In his 50 years as an Auburn season ticket holder, David Caraway watched hundreds of players come and go, dozens of assistants and coordinators hired and fired and six head coaches leave the Plains.
There was the squabble over the legendary Ralph “Shug” Jordan’s potential replacement, and there were plenty of opponents when scandal forced out Pat Dye.
But no move has stirred Auburn fans the way the hiring of Gene Chizik has, Caraway said.
“People were split when Auburn hired Doug Barfield instead of Paul Davis after Shug, and it seemed like they were just waiting for him to make a mistake so they could fire him,” the Columbus certified public accountant said. “I don’t think people were as upset as they are right now, though.”
Caraway said he was not upset — just disappointed — the search didn’t yield someone with a more impressive head coaching resume. But, like many Auburn fans, Caraway said he was willing to give Chizik a chance and continue supporting the team in the same way.
“I’m an Auburn fan, and he’s my coach now, so I’ll support him,” Caraway said. “I just hope he turns out to be the kind of coach we need.”
Chizik served as Auburn’s defensive coordinator and secondary coach from 2002-04, helping lead the team to an undefeated season in 2004. He then took a job as defensive coordinator, assistant coach and linebackers coach at Texas in 2005, where he was part of a national championship team. He had been the head coach at Iowa State the past two seasons.
Now back in Auburn, Chizik will have to find out if his skills will still work in the Southeastern Conference, Auburn fan Kelvin Redd said.
“We keep hearing the term ‘good fit,’” said Redd, the president of the Columbus-Phenix City Auburn Club and director of the Center for Servant Leadership Pastoral Institute. “Anybody who can win is a good fit. He’s shown he can win as a coordinator, now let’s see him do it as a head coach.”
However, Chizik’s experience in that position seems to be the focal point of the majority of criticism from fans. While Tommy Tuberville left Auburn after managing only five wins this season, Chizik took twice as long to reach that mark at Iowa State, where he was 5-19 in two years.
“As a coach, he’s going to need to show he understands all the X’s and O’s, but that’s only half of it,” Redd said. “The important question — one that nobody is asking — is can he lead? My thought is, I don’t know what he had to work with at Iowa State, but he’ll need to be a leader at Auburn more than anything else. He’s going to have to be the No. 1 person there right now to win people over.”
The only thing left for fans to do is trust Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs’ decision to bring Chizik back to the Plains, according to Russ Carreker, a former Auburn linebacker and owner of Columbus’ Bytewise Measurement Systems.
“Jay is an absolutely stand-up guy and I’ll listen to what Jay has to say,” Carreker said. “He knows more about the coaching search than any of us do, so I’ll leave it up to him to decide what’s best. I know my job better than he does, and he knows his job better than I do.
“I know Jay knows what the real deal is and I’m sure he did what he thought was the best.”
And as for any kind of doom and gloom that may hover over hiring someone so unproven as a head coaching commodity, Carreker said he was unsure yet upbeat about the decision and his experience as a business owner has taught him something about the situation.
“I’ve found that when everyone is down on something, it’s usually a good time to buy,” Carreker said. “A lot of people are down on him right now, so it might be a good time to buy into Gene Chikiz.”