Here we are once again, coming to you after another depressing and disheartening (if hardly unexpected) football loss. And we hate that fact. We hate it not just because we are Auburn football fans and want to see the team win every week (and expect to see them win, more often than not), but also because as columnists and podcasters we look forward to bringing exciting, upbeat, happy news and analysis to you, our loyal readers and listeners.
And, this season, we haven’t really gotten to do that.
Instead, we’ve had to play the role of coroners, inspecting the dead body of yet another crushing loss.
And we hate that. We hate to be the bearers (and analysts) of bad news. For ourselves, for our team, and for you, who come here to read what we write and who listen to our podcast to hear our take on the team and the season, we hate it tremendously.
All we can ask is that, just as you stick with our beloved team and university, you also stick with us. We want to talk about good things! We’d like nothing better. And we are confident—we just know—that good times are coming. They’re right around the corner.
So hang in there, Auburn Family. We’ve all lived through the highs and the lows with our Tigers over the years, and we know as sure as day follows night that good times follow bad, and that the Tigers will be back. And your intrepid Wishbone columnists and podcasters will be right here to talk about the good times when they return.
It won’t be long now.
Okay—thanks for that. Now—on to business:
Levels of Losing and Why Change is Needed
Not all losses are created equal. For example, after the LSU game when Auburn fans were walking out of Jordan-Hare Stadium, how did they feel? They felt encouraged. Sure, the Tigers had lost, but in a season that was already proving difficult for everyone, that game had given us a little hope because Auburn had been competitive against one of the top teams in the conference.
Fast forward to this past Saturday. How did Auburn fans feel as they left Jordan-Hare after (or during) the UGA game? …Yeah.
Both games count the same in the standings, but the feelings they left in the gut of Auburn fans were dramatically different.
On prime display Saturday evening was the single largest reason that Auburn head coach Gene Chizik will likely lose his job the week after the Alabama game. Auburn simply has not been competitive with the upper half of the SEC in many games during Chizik’s tenure. Since his arrival on the Plains, Auburn has lost eleven SEC games by 17 or more points. Eleven. That is the second-most blowout losses during the SEC in that time. Only Kentucky has more, and they have thirteen. Auburn is tied with Vanderbilt in second at eleven.
Tied with Vanderbilt.
No other SEC school has more than eight such losses over the last four years. LSU and Alabama have none. Georgia went 7-5 and 6-6 over part of this period and they only have three such losses. Why? Because even when they weren’t competing for the SEC Championship, the Dawgs were at least competitive.
As Auburn fans, we can live with losing if everyone involved is giving everything they have and the team is being competitive. But as we discussed a few weeks ago (link to column on “Worst Season Ever”), this year is a new low for the majority of Auburn fans. This is simply the worst Auburn football we have ever seen. The Doug Barfield teams of the late 1970s (a.k.a. the “dark days before Pat Dye arrived”) would stomp the 2012 Auburn team. Even in their orange jerseys.
We have discussed the coaching situation a few times on the Wishbone Podcast (insert link), but we wanted to take a few minutes at this point in the season to discuss our feelings about that topic here. First we will discuss the case for keeping Chizik and company and then the case for letting them go. Finally we will discuss a few coaching candidates that we would like to see considered.
Arguments for Keeping Chizik:
1) He won the National Championship!
This is a valid argument. Auburn had gone fifty-three years without winning a generally-recognized national title and the 2010 season was one that we will never forget. But that season was Chizik’s second and while many key players were his recruits, many others were not (offensive and defensive linemen in particular). During the 2010 season, Chizik’s calm demeanor kept the team focused despite the firestorm of controversy that surrounded it at times. Yet even this team finished 55th in the nation in total defense, and 9th in the 12 team SEC. They were last in the SEC in pass defense and 106th in the nation. Still, this argument carries some merit.
2) Next year’s recruiting class is highly ranked!
