AUBURN, Ala. — When Gene Chizik met with his players for the first time after being hired in December, he glanced over at a casually dressed Lee Ziemba, whose ensemble consisted of a purple shirt and pants that had bits of orange, green and yellow.
“Everybody thought he was like a crayon box,” cornerback Walt McFadden joked.
It was the first and last time that would happen under the watchful eye of Chizik, who has instituted a strict set of rules for his players in the athletic complex with regards to tidiness and appearance.
“Everything’s going to be night and day, so you can’t say, ‘Oh, I didn’t notice,’” defensive end Antoine Carter said. “They put everything up front so you know.”
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In the locker room, each player’s area must be tidy, with clothes, shoes, helmets and shoulder pads neatly aligned.
“Everything’s got a place,” Ziemba said, “and they check it.”
No hats, jewelry or cleats are allowed in the facility. And if you violate those rules?
“They’ll probably take it from you,” Carter said. “Earrings are not cheap nowadays.”
“It sounds childish but at the same time it’s something that if you look good, you’re going to play good,” center Ryan Pugh said.
The dress code extends to when the players are out in public. Chizik wants them to look presentable, no surprise from a coach whose wardrobe of slick-looking shirts and sharp blazers looks like it’s directly lifted from the pages of GQ magazine.
“This is Auburn. Respect it,” said Chizik, who has set down similar rules in all 23 years of his coaching career. “When you’re out in public, make people know who you are because you’re doing it the Auburn way.
“When people see, make them understand right now, ‘That must be an Auburn football player because I can tell with the way he carries himself.’ That’s important to us. That’s what we talk to them about every day, and we’re going to be unbending on that.”
“We want to model our coach,” McFadden said. “We want to speak like him, we want to talk like him, we want to dress like him. We want to be better like him.”
It goes beyond how the players dress and present themselves. The coaches demand precision on the playing field too, whether it’s doing a drill or simply taking the field.
A large Auburn logo is painted in a white circle on the practice field just outside the athletic complex. When the players leave the facility, they must walk down the right side of the ramp and meet in the circle, where strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall breaks them down before they take the field.
When they leave, they have to hustle until they get to the logo again.
“Practice is not over until you reach that AU,” Ziemba said.
The rules might seem trivial, but the players have bought into them, convinced it will translate to a sharper performance on the football field.
“If I take a step here, and not here,” Ziemba said, moving his foot six inches, “that’s a big difference in whether I’m going to block that three tech and cut him off in the back side of a zone. It’s a huge difference. It’s all about the little things.
“(Chizik’s) goal was to make no gray area on anything so we’re not guessing. He lays out the expectations for us, and when those expectations are implemented, we follow them.”