In a recent column for the Lawrence Daily-World, Auburn native turned Lawrence townie Sally Tee used the success of Gene Chizik to reflect on the struggles of Turner Gill. This is that column.
I moved to Lawrence at the beginning of the summer in 2009. We had a great time running around, sweating, watching and/or playing kickball, dancing (or staring creepily) at the Replay and generally acting as though we were, in fact, children on vacation from all responsibilities. It was the perfect way to get myself accustomed to my new surroundings, and I had the time of my life.
But I’m not really a summer kind of guy. I love fall: the leaves, the cool breezes, the resonating pulse that pumps life from the top of Mt. Oread to the gardens of East Lawrence. Oh, and football. I freakin’ love football season. Specifically, I love college football. Ever since a handful of my high school pals migrated to KU for grad school, I’ve been keeping an eye on Jayhawk football. I know, wrong sport, right?
I was raised in Auburn, Ala., which is in the heart of the Deep South and SEC football country. Popular sayings have been twisted throughout my lifetime to reflect the priorities in southern culture. For example, “love God, family and Auburn football,” and “God must have been an Auburn fan because He made the sun orange and the sky blue.” In case you were wondering, yes, I spent my teen years questioning religion, being embarrassed when my parents dropped me off at the mall, and rejecting all things football.
Rebellion aside, however, I’ve been an Auburn fan my whole life. I never doubt for a moment that most Lawrencians can relate to this sentiment, as the cries of “Rock Chalk” are the Midwestern equivalent of my “War Eagle.” I’m not well-versed enough in the history of KU basketball to outline any potential “lean years,” but I know that I never stopped being an Auburn fan just because of a run of losing seasons. I mean, unless you count our basketball program. Most people don’t even realize Auburn has a basketball team (the only ones from the SEC that I know actually exist are in Kentucky and Florida – and I do recall seeing Shaq play for LSU way back when, but I think the school canceled its hoops program after he left), and I’ll go out on a limb to assert that it was a shock to the NCAA to learn Kansas had a football team.
I was delighted when KU’s pigskin pack gobbled mouthfuls of citrus with an Orange Bowl berth in 2008. It didn’t really occur to me how big of a deal this was until I took up residency in Lawrence. In the early weeks of the 2009 football season, I remember feeling relieved that I could walk to my downtown workplace on a game day rather than brave the jam-packed streets in my car. Wait … why isn’t there bumper-to-bumper traffic? I watched small clusters of devoted fans wander through South Park en route to Memorial Stadium and assumed the bulk of the football fans merely parked on the other side of campus. Wrong. Despite the success of that Orange Bowl team, Jayhawk fans don’t really give a crap about football.
In my book, there are three kinds of fans: the jaded, the fair-weather and the believers. It has been my observation that KU football fans are a lot like AU basketball fans, and I’ve yet to meet any who aren’t jaded. Sure, your team manages a short-lived run at success, but it’s no legacy. In SEC football country, we don’t allow for mediocrity (unless you’re Mississippi State), so if you’re not winning or at least severely foiling those who are, you’re nobody. Coaches and quarterbacks seem to catch the most flak for these “crimes,” and it’s not uncommon to call for a public hanging after a couple few poor performances rear their ugly heads. Back home we had an incident called “Jetgate” where those in positions of power secretly plotted to have current Texas Tech coach (then Auburn coach) Tommy Tuberville replaced mid-season based solely on that season’s record.
Years later, Tuberville, on a downward spiral, despite a feeble attempt to reload his coaching staff, would “resign.” Auburn conducted an allegedly exhaustive coach search including interviews with current KU freshman coach Turner Gill. The Tigers ultimately went with Iowa State coach Gene Chizik who boasted a record of 5-19 with the Cyclones. The Auburn “faithful” went into a blind fury, booing the new coach from the moment his plane landed.
Two years later, Auburn is a bona-fide contender for the National Championship.
Think about that for a moment. Despite the boos, heckling and jokes about his Iowa State tenure, Chizik kept his head down and quietly built his legacy. That being said, Jayhawk fans, Turner Gill is a good coach with a decent track record for building a football program from the ground up. The most frustrating aspect of SEC football mentality is the insistence on winning from the get-go. With Gill at the helm, I don’t doubt KU can eventually become a solid part of the Big 12’s football legacy. But it’s going to take some time, y’all. Cut him some slack, support the clean program he’s trying to create and wait out this rough patch. Turn yourself into a believer because win or lose, nothing feels better as an Auburn fan than saying “I believe in Auburn and love it,” especially at the top of the polls.
After 20 some odd years, Sally Tee finally joined the ranks of Auburn expatriates. Although displaced in the Midwest, she still thinks about Jordan-Hare, Auburn city politics, 99.9 Kate-FM and Tino’s on a daily basis. Write to her at SallyTee.Auburn@gmail.com.