The story of Auburn's season is Gene Chizik and his future as Tigers head coach. After a 1-5 start, there's really no way around that.
Chizik is one of the more unique cases in college football. When he was hired, critics worried about Chizik's 5-19 record at Iowa State (and one famously booed AD Jay Jacobs at the airport). Chizik then won a national title. Two seasons later the critics are back, wondering if Chizik was just along for the ride while quarterback Cam Newton and then-offensive coordinator Guz Malzahn carried Auburn to that title.
So heading into a game at Vanderbilt this Saturday, Auburn is off to its worst start since 1998, doesn't have a conference win and Chizik is under fire less than 24 months after winning a national championship.
That's the issue hanging over the Tigers. Until Auburn turns things around, Chizik gets fired, or there is absolute conviction from the athletic department that he will be the coach for the forseeable future, that will continue. The local media coverage is discussing it from every angle. It has dealt with Chizik's comments that he isn't worried about his job security, talked about his buyout, former coach Pat Dye's comments that he is worried Auburn won't win a conference game and how recruiting is being affected. One wonders if an hour goes by in an Auburn player's day without him hearing about the job security of his head coach. The players might be desperate for a win just for that chatter to slow down for a week.
No matter Chizik's ability as a coach, his professionalism throughout the situation has said a lot about him. When he dealt with another uncomfortable (yet justified) round of questions about his struggles during his weekly press conference, he calmly answered them all. AuburnSports.com had the video:
The most telling answer came at the end of the clip, when he was asked about Dye's comments.
"What makes college football great is, you know what, there's going to be people on the radio, there's going to be people on TV, and there's going to be people outside now that can say and do whatever they want and it can be as public as it can be, and hey, that's great. That's great. But if I concern myself with all of that, then that would suck the energy and life out of me trying to do a job here that I know I have to stay concentrated on one thing: Trying to keep my coaches and my players on the path of improvement."
Winning would not make all the questions go away, but it would help. The problem is that Auburn's offense hasn't produced much. The quarterback position has been a major problem. Kiehl Frazier has just two touchdowns and eight interceptions this season, and was benched last week for Clint Moseley, who has one touchdown and three interceptions himself. Chizik has said Frazier has an undisclosed injury, and he hasn't said which quarterback will start this week.
Vanderbilt has its own battles. The Commodores are 2-4, hoping to remain in the hunt for a bowl game with a win. Three of Vanderbilt's four losses have come against teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game, so the schedule hasn't been kind. The Commodores have had their own offensive problems (again, the rough schedule is a factor in that as well). The only time they've scored more than 20 points this season was against Presbyterian.
Considering that Auburn's remaining SEC games are against Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama, if the Tigers can't beat Vanderbilt, that conference win could be tough to come by this season.
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