HOOVER, Ala. — The carnival known as SEC Media Days concluded Friday with the most entertaining lineup of public speakers all week.
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier was folksy and quick-witted, LSU’s Les Miles earnest and honest, Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin brash and enthusiastic.
But Gene Chizik preceded them all. Making his first league-wide address, the newly-minted Auburn coach was a departure from the rest of the day’s lineup, straight-laced and business-like, cautious with everything he said, careful not to overstep his bounds or draw too much attention to himself.
“What gets you attention is when you win,” Chizik said. “I don’t have to go out and try to gather attention for myself. This isn’t about me. This is about Auburn. It’s not about me. It’s not about our coaches. It’s about Auburn.”
It’s been eight months since he was hired on the Plains to replace Tommy Tuberville, and the 47-year-old Chizik remains hard to peg, rarely giving glimpses of a lighter side his players and assistants say completes his engaging personality.
His declarations limited, his words resigned, Chizik refuses to speculate, not on injuries, not on other teams, not on public perception.
When he met with assembled Auburn media prior to his time on stage Friday, he refused to divulge his first-team All-SEC quarterback selection, not wanting to set a precedent in which he would have to discuss future private ballots. Only once he spoke before the entire SEC media contingent, and with additional prodding, did he reluctantly admit to voting for Tim Tebow.
“I do keep things close to the vest,” Chizik said. “I respect everybody’s job and everybody wants information and I want everybody to do their job to the best of their ability, but I also want to make sure that I answer everything and protect Auburn and Auburn football and our players.”
Chizik has been a departure from the laid-back Tuberville regime, instilling a business-like approach since taking over the program, bringing what tight end Tommy Trott called “an aura” to the Plains.
As you’d expect from the always impeccably-dressed Chizik, the dress code is stricter, both in the practice facility and in public. There is no gray area in instructions to ensure everything is done correctly. Discipline is a priority, and those who don’t get on board — as evidenced by the dismissal of three players this summer — are quickly jettisoned.
“We reflect coach Chizik’s personality first and foremost,” said defensive end Antonio Coleman, who described the coach with a favorite phrase of the Chizik regime: as the quintessential Auburn man.
“That’s just coming in and working hard and respecting everyone around you and just trying to do everything you can on and off the field,” Coleman said.
Chizik has tried to put on blinders to things happening outside of the program. Is there pressure to succeed? Sure. That’s the nature of SEC football, especially at Auburn, but the bar isn’t set by an external source.
“The pressure’s going to be there, no matter what school you’re at,” Chizik said. “If you’re in college football, that just comes with the territory. But certainly I don’t feel like there’s going to be any more pressure than what I put on myself to be great. That’s kind of how we look at it.”
Despite Chizik’s serious veneer, players attest that he does have a sense of humor. Coleman relayed a joke Friday that Chizik told recently at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet that still had him cracking up.
“I didn’t know he had it in him, but that was a good one he had in his hat,” Coleman said.
Coleman, a senior who is an engaging personality off the field yet, like Chizik, stone serious on it, claims he frequently gets Chizik to break from the stoic public pose he strikes.
“Driving around campus, I see him in his truck and I honk the horn at him and reach out the window and throw the deuces at him,” he said, holding out two fingers to demonstrate. “You know, he’s about business, but at times when you see him on campus or see him in his office, he’s all smiles and all happy.
“He’s just happy to be an Auburn man.”