An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: We welcome the head coach of Auburn, Gene Chizik.
COACH CHIZIK: Well, it's great to be back here in the great City of Birmingham. Always an exciting time, this time of the year, because obviously everybody's ready for football to get kicked off and started. So the juices are flowing I'm sure from everybody. Again, I'm excited to be here myself.
Been an incredible journey for myself, our assistant coaches at Auburn, our players, our fans, our Auburn family, just an incredible past year. I know we've all moved on. But I think a year ago as I stood up here, I'm not really sure that there was many people in this room or across the country that felt like Auburn would have a chance to win the national championship.
I think a guy said it best that I saw on one of my travels here recently. He told his girlfriend he would marry her when Auburn wins the national championship. I asked him, Were you together when the kick went through?
He said, Yeah.
I said, What did she say?
She said, Better ante up now, big boy.
They're now married today.
That was probably the sentiment of most people last time this year. But that's the great thing about college football. There's a hundred plus teams this time of the year that are all trying to win the national championship, but there's only one.
So the journey from this point in time last year to now has been incredible for us. But I want to make this really, really clear because the minute our plane hit the ground in Montgomery on January 11th, we had moved on. We have been focused and locked in solely on the 2011 football season.
So there's been a lot of great things that have been happening at Auburn. I feel really excited about not just the 2011 football season, but really just kind of where we are in the program. Really, really excited about it. Feel great about the direction. Recruiting is going tremendous for us right now.
There's going to be a lot of new names and a lot of new faces you're going to have to get used to this year. We have a very young team, as you know. We graduated 20-plus seniors. We probably have from the 2007 and 2008 signing classes, I think we have somewhere around nine players on our roster left from those two classes combined. We are a little bit light on experience.
I think probably what said it best one day in spring practice was that I asked our guys to raise their hand if they started or played in more than five games at Auburn. I was looking for hands. Wasn't very many that went up.
But, you know, this spring, it was a blast. This spring was really fun. Probably one of the funnest springs that I've had. We have a very young team. As a matter of fact, the three young men we brought today, Phillip Lutzenkirchen, Nosa Equae, and Emory Blake, one of our wide receivers, three young men that all contributed very heavily to us being able to win a national championship last year are with me here today. That's a sophomore and two juniors. I think that probably gives you a good indication of the youth of our team.
But make no mistake about it, the standard for Auburn University and the goals for Auburn University, no matter if we were going to play 22 freshmen, have not changed. That is to graduate our players and win championships.
The great thing about where we are right now, where we were probably a little different at this time last year, is that our football team this time last year did not know what 'great' looked like. I've said that several times. The good thing is that
July 21, 2011 visit our archives at asapsports.com Coach Chizik - 07 21 11.doc 2
the majority of the guys we have coming back, they know what 'great' looks like. They also know we're a far cry from that.
But it's exciting to watch young guys who have a lot of energy compete for jobs. On September 3rd, we got guys that want to be playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium. That's probably what made spring practice so fun. A high level of energy. A lot of guys fighting, battling it out, competing for jobs. Again, it was a lot of fun for me personally.
Our administration has been absolutely outstanding in commitment to competing for championships for a long time, as indicated by a week from now or so, we will kind of unveil our $16 million state-of-the-art indoor facility. We've got renovations going on all over our athletic department. There's just been an unbelievable amount of commitment from our administration. That's very much appreciated. We're definitely heading in the right direction.
So many bright things happening. I was able to get out a little bit here recently. The Auburn family is absolutely as excited as I've ever seen about where the program is headed. It's been a lot of fun seeing them.
I've got the best coaching staff in the country. If you look around the country these days, it's really hard to see how many coaching staffs have movement every year. When you got great coaches, it's really tough to be able to keep 'em, quite frankly. And I'm proud to say that we've had one guy in three years leave our staff. And the continuity of that staff is extremely important to me.
So our assistants are the huge reason that we've been able to have success both on the field, off the field, and in recruiting.
So we got a very tough schedule next year. Obviously we have four tough SEC road games that are going to be very challenging for us, plus we go to Clemson, which last year was an extremely physical game. So we've got a tough schedule. But every year in the SEC, as we all know, that's kind of the way it unfolds.
Again, I couldn't be more excited about getting this thing kicked off here shortly. Our players are excited. Again, our coaches and our fans and our administration just really excited about what's happening at Auburn.
Without any further ado, I will open this up to any questions.
Q. Talk about the freshman season Michael Dyer had, what you're looking for him this year? You were talking about assistants. How important was it to keep Gus Malzahn on staff?
COACH CHIZIK: You must be from Arkansas (smiling).
Michael Dyer, the expectation of Michael Dyer, you know, he rushed for a thousand plus yards last year. I think one of the things we did with Michael that I think really helped him is we just didn't throw him in there too early. There's a lot of things that happen with runningbacks besides just carrying the ball. Pass protections, things of that nature. I think we brought him along just at the right time. I thought that as he played in the national championship game, obviously everybody knows he was the MVP. That's all good.
