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Assessing Chizik's Chances of Survival

Is there any way to see the beleaguered coach making a return to the Plains in 2013?


There are many ways to see evidence towards Gene Chizik getting the boot after this season. The winless SEC record is probably the most obvious one. The absolutely, positively dreadful statistical rankings of the team is another. Fans have already moved on and have started to speculate on replacement coaches. And now, we see that there won't be a coaches show after the Iron Bowl. The only good reason to cancel the final coaches show is if there won't be a coach to do it.

The only real compelling reason anyone seems to be able to come up with to keep Chizik and his staff around is that it would be expensive to clean house. Even that concern is overblown, because the only way it will cost Auburn the amounts being thrown around is if none of the coaches get other jobs. They're all going to land on their feet somewhere. They might not get paid the same as what AU has been giving them, but them being employed elsewhere will blunt most of the costs of the buyouts.

So is there any case to be made for keeping Chizik and the current staff around?

First of all, one of the implications of having the team's worst season in 60 years is that things will get better next year with no changes to the coaches. Young players will be a year older, stronger, and more experienced. The players will have a better grasp of the new offensive and defensive schemes. Continuity alone would almost certainly result in some gains. That doesn't say anything about long term prospects, but if Auburn is looking to get better next year, it almost certainly will without having to pay any buyouts.

For another thing, it can get dangerous when a team goes through a rapid-fire series of big changes. Look no further than Tennessee or the offensive side of the ball at Florida. A new head coach will probably bring in his own coordinators, so the team would be on its third offensive and defensive coordinators in three years (provided they don't hire Gus Malzahn or Ted Roof as the head coach). It's not a pretty picture, generally, when key coaching positions are revolving doors. Besides, transitions between the spread option and the pro-set (going either direction) are always multi-year affairs. These things just take time.

Third, Auburn is probably not in a place where it can be fixed in a year or two. Barring another Cam Newton coming around, I don't see the Tigers competing for an SEC title in 2014. That's certainly not an argument for keeping Chizik long term, but it could be an argument for keeping him around another year. He can take the hit of another mediocre season next year and then the new guy can take over with some momentum the following season. Chizik is not a bad table setter, as Paul Rhoads can attest.

Now, these are pretty soft reasons for bringing Chizik back next year. Embedded in some of them is the premise that he'll be gone soon anyway. There really isn't a whole lot of evidence to date that suggests he's a viable long term option there. If he's really not, then it follows that the school should not waste any time, cut him loose, and find a better guy.

That better guy might not take the job, however. That's the last and final reason to keep him around a little while longer. It sends a bad message to prospective coaches if the head coach is getting the boot only a couple of years after a national championship. It's true that Chizik's circumstances are unique and not likely to be repeated by, well, just about anyone, but that's still a strong message for a school of Auburn's standing to send. It's not one of the top tier jobs in America like USC, Texas, Florida, or Notre Dame. If it wants to get a big upgrade, it's going to have to explain to its targets why success will give them a longer leash than Chizik had.

At this point, I'd be more surprised if Chizik stays than if he goes. If he somehow does stay, though, these would be the reasons why.