What the hell is going on at Auburn, you ask? They fire Tommy Tuberville, a pretty damn good coach who had an off-year this year, despite going undefeated just four years ago and holding an amazing record while on the Plains. To replace him, Auburn hires Gene Chizik, the coach at Iowa State. Chizik was the defensive coordinator at Auburn when they went undefeated in 2004 and then was co-defensive coordinator at Texas when they went undefeated and won the national title in 2005, so the guy has some big game, big time experience. But then he was the head coach at Iowa State for two years and went 5-19. That’s not very good, and he was in the North so he was barely playing Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech or Oklahoma State. So what are they thinking?
I’m not even going to get into Charles Barkley’s beef with the university for not hiring Turner Gill, the young, black head coach at Buffalo. There’s probably a case to be made that a black man with a white wife was not exactly what Auburn wanted, however sad that may be in this day and age. And since the program is all but run by boosters and alumni, it’s probably not a stretch to think that played a part. But what is interesting to me is the financial side of it. Instead of going for a really big name coach, like luring Steve Spurrier from South Carolina or something along those lines, Auburn went for a relative no-name. This was not Will Muschamp or even, for that matter, Turner Gill.
Why would they go for a lower-end name in a conference that has recently seen coaches like Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino, Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier join (or re-join) their ranks? Well it’s probably for the same reason that Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin. Instead of replacing Phil Fulmer’s outrageously expensive contract with another, Kiffin signed on for several million dollars less. Still a nice chunk of change if you’re Kiffin, but a massive money saving endeavor for Tennessee. Just about the same situation at Auburn. Tuberville made quite a lot of money and Chizik will not make nearly the same amount. All of a sudden, Auburn has a few million dollars extra on its hands (though they are buying out Tuberville’s contract). Look what happened at Clemson, high-priced Tommy Bowden is replaced by low-cost Dabo Swinney.
Perhaps this is really a sign of changes in college football, at least during this economic downturn. Public colleges and universities are taking huge hits and massive budget cuts. If they can save several million dollars and hire a younger, less-accomplished coach, so be it. For several years now, the SEC in particular have hired huge name coaches at ridiculous cost. Maybe the cycle is such that now schools are willing to give younger coaches a chance to establish themselves at the major programs as they used to. Steve Spurrier didn’t arrive at Florida as the Steve Spurrier we know today, he created that as a young coach at a big time program. The same can be said for Fulmer, regardless of the Volunteer nation’s opinions of him now. In 1992 he was just a former player and assistant coach. Lloyd Carr was like that at Michigan and the same can be said for many other coaches.
And really, it helps the schools if their young coaches fall flat on their faces because the financial investment and expectations won’t be quite as bloated as they might be if a really big name coach came in. We’ll see what happens at Auburn but honestly, it makes sense to me. Keep expectations low and build from there. 5-7 isn’t the worst record in the world and if you watched Auburn at all, you know they really couldn’t have been much worse.