But Michael has a lot of work to do. I'm really proud of him because I think he's really understanding the work ethic and the things that it's going to take for him to be a better back than he was last year. Make no mistake about it, that is our expectation of him.
He needs to be better in pass protection. He needs to be a more physical runner. He's got, as we all know, a lot of great talent. But he has got to up the level of his game. It's that simple.
But really proud of the direction he's going right now. I don't expect anything less than that from Michael.
As all of my coaches, as I mentioned earlier, extremely important for me to keep Gus. Gus and I have an outstanding relationship. We're very similar in the way we think in concepts football-wise. And he's a great person on and off the field.
So he's great for our players. Obviously he's one of the best in the country at his trade. I think we all know that. So it was big and I'm excited that we've got Gus back with us.
Q. I want to ask you about leadership departing the team, most particularly on the defensive side. Do you see yourself taking a more hands-on approach with the defense, in particular the linebackers and the secondaries, coming into 2011?
COACH CHIZIK: I've got a great coaching staff. So obviously I'm going to, me personally, do what I feel like I need to do in terms of the hands-on approach everywhere in our football team. I'm the head coach, so I'm not a defensive coach. I'm an offensive coach, a defensive coach visit our archives at asapsports.com Coach Chizik - 07 21 11.doc 3
and a special teams coach.
I've got great defensive staff members that I've got a lot of confidence in. I think if you just go back to the last game we played in, how great our defense played that night, to allow us to stop one of the most potent offenses in the country.
So I've got great coaches. They're very good at what they do. I've got a lot of trust and faith in them. I'm not a hands-off coach. I love coaching. That's what I do. So I'm going to obviously impart any of the knowledge of the game that I can on any aspect of our football team that I think is helpful. So I'll always do that, not just on defense.
But Ted Roof does a phenomenal job. I've got a lot of trust in him. And we'll continue to improve on defense as the years go.
Again, I think one of the most important things that people can't overlook is we had the number one rush defense in the SEC last year. That's not easy to do in this league. That was one of our goals we set out at the beginning of the season to accomplish and we did that.
Look, we haven't arrived everywhere as a defense. Every one of our coaches and players will tell you that, but we're going to work hard to get there.
Q. What was so attractive to you about Tre Mason? What role do you think he could play for you this fall?
COACH CHIZIK: Well, with all of our recruits, we really try to do our homework on what they all bring to the table. Tre is a very gifted young man, as so many other guys that we recruited in this past recruiting class.
There's no question in my mind you always have to have tailbacks in this league. That's one of the places we were shy at obviously. So recruiting him was a priority. He's a very good football player.
But as all of those young guys, they've got a lot to prove. They haven't taken one snap yet. So along with the rest of that freshman class, we're looking forward to watching them all compete.
Q. The incident in Destin that we all read about, was that an accurate portrayal of what happened? Were you satisfied with the response from the NCAA official?
COACH CHIZIK: Typically I don't talk about what I thought were private meetings. Apparently it became public somehow or another. So for that reason I will address.
It was a real simple question of process to Julie, who happens to be the head of NCAA Enforcement, so I thought there would be nobody better to ask. To be honest with you, it was very informative. There were some clarifications that were made that had to do with process. So I was very appreciative that we got some things cleared up and that I was able to be educated a little bit further in the questions that I had.
Q. At that point, did you ask compliance or call the NCAA? Why did you feel compelled to engage her at that point?
COACH CHIZIK: Again, without going into the details of any of the exchange in the meeting, I was just trying to get clarification at the time. Again, she was very willing to clarify for me, and I appreciated that.
Q. Do you think it's the NCAA's obligation to continue to inform schools where they are in investigation, if they're still investigating you? Also, how has this been for you as far as any frustration of this thing still hanging out there, trying to continue to build what you're building?
COACH CHIZIK: The question I get asked frequently is the frustration part. You know, I don't operate on rumors and innuendos, anything of that nature. So, you know, my job every day at Auburn is to, again, recruit, graduate great kids and great players, and win championships. That's what I'm focused on every day.
So all of the outside innuendo, speculations, rumors, all those different things, whether it be NCAA-related or otherwise, is just not a big part of what I concern myself with.
I've said this many times. I feel great about where we are as a football program. I sleep really good every night that my head hits the pillow. That's what I can control. So I know we're every day doing things the right way. That's what I can put my time and energy into. So that's what I do.
Q. Do you regret agitating or angering the NCAA person in Destin before the answer that's been publicized, if that's what you did?
COACH CHIZIK: Can you repeat that, please.
Q. Do you regret now perhaps angering or agitating the NCAA representative in Destin visit our archives at asapsports.com Coach Chizik - 07 21 11.doc 4
before she gave that answer that's been publicized?
COACH CHIZIK: I didn't see that was at all an angry or agitating exchange at all from my opinion. Again, it was a clarification of process. That's how simple I can make it.
Q. You went to the University of Florida. You saw the Florida/Florida State rivalry. Can you talk about Alabama/Auburn, how it's more intense. Do you expect it to become more passionate now that both teams have won national titles over the past two years?
