Less than two years ago, Gene Chizik was being told he was an idiot who didn’t deserve to coach in the SEC. The same thing probably happened to Les Miles less than two minutes ago.
Yet despite all the ridicule, these two coaches are meeting this week in a crucial showdown that will have a major impact on the national championship race. The winner of Saturday’s game between Chizik’s No. 5 Auburn Tigers and Miles’ No. 6 LSU team will remain undefeated and be the team to beat in the SEC.
Meanwhile, Urban Meyer — he of the two national championship rings — is catching heat at Florida for the Gators’ current three-game losing streak. And the teams who played in last year’s BCS title game — Alabama and Texas — already have lost this season and are ranked behind the two Tigers in the polls.
What sort of bizarro football world have we entered where Chizik and Miles are still in the running for the national title in late October, while Meyer and Texas coach Mack Brown are already out of contention?
What is not as well known outside of Alabama is that Chizik’s arrival at Auburn following the 2008 season was met with widespread derision throughout the state. It didn’t matter that he had been the defensive architect of the undefeated Auburn team of 2004, or that he was the defensive coordinator at Texas for the Longhorns’ 2005 national championship team.
No, all that mattered was the Vandy-like record of 5-19 that Chizik accumulated during two years as the head coach at Iowa State. Apparently those two seasons were bad enough to wipe out an entire career worth of success that included Chizik being named the nation’s top assistant coach in 2004.
The way many people viewed the situation, Chizik had been given a Division I head coaching job and he had failed miserably. Now he was going to be rewarded for his failure by being tabbed to replace Tommy Tuberville, who won more than two-thirds of his games at Auburn and had given the Tigers’ a six-game winning streak over Alabama for the first time in the history of that heated rivalry.
Sports talk radio in the state was filled with callers proclaiming their allegiance to the Tigers in one breath, and then ripping Chizik in the next. The school’s most vocal former athlete, basketball star Charles Barkley, even brought a racial element into the fray. He declared that Auburn should hire Turner Gill, who led Buffalo to the Mid-American Conference title in only his third season as a head coach, but wouldn’t because Gill is black.
Suddenly it was not — as the popular school cheer declares — great to be an Auburn Tiger. In fact, it was becoming downright embarrassing.
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