Newly hired Auburn coach Gene Chizik spoke optimistically at his introductory news conference Monday, preaching a return to the Tigers’ trademark physical football and promising to get the program back to a conference-championship caliber.
He assured athletic director Jay Jacobs, who hired him Saturday night, of one thing.
“I want to tell you that you hired the right guy,” said Chizik, who succeeded Tommy Tuberville to become Auburn’s 26th head football coach. “There is no doubt in my mind.”
Chizik and Jacobs spent most of their 45 minutes on the podium trumpeting a return to the program’s hard-nosed roots, all while trying to ease the worries of a restless fan base worried about the 46-year-old’s limited success as a head coach.
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Chizik went 5-19 in two seasons as the head coach at Iowa State. The Cyclones finished this past season with a 10-game losing streak.
“One great thing about Auburn is the fans’ passion for football,” Jacobs said. “I know that as the Auburn fans get to hear Chizik’s vision and his character and integrity, as well as his relentlessness as a recruiter and his love for Auburn and the way his players feel about him, they will come together and know that he is the right man for the job.”
Chizik came up with one surefire remedy for the situation.
“I think that answer is really easy: you have to win,” he said. “The people that are going to be negative, I can’t control. That’s out there for everybody to mull over themselves. But at the end of the day, when you win, I think all of that goes away.”
The day marked a homecoming for Chizik, who was Auburn’s defensive coordinator from 2002 through the Tigers’ undefeated ’04 season. He took the same job at Texas in 2005, hoping to use it as a stepping stone to a head coaching job. It worked. He took over the Iowa State program prior to the 2007 season.
He called returning to Auburn “a dream.”
“If you go back four years right now, and I didn’t make that move (to Texas), I don’t know, maybe I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you today,” Chizik said. “Would I do it again the exact same way? Yes, I would. Not because I wanted to leave Auburn, but ultimately, if you really look at it, it’s because I wanted to get back to Auburn.”
The coach didn’t waste any time before making some drastic changes. Late Sunday night, the Birmingham News reported that Chizik told the remaining coaches from Tuberville’s staff to look for new jobs.
According to AuburnSports.com, the news resulted in the decommitment of one of the jewels of Auburn’s 2009 class — four-star quarterback Raymond Cotton of Fort Meade, Md.
Asked about who would be added to his future coaching staff, Chizik treaded carefully, refusing to address anyone specifically.
“I have one goal and that is to bring in the absolute best football coach, the best person, and the best recruiter that can be around these young guys,” Chizik said. “I want all three of those things in one guy.”
Some of his hires could come from the staff at Iowa State. Two Cyclones assistants — defensive backs coach Jeff Koonz and defensive line coach Mike Pelton — have ties to Auburn, Koonz as a graduate assistant under Chizik and Pelton as a player on the undefeated 1993 team.
In the interim, Chizik will lean on three Auburn employees — assistant athletic director and former linebackers coach Joe Whitt Sr., director of NFL relations Phillip Lolley, and director of football operations Jimmy Perry — to help him with recruiting. Lolley and Perry are former high school coaches in Alabama.
Chizik repeatedly emphasized a need for strong recruiting. After the news conference, the coach planned to visit members of Auburn’s 2009 recruiting class, which has dwindled from 26 commits to 19 since Tuberville’s Dec. 3 resignation.
“Not only are we going to recruit, we are going to recruit what will be the best thing for Auburn: both the best player and the best mark of a man,” Chizik said. “We are going to recruit tirelessly, 24/7 and we are going to work. Recruiting is the life blood of any program and we know that.”
Details of Chizik’s contract were not immediately available, but reports put it around $2 million a year.
Jacobs claims Chizik never requested a certain salary, adding that Auburn made the coach’s contract heavy on incentives.
Chizik was prepared to take the challenge head on.
“Nobody’s expectations as an Auburn fan are higher than mine,” he said. “That sums it up.”