The 2013 recruiting class currently committed to Auburn is ranked 10th by Scout and 9th by Rivals. It includes many high-profile players that Auburn fans have been pinning their hopes on for some time – Reuben Foster, Dee Liner, Jeremy Johnson, Carl Lawson and Trey Johnson, just to name a few. But should the connection that committed recruits have with the Auburn coaching staff matter in this decision? No. While it would be sad to lose some of these commitments due to a coaching change, the current roster is full of highly recruited players who aren’t reaching the potential expected of them out of high school. Why would next year’s class be different? This coaching staff has proven that it can recruit highly ranked classes. But it has not consistently developed them and in many cases it has not kept them on the team.
So this argument should carry no weight in the decision to keep or fire Chizik.
3) He is a good man.
This is the truth. But there are a lot of good men who shouldn’t be college football head coaches in the SEC.
Arguments for Firing Coach Chizik
1) Blowout losses.
Auburn has been blown out in nine SEC games in the last two years and eleven SEC games since Chizik took over. Losing while being competitive is ok if everyone involved is giving 100% and there is hope for tomorrow. That is not the situation here. Fans are leaving early because this Auburn team is not competitive in the SEC. Other SEC teams have down years – it happens. But while UGA or Florida were going 6-6 or 5-7 in the past few years they were losing most games by less than 10 points.
2) Failure to develop players.
Despite having signed highly-rated recruiting classes, the current coaching staff has failed to develop the majority of these signees into productive SEC-level players. Someone pointed out in the spring that Auburn has as much talent as anyone in the country.
Seeing those rankings makes watching these games worse and not better. Auburn got beaten this year by several teams with less talent. Players at Auburn are not getting noticeably better at any position. (This makes it tough to single out a position coach and replace him while keeping the rest.)
3) Level of play is far below the accepted standard.
Auburn is currently ranked in the bottom three in the SEC in every single offensive and defensive category except Pass Defense, where we are ninth. Auburn is ranked between 90th in the nation and 116th in the nation in those categories (out of 120 schools). Auburn’s football peers, based on the level of its performance, are Memphis, Tulane, Kentucky, Colorado and Illinois. That is the level of football that Auburn is playing right now. (Van notes: Hey! Shout out to Kentucky! So—we are playing SEC-level football right now! Woot!)
4) Off-the-field issues and the curfew police.
Has Auburn had more off-the-field issues than other SEC schools? Probably not. But the armed robbery and its aftermath were huge. Many other off-the-field issues are unreported and result in players not being in uniform without an explanation. The shooting this summer was a senseless act of random violence, but it led someone in the Auburn Athletic Department to decide that contract babysitters for football players was a good idea. While seeing players arrested or suspended from playing in games is bad, young people in college (both athletes and non-athletes) make mistakes. That is part of the college experience. We understand having staff monitor the underclassmen in an athletic dorm, but visiting upperclassmen living in off-campus apartments to make sure they are where they need to be? This practice is not teaching the players to be accountable for themselves – something they will need in football and in life.
5) The decision to move away from the spread offense and hire Scot Loeffler as OC.
It was somewhat gratifying to one of your Wishbone columnists this past week (Okay, it was Van) that Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News (do they still publish that?) wrote a column blaming a large portion of Auburn’s catastrophic decline on offense this season to Gene Chizik’s decision to “ditch the Spread” and go to a pro-style offense. That is, after all, a sermon you have likely heard preached from this very pulpit for several weeks now. The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle Spread as developed and installed by former OC Gus Malzahn (currently lighting up defenses at Arkansas State—and not just Sun Belt defenses, but doing pretty darned well against Oregon and Nebraska) is the offense many of our current crop of players were recruited for, and it is what gave Auburn football our identity in the current era. The players on hand are not suited for the pro-style offense and no one seriously believes that He Who Shall Not Be Named (okay, Scot Loeffler) will be given multiple years to recruit to it and build a team that can run it. In short, Auburn had a system that was exciting, distinct, and that worked. And they abandoned it.
So who would we consider for the next head football coach at Auburn? The list below is not a list of the best college football coaches in the country overall. It is a list of the best coaches that we think Auburn has a chance to get.
- Chris Peterson, Boise State. (As John says, you have to make the call.)
