They are not, except for when it is time for another press box meal.

Maybe these are the thoughts that keep you warm during an Iowa winter. Maybe this is the sort of thing Texas’ Mack Brown discusses when he has his coaches over for Tuesday night pizza. (Coming soon, Will Muschamp’s side of a metaphysical conversation.) Maybe this is what Trooper Taylor is really chattering about while waving his towel. Maybe this is the sort of talk that put the punting unit into a delay of game penalty. (That most certainly existed, despite our disbelieving eyes.)

What else is real? We’ve now seen 5,283 stories and columns trying to understand and explain the 2008 season. The simple answer: impostor. Tinker with that quote a bit, replacing this year’s scores with last year’s games. It all begins to make sense. Yes, of course, the 2009 game films show problems. Suddenly one-third of the way through the regular season we find ourselves trying to measure a season that defies measure. Having done what they do, in what way will the next month of Auburn’s season unfold?

Tempered expectations or no, you don’t have to be a gridiron philosopher to suddenly feel better about the Tigers swim through October. Tennessee is not so different than last year in the most important places. Arkansas is out of sorts. Kentucky is 2-1, their biggest success coming from beating a Louisville team that’s as ugly as Tim Tebow’s injury. LSU is the most vulnerable number five team in memory. And Ole Miss, well, the scariest part of that game right now is that it is on Halloween. If he’d really wanted to drive the point home, Chizik could have talked about the notion of the impostor Rebels holding a top 10 ranking.

Presuming the games are not canceled by lightning and assuming that someone holds a well-attended special teams clinic October has turned promising. True, consistency has been an impostor too, but there’s a great deal of obvious upside on display. Besides, in this Chizik philosophy potential can be reality.

Kenny Smith has been online since he went to Auburn. Now he teaches journalism and online media for a living. You can find him online at www.kennysmith.org, and on Twitter @kennysmith. Write to him at [email protected].

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