AUBURN, Ala. - When the weather changed for the worse at an Auburn football practice last week, wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor fully expected to move to the more restrictive indoor facility.
Instead, head coach Gene Chizik pulled a rain plan from his pocket and quickly began directing players to different stations on the outside fields.
“I’m going, ‘Who does that?’” Taylor said. “He never ceases to amaze me when it comes to that.”
Chizik has had a plan for four years as a head coach, one from which he hasn’t deviated. But his won-loss record has changed.
Never miss a local story.
Two years after his hire from Iowa State, where a 5-19 record prompted an overwhelming outcry from Auburn fans on Internet message boards and airport tarmacs, Chizik has won over the Auburn fan base.
He has flipped his record, going 19-5 on the Plains and leading the Tigers into the national title picture with an 11-0 record this season -- a quicker turnaround than even the most optimistic Auburn backers could have envisioned.
“He’s one of those coaches who’s been through probably all types of seasons you can go through,” center Ryan Pugh said. “He’s won national championships. He’s been undefeated and been left out of the game. He’s had some tough years.
“Everyone knows that, so, whenever he speaks and tells you about things, you take it to heart, because you know he’s been through those things and he’s experienced everything you can imagine. He gets us prepared every week.”
That preparation is based on precision. Everything under the coach’s watch is regimented. Taylor thinks that comes from the military background of Chizik’s father.
“I’ve just always been someone who believes the devil’s in the details,” Chizik said. “You become better or worse based on those details and try to impress those on our team. We try to impress that mentality in everything that we do.”
It’s a departure from the previous coaches, who some say were lax in their latter years. Chizik’s practices and walkthroughs are anything but.
“It’s full-go every time,” cornerback T’Sharvan Bell said. “Everything might not be full speed, but he wants you here, here, here. It’s a grind.
“What you do now is what you’re going to do on the field. If you’re not giving it now, he’s not going to put you out on the field.”
While it has worked at Auburn, it didn’t produce nearly the success at Iowa State. Hired as an up-and-coming defensive coordinator who had perfect seasons on his resume at Auburn and Texas, Chizik made the decision to overhaul the Cyclones’ program.
“Coach Chizik went in there and basically tore the program down and started to build it back up,” said special teams coordinator Jay Boulware, who spent both years with Chizik at Iowa State. “When you have beliefs in what you’re trying to get done, you just stick to your guns.”
But there were growing pains. With a large number of underclassmen playing prominent roles, Iowa State went 3-9 his first year and 2-10 the next.
“There’s things you’ve got to do to stay on track and be patient for the right results,” Chizik said. “There’s no question that we were going to be on track to get the right results. It was just going to take a little bit longer.”
Auburn came calling before Chizik could reap the benefits of the youth movement. His successor, Paul Rhoads, has gone 12-12 in two years, progress Chizik can claim to be at least partially responsible for (in the same vein that Tommy Tuberville recruited most of the juniors and seniors currently thriving for Auburn).
Chizik’s plan didn’t differ much at Auburn, although it coalesced more rapidly, thanks to an aggressive, well-paid coaching staff, a more talented group of upperclassmen and a wider recruiting base to replenish the team’s ranks.
He also has benefited from an offensive revival, elevated by coordinator Gus Malzahn’s inventive schemes and junior college quarterback Cam Newton’s otherworldly talents -- luxuries Chizik never enjoyed at Iowa State.
As a result, Chizik has gone from national punch line to SEC and national Coach of the Year candidate in two years, even though his methods remain the same.
“A guy asked me the other day what’s the difference in his coaching from last year to this year,” Taylor said. “And the answer is nothing.”