Pat Dye is back in the game.
Sure, Auburn introduced Gene Chizik as its 26th head football coach Monday afternoon at its athletics complex.
But there, about six rows away and to the right of the podium, sat the 69-year-old Dye, wearing an orange sweater, blue Oxford button-down shirt and khakis.
The former Auburn coach and member of the College Football Hall of Fame was there a half hour early, smiling and walking with that familiar Dye swagger.
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What Dyes sees in Chizik is a young, hard-nosed, smash-mouth coach, not unlike what Dye was three decades ago.
The former Auburn coach sent a message to Auburn supporters, alumni and fans via mass e-mail Monday evening where he called the hiring of Chizik “a very emotional time for the Auburn family.”
He got that right.
He told the Auburn family it reminded him of when he was hired in 1981. He defended athletic director Jay Jacobs and those involved in hiring Chizik, despite a 5-19 record in two seasons as Iowa State’s head coach.
“Unless you have walked in their shoes, you cannot begin to understand all that is involved in the process of making these decisions,” Dye wrote.
There is no doubt Chizik has split the faithful. Dye -- and anyone else with eyes and ears -- knows that.
After the administration dumped Tommy Tuberville, Auburn people were looking for a little more than a career assistant coach who lost 10 games in a row to close his second season as a head coach.
Dye said don’t be scared by Chizik’s recent failure.
“His record don’t make any difference,” Dye said after the news conference. “Coach Bryant won one game his first year at Texas A&M. Coach Jordan won seven his first two years at Auburn. His record, that record don’t mean nothing. We hired a man and a coach, not a record.”
OK, so the object is not to win? If the record does not count, why is Tuberville, a man who won 85 games and lost 40 in 10 seasons, gone after a 5-7 season?
But Dye was not through making his point that you should look past what happened at Iowa State. He pointed north to coach Nick Saban and Alabama.
“Saban went 6-6 last year and got his a-- beat by Louisiana-Monroe at Alabama,” Dye said. “Can you imagine that? Huh? You think those Alabama people were proud of Saban when they walked out and got their a-- beat by Louisiana-Monroe. It happens, you know?”
Said the right things
But this wasn’t a day to talk about Alabama; it was a day to talk about Auburn.
Chizik, Auburn’s defensive coordinator from 2002-2004, said all of the right things.
“War Eagle,” he started.
He then looked at Jacobs and said, “I can assure you, you hired the right man.”
Dye, who was kept at arm’s length during the Tuberville era, is confident the right man was selected.
“When you see a guy that can get his players to play as hard as they play on defense, there ain’t a damned thing in the world to keep him from doing the same thing on offense,” Dye said. “When they play that hard, they’re going to win all the games they’re supposed to win and some of them they ain’t supposed to win.”
But it still comes back to the Iowa State failure, right? Wrong said Dye.
“Shoot, it don’t do nothing but motivate your a--,” Dye said. “It makes you hungry. You ever throw a bone out there with a big old fat dog laying there and a one skinny over there? Which one of them going to get the bone?”
The skinny one.
“Damned right,” Dye said. “The hungry one is going to get the bone.”
So, Auburn has thrown a bone — a prime SEC head coaching job — to a hungry coach.
Now, we all have to sit back and see what happens.
Dye said the howling from the faithful is an overreaction.
“Oh, there ain’t no doubt,” Dye said. “If they had a negative reaction, they’re overreacting. There’s a lot of people I’ve seen that’s excited.”
But it is more than eight months before Auburn fans can begIn to measure Chizik’s success.
“He’s got to prove he can win, which I think he will, but, God, what a guy,” Dye said. “I mean it’s a great day for Auburn University.”
Dye was large, if not in charge, on Monday. He said he didn’t play a role in Chizik’s hiring, but he gave Jacobs credit for a bold move.
“I didn’t know Jay had that in his guts to go hire somebody (like that),” Dye said. “And that don’t surprise me, because Jay Jacobs is the right kind of guy to do what he did. Now, they say I had something to do with it? I wish I could take credit for it. Tell them all I did the hiring. I’d like to be responsible for hiring him. … Just tell ‘em, say, ‘Yeah, Coach Dye hired him.’ Say, ‘He is Coach Dye’s man.’”
So, there it is.
Chizik has the Dye stamp of approval. It’s been 16 years since Dye coached a game, but his name is on the field and his picture is next to the scoreboard. Long gone are the memories of how Dye left amid a scandal that landed Auburn on probation for paying a player.
At Auburn, Dye still matters.
How much? Who knows?
But Dye was there for Chizik’s introduction Monday, talking about a hungry coach who will win the right way, and Auburn president Jay Gouge couldn’t make it because he had a prior engagement.
What does that say? Looks like we are about to find out.