AUBURN, Ala. — Gene Chizik’s first month on the job has been a blur. Between relocating his family, recruiting and assembling a staff, Auburn’s new football coach has barely had time to breathe.
“You know, it’s just part of the territory,” he said in his second interview session with beat reporters since being hired Dec. 13. “You just do what you got to do and everybody learns how to survive.”
One month in, Chizik has turned around the immediate negative perception surrounding Auburn in the aftermath of his hiring, putting in place a youthful, well-respected staff and hitting the recruiting trail with gusto, taking some large swings at a few of the biggest names in the country.
Auburn has made contact with Louisiana wide receiver Rueben Randle, Kansas running back Bryce Brown and Texas dual-threat quarterback Tyrik Rollison, three of the top players in the country at their respective positions, according to Rivals.com.
This weekend is the first of three that recruits can make an on-campus visit to Auburn before national signing day Feb. 4. Chizik expects about 10 official visits this weekend and has gone to great lengths to make sure hosts and current players will make a good impression.
“I told them you’ve got to treat this like game day,” Chizik said. “That’s the importance of these weekends. We have three, and all three of those have to be home runs. … At the end of the day you win or you lose. It’s really that cut and dry.”
Chizik’s No.1 goal in the process has been to establish relationships on the recruiting trail, an uphill battle for a coaching staff that is still incomplete.
A short-term solution is to use existing relationships. Curtis Luper, for instance, recruited both Randle and Rollison when he was an assistant with Oklahoma State. He’s now pursuing them as Auburn’s running backs coach, creating a touchy situation.
“We’re trying to be very respectful of (other schools), but at the same time, we have to be able to bring in the best players for Auburn,” Chizik said. “Recruiting is just a battle.”
Long term, Chizik knows where he will focus.
“It’s real simple,” he said. “You start in this state first and then you work your way out. We’ve got to saturate this state and we’ve got to do a great job of recruiting in this state. That’s the No. 1 priority, and then you kind of branch out from there.”
Chizik has spent part of his time evaluating the team’s current crop of players. He cited a need for offensive linemen, wide receivers and “one great quarterback.”
“There are certain positions right now on our football team that we’re very thin at and we have to recruit difference-makers,” he said.
As the recruiting season reaches a critical juncture, Chizik has put other tasks on hold. He’s been methodical in putting together his coaching staff, which now includes six assistants, including offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ted Roof.
Three coaching spots remain, with an opening on the offensive line and likely two on defense. James Willis, the only coach retained from Tommy Tuberville’s staff, is the lone defensive assistant, and his positional role remains undefined.
“I’m not a multi-tasker so we’re kind of attacking each position one by one,” Chizik said. “I’m real pleased with it and we’re going to take the time to make sure we have the right fit for our guys, the kids, because that’s really important.”