AUBURN, Ala. — New Auburn football coach Gene Chizik left no doubt at his introductory press conference Monday that recruiting would be an immediate priority, vowing to hit the road as soon as he wrapped up his media obligations.
He’s followed through on that promise, making numerous phone calls and visits during his first few days on the job, trying to reassure a number of wavering 2009 commits and do so before a NCAA-mandated dead period begins Monday.
“One of the main jobs of the head coach isn’t so much sitting in on every X’s and O’s meeting and things of that nature,” Chizik said. “Your top job is a recruiter. …
“I will be the spearhead of this at all times whether it is on the phone or in person.”
Chizik, who was hired in part for his recruiting ties to the Southeast, has already made stops in Prattville, Mobile and the Birmingham area in Alabama, in addition to Fort Valley, Ga., where he met with four-star Peach County High cornerback Reggie Taylor.
“It does matter when that head coach walks into that school,” Chizik said. “It does matter when that head coach walks into a home.”
He secured his first signee Wednesday, locking up 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive lineman Nick Fairley, a junior college transfer from Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss.
Fairley, who didn’t qualify after committing to the Tigers in 2007, will enroll in January. He has three years of eligibility remaining.
But the bigger challenge facing Chizik will be to keep a dwindling group of 2009 recruits in the fold. Since Tommy Tuberville resigned Dec. 3, seven recruits for next year backed off their commitments, dropping Auburn’s total from 26 to 19.
The highest-profile decommit was four-star quarterback Raymond Cotton, from Fort Meade, Md., who opened up his recruiting after Chizik told the remaining Tuberville assistants to look for new jobs. Included in that group was linebackers coach James Willis, Cotton’s primary recruiter.
“I think uncertainty is one of the biggest negatives you can have in a recruiting class,” said Bryan Matthews of AuburnSports.com, part of the recruiting-heavy Rivals network. “For the last two weeks, a lot of them have been hearing from other schools.”
Chizik has enlisted the help of three members of Auburn’s administrative staff to stem the tide.
Former linebackers coach Joe Whitt Sr., who has worked for the school’s fund-raising arm in Tigers Unlimited since 2006, was one of the first to join.
“I trust him with my life,” Chizik said.
Phillip Lolley, Auburn’s director of NFL relations, and Jimmy Perry, the school’s director of football operations, have also joined Chizik’s recruiting posse. Both are former Alabama high school coaches.
So far, so good.
“The recruits we’ve gotten in touch with have been pretty positive,” Matthews said. “I think a lot of them have been nervous and not really knowing what’s going on.
“But I think (Chizik) eased a lot of minds by giving them a call and telling them that they’re still wanted.”
With less than seven weeks before the Feb. 4, signing day, Chizik knows he has a lot of work to do.
“It will be very challenging, simply because it’s a whirlwind right now,” he said. “Right now, it’s go, go, go, and we’ll do it 24/7.”