- Jimbo Fisher, FSU. (This has been the hot rumor, but we doubt it—we suspect he’s using Auburn as leverage for a raise in Tallahassee. Even so, the thought of his maybe bringing the legendary Dameyune Craig back to the Plains as recruiting boss is very encouraging.)
- Gary Patterson, TCU. (Rumors have him lined up for Arkansas, though. We’ll see.)
- 4. Gus Malzhan, Arkansas State. (Obviously he’s very familiar with Auburn’s players and situation, and now he has some head coaching experience.)
- Charlie Strong, Louisville. (Tough, hard-nosed, and well-respected coach who’s been doing very well at Louisville. But would he leave the Cardinals so soon?)
- Al Golden, Miami. (Making the best of a bad situation in south Florida.)
- Art Briles, Baylor. (Hey, you want offense?)
- Todd Berry, Louisiana-Monroe. (We all saw how good they’ve become this year.)
- Gus Malzhan.
- Gus Malzhan.
- Gus Malzahn.
- Kevin Sumlin and his entire staff.
Alabama A&M—Hey, isn’t that basically what Auburn is?
Alabama A&M is a I-AA team from the SWAC that is 7-3 so far this year. They have not played a Division I opponent all season. For comparison purposes, a 6-4 SWAC team, Jackson State, lost to Mississippi State 56-9. Jackson State defeated Alabama A&M last weekend 35-21.
We hope—we truly, truly hope—that means Auburn won’t be approaching halftime in another 0-0 tie with a cupcake. The Tigers were able to turn it on in the second half against New Mexico State; there will be no excuse if they struggle to pull away from the Bulldogs from Huntsville.
They have a good running back in Kaderius Lacey (who’s called it “an honor” to play Auburn) and a QB in Deaunte Mason (originally a Kentucky signee) who has thrown for three touchdowns in three different games so far. They seem pretty diverse on offense; they ran the ball fifty times against Texas Southern and threw it forty times against Jackson State.
We also have to say that we think it’s very cool that Auburn plays teams from in-state that are in lower divisions. (Remember, Auburn also played UAB back when they were first starting out.) And we think it says a lot about Alabama that they refuse to. (They’ve never played either of them. Heck—the last time Alabama played any in-state school other than Auburn was in 1944. And remember—it took an act of the state legislature in 1948 to get the Iron Bowl going again.)
And everything else aside, A&M will walk out of Jordan-Hare a half-million dollars richer, and Auburn should walk out with a third victory for the season.
For more fun with the Wishbone duo each week, be sure to tune your podcast player (in other words, your computer, iPod, smart phone, or whatever you connect to the Internet with) to the Wishbone Podcast, brought to you by the War Eagle Reader. Every week, Van and John talk about the latest games, hottest rumors, recruiting news, Alabama losses, and anything else relevant to the Auburn Tigers. We hope you’ll join us, and we welcome questions and comments either here at the War Eagle Reader or on Twitter (@auwishbone).
Wishbone Power Rankings:
Alabama. (Have we recorded the first 15 minutes of last week’s game so we can watch it on a continuous loop? Perhaps…)
The Very Good:
Georgia (Memo to Todd Grantham for leaving all the defensive starters in the entire game to ensure the shutout – we won’t forget that.)
Texas A&M (That newfangled spread thing will never work in the SEC.)
LSU (Two losses and it’s almost as if everyone’s forgotten them.)
South Carolina (Ditto.)
Florida (Blocking a punt on the last play of the game to beat a bad non-conference team? Not good, Gators.)
Miss State (Over-rated! Or rather, just another year in Starkville. Say—wasn’t that a Jimmy Buffet song?)
Ole Miss (We actually feel envious of Ole Miss this year. Think about that.)
The Not Good:
Vanderbilt (But “not good” Vandy is still “good” for Vandy…)
Tennessee (Rumored to be flirting with Tommy Tuberville. Yes, you read that correctly.)
Missouri (How about that basketball team?)
Arkansas (How about that basketball team?)
Auburn (How about that… um… basketball team?)
Kentucky (How about that basketball team!!)