Chizik: I’m the ‘right guy’

Published 1:30 pm Monday, December 15, 2008

Gene Chizik wanted to win titles at Iowa State but instead went 5-19 in two seasons and lost 10 straight games. He knows the same results won’t fly at Auburn.

Chizik said Monday he understands the expectations as he takes over at Auburn following Tommy Tuberville’s departure. A former defensive coordinator under Tuberville, Chizik said there’s only one way to quiet fans upset by his hiring.

“You gotta win,” Chizik said during a news conference. A half-dozen or so times, Chizik confidently said he was the “right guy” for the job.

He’s got some convincing to do. Many Auburn fans are wringing their hands at the prospect of a coach with a losing record going head-to-head against Alabama’s Nick Saban, who just snapped Auburn’s six-year winning streak in the rivalry and spent much of the season ranked No. 1.

“Nobody’s expectation that is a fan of Auburn University is higher than mine,” Chizik said. “That sums it up. My expectations are very high. I understand that the people of this place, including myself, they want championships. That’s my expectation of myself. That’s what I take with me to sleep with every night.”

The results at Iowa State weren’t spectacular, yet athletic director Jay Jacobs said Chizik’s plan for turning around the Cyclones was part of what got him the job.

“He was on path there at Iowa State to turn that program around in a positive way,” said Jacobs. He called Chizik a “tireless recruiter” with a solid plan to improve Auburn after the Tigers’ 5-7 mark in Tuberville’s final year, his first losing season since debuting with five wins in 1999.

Five wins in two years got Chizik an offer of a two-year contract extension at Iowa State. He reportedly will receive a five-year contract worth about $2 million a year from Auburn, about double his former deal which included a $750,000 buyout.

Jacobs declined to provide details but said it will be heavy on incentives such as winning and graduating players.

Chizik said he hopes to end his coaching career at Auburn, and not by getting run off anytime soon.

“I can assure you, you hired the right guy. There is no doubt in my mind,” he said.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard sounded upset to lose Chizik. He said Monday during a news conference in Ames that twice last week, Chizik assured him that he wouldn’t dump the Cyclones for Auburn.

Pollard said that Iowa State’s fans, staff and players “deserved better.”

“He’s got to reconcile in himself what he told all these players and what he told our administration and what he’s doing now,” Pollard said. “And if he can live with that, more power to him. I know Jamie Pollard couldn’t have done that to this place.”

A former Auburn and Texas defensive coordinator, Chizik was hired over the weekend to replace Tuberville, who officially resigned but got the same $5.08 million contract buyout he was due had he been fired.

That set off a whirlwind search that included at least eight interviews. Among the most high profile was Buffalo’s Turner Gill, who would have been the second black head football coach in the Southeastern Conference after the now-departed Sylvester Croom of Mississippi State.

Former Auburn and NBA star Charles Barkley railed over the hiring, saying Gill’s resume was clearly better than Chizik’s and that he believed racism played a factor. Gill led once-moribund Buffalo to a Mid-American Conference Conference title.

“I just can’t believe they picked this guy over Turner Gill, I’m just in shock,” Barkley said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

“I believe race had a factor. Of course I do. First of all you can’t compare these two, their records. That’s not even close to being fair.”

Asked about Barkley’s similar earlier comments to ESPN, Jacobs said: “Well, my reaction is I was picking the best fit for Auburn.”

Chizik was defensive coordinator under Tuberville during the Tigers’ perfect season in 2004, and he was co-defensive coordinator on a national championship team at Texas the following year.

Several of his former Auburn players were on hand at the news conference, including NFL defensive back Carlos Rogers.

Rogers said Chizik is “like a father to me.”

“With his passion for the game and his commitment to football and his job, I thought he was the best guy,” he said.

Chizik’s first orders of business are hiring a staff and trying to solidify the recruiting class. Some previous recruits have withdrawn their pledges, and Saban pulled in the nation’s top recruiting class last season and grabbed a number of the state’s top prospects.

That made the ability to bring in talent a top priority for Auburn in making the hire.

“There’s not one more important thing than that, when you talk about winning than me being involved in recruiting,” Chizik said. “That’s who I am. That’s what I have to be.

“When this (news conference) is over, I’m outta here. I’n hitting the road, and we’re getting after it. I will be the spearhead of that at all times. Whether it’s on the phone or in person, that’s happening.”