AUBURN, Ala. -- One day after losing his elderly mother, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik started his Tuesday press conference by publicly reaching out to his well-wishers.
“It’s been a tough 24 hours for me personally and my family with the passing of my mother. That’s never easy no matter how old you get. So it’s been quite challenging," Chizik said. “On an encouraging note, it was really good to hear from so many great Auburn people that were very supportive, and people outside the Auburn family as well. It was very encouraging to hear the different thoughts and prayers that went out for me personally and my family."
Chizik said a private family ceremony will be held "at some point, not necessarily this week" to honor Rita Chizik, who died early Monday morning.
"I appreciate everybody respecting the privacy of that," Chizik said. “I do want to say thank you to a lot of people out there who were very good to myself and my family.”
The grieving period only adds to an already difficult season for a man who won the 2010 BCS National Championship, but now has a 36-35 lifetime record as a head coach.
"Have there difficult times? Of course there have. But have there been some great times? Absolutely," Chizik said. "We don't look at the past and the 'woe is me'. You've got to take one day at a time, you've got to keep moving forward. That's the name of the game for me. I've got a lot of faith in these young guys. I've got a lot of faith in Auburn and I've got a lot of faith in our coaches. We've got to keep plugging along.
"I'm the leader of the program. That's my job," Chizik said. "My job's not easy sometimes. But I love my job, and I love being a part of Auburn. It's all my responsibility."
After debriefing reporters on Texas A&M - which ranks near the top in the SEC in every offensive category and utilizes "aggressive, elaborate" defensive schemes - Chizik addressed the remainder of the season without fan favorite and team shepherd Philip Lutzenkirchen, a senior tight end who will have hip surgery this week with a long rehabilitation to follow.
“He’s crushed right now," Chizik said. "He’s put so much into Auburn and came back, he’s really tried to play all year with a painful injury that he was pushing through. He just couldn’t do it anymore. He’s crushed when you have five weeks left in a season, and then all of a sudden, your season’s over. I’m very proud of him, trying to push through in a year that was tough for him physically. He went until he gave out.”
Chizik believes Lutzenkirchen will play in the NFL, and is certain he will continue to offer leadership for the 1-6 Tigers.
“We definitely want him to be around all the time. We don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like after he gets his surgery," Chizik said. "But he’s part of this football team, he’s part of this family, he’s been a great contributor to us since he got here. He’s going to go down in the record books as an Auburn man. We want and expect him to be around here all the time, and that’s who he is. He’ll be here for meetings, he’ll be here for practice. That’s just who he is.”
Defensive end Dee Ford’s "a work in progress" working back from injury, though he's listed as the starter on Tuesday's updated depth chart. Next to Ford with the No. 1s is sophomore defensive tackle Gabe Wright, who made his first career start Saturday at Vanderbilt and seems to have surpassed Jeffrey Whitaker as a run-stuffer.