What’s the old coaching saying? It’s not the X’s and the O’s, but the Jimmies and Joes.
If you’re wondering why Gene Chizik couldn’t hang on to his job two years after leading Auburn to a national title, that’s the reason.
Certainly, Chizik had other problems that led to Auburn firing him Sunday: NCAA investigation, misfires in staff hiring, and empy stands.
But he just didn’t find and develop enough players. When you play in the SEC where all of your main recruiting rivals (Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida) are doing that well, you wind up 3-9, the school’s worst record in 60 years.
Chizik recruited and signed high-ranked players, but that’s different from evaluating and developing them.
He signed plenty of players the recruiting services liked. Rivals.com rated his 2010 class No. 4 in the nation. The 2011 class was No. 7, and the 2012 recruits, who came on campus this fall, were No. 10 in the country.
But even with those kinds of ratings, SEC teams face a thin margin. Chizik’s 2011 class, while rated seventh nationally, was only No. 4 in the SEC. So even if you hit big and your recruits stay and turn out to be that good, you’re just
keeping up with the league’s elite teams.
It was the 2010 class that was supposed to help provide the base for the future. It included junior college transfer Cam Newton and had 15 guys who Rivals awarded four or five stars. However, of the 13 who were high school players, only seven remain on the roster.
The rest of Chizik’s classes look similar. Some of the real talents struggled to conform left. Some who did just weren’t that good.
Quarterback serves as a good example of this. Kiehl Frazier arrived as a highly regarded quarterback, but his passing skills just aren’t SEC caliber and he couldn’t keep the job this season. Besides, the guy who should’ve been playing quarterback all along after Newton went to the NFL isn’t around.
Tyrik Rollison was part of Chizik’s 2009 class, but he had discipline issues. He eventually transferred to Sam Houston State and then to Tyler (Texas) Junior College, where he was an all-conference quarterback this year.
Rollison should’ve been quarterbacking Auburn on Saturday, handing off to Michael Dyer, running behind a veteran line. Dyer, a former All-SEC running back, had discipline issues, too, and is at Arkansas Baptist now.
Examples of not retaining players: The offensive line is so depleted, Auburn has two freshmen starting at tackle. Also, how can Chizik’s staff sign, keep and develop only one top-flight receiver, Emory Blake, in four years?
Example of not developing players: Defensive end Corey Lemonier is a better pass rusher than anybody Alabama has, but he hasn’t even made the starting lineup the last three games.
So, if it was this bad, how did Chizik ever sniff a national title, much less win one?
It’s more than Newton, who won the Heisman during Auburn’s championship run in 2010. The Tigers also had a difference-maker on defense in Nick Fairley, the Lombardi Trophy winner. Also, the senior class had 27 players, many of whom contributed, including along senior-dominated offensive and defensive lines.
However, the junior and sophomore classes of that year were depleted. That was going to affect the 2011 season, when Auburn won eight games.
But in 2012, Chizik should’ve had enough talented players ready to help Auburn rejoin the championship hunt.
That didn’t happen. Not even close. The talent wasn’t there. And now Chizik isn’t, either.
Contact Decatur Daily Sports Editor Mark Edwards at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at @DailyEdwards.