COACH CHIZIK: I've really been blessed to be a part of several great rivalries. Obvious, the Iron Bowl, the Auburn/Alabama game is a huge, huge rivalry, regionally and nationally as well, and always has been, and rightfully so. It is a great rivalry. It is a great rivalry.
The fact that the success both schools have had recently, you know, it's great for the state of Alabama. It's just a great rivalry. As I've always said, you know, there's such a huge level of respect for the coaches and the players and the high, high majority of the fans. So this is a great rivalry. I expect it to be passionate and energized and all of those things that we know rivalries are. I don't expect that to change.
Again, it's two great football programs that are going to obviously always continue to have that rivalry. Like I said, it's a great one, one of the best in college football.
Q. You have Samford on the schedule, the game before the Iron Bowl this season. Is that something you may look into, scheduling the UABs, even a start-up program at South Alabama to keep that money in-state and schedule those top teams on future schedules?
COACH CHIZIK: Well, you know, we have scheduling meetings and we talk about different various options out there. We'll always continue to do that. I don't know that that will always be the deal-breaker, but it's certainly nice to be able to play Samford. Obviously Coach Sullivan was a great Auburn player and we love him.
But, you know, we'll do what we think at the time is best for Auburn. It doesn't necessarily have to be something that's in-state, but it's good to be able to play some of the regional teams here, certainly the in-state teams. That won't be the deal-breaker for us. We're always going to do what we think at that point in time is the best for Auburn.
Q. How do you replace a Cam Newton or Nick Fairley and not lose a step from last year?
COACH CHIZIK: I don't know that you can replace a Cam Newton or Nick Fairley in terms of production right away. I would say anybody would be hard-pressed to do that.
You know what, we feel good in the valuation of our players. Obviously we recruited both of those guys. We feel really good about our recruiting process.
How we go about it, how we identify the guys that we think are the right fit for Auburn. The past three recruiting classes that we've had, you know, even when we came in and only had a short window to identify our players, we feel good about those guys.
I don't know who will be the next Cam Newton or Nick Fairley. What I want is a bunch of guys in there that love football, they love academics, they love Auburn, and guys that lay it on the line like those guys do to give them an opportunity to be productive like them.
Hard to replace. We all know that. If I stood up here and said anything different, that wouldn't be the truth. At the end of the day, we got some great young players and hopefully we'll get some guys that are productive as well.
Q. Is there a code of silence among the coaching fraternity pertaining to knowledge of another program committing a violation and reporting that? If you had personal knowledge of a violation, would you personally feel compelled to report it?
COACH CHIZIK: You know, I'm not going to go into the details. I certainly can't speculate on how everybody else feels, what their silence is or is not. I can't intelligently talk about that, about anybody but me.
What we try to do at Auburn is we try to recruit the right way. We try to always do what we think is in the best interest of the student-athlete. Our compliance office does an outstanding job of educating coaches and players at Auburn. So we're always going to stay within what the compliance office and the new legislation, as it moves every year, we're always going to try to always stay within those rules. visit our archives at asapsports.com Coach Chizik - 07 21 11.doc 5
I can't tell you about all of that kind of stuff. I really don't have the energy or the time to worry about what other people do. I'm worried about Auburn University. Those 100-plus players I have on my football team will always be my number one priority and nobody else's.
That's how we live our life on a daily basis. I can't really speak for anybody else. We have our hands full, using the energy every day to do what we feel is important for Auburn.
Q. We saw a lot of emotion into what happened at Toomer's Corner both in the state of Alabama and throughout the southeast. We understand you can't live in a vacuum from what happened. Is there a way to deal with this as coaches, as administrators, fans or media to try to put that sort of ugliness away and be a little more civilized as a society, if you will?
COACH CHIZIK: Let me retrace, let me back up a little bit, let me talk about the Auburn/Alabama rivalry. I still am very adamant that this is one of the greatest rivalries in college football, as history would have it. There's so much passion in that rivalry.
I think it's like anything else, you know, the majority of the people out there - both sides - are really, really educated football people. They're very, very in tune to the passion of the rivalry without going overboard.
But as anything in life, you're going to have some individuals who, you know, go over the limit. As I've always said, there's such a high level of respect for the coaches and the coaches, the players and the players. If there's one thing that I could impart to everybody is that if the fan base as a whole had the same amount of respect for each other as the coaches and the players, then I think you'd see, you know, less of these things happen. Although there's not many of those incidents that do happen.
So, you know, Toomer's Corner was an incident that we're working day and night. I appreciate our people at our university working so diligently, working so hard to save those trees. Regardless of what happens now, the tradition is going to live on, because that's the tradition of the rivalry.
Again, one of the greatest rivalries in college football, and I don't think that's really indicative of the way everybody feels about it.
Q. How important are recruiting services to your recruiting process?
COACH CHIZIK: You know, I think recruiting services can actually take a lot of legwork and a lot of time out of the evaluation process. Now that recruiting has sped up so much in terms of early recruitment, early commitments, all of those things, I feel like the recruiting services can be of value.
The bottom line is, is the recruiting service giving you what you feel like you need to make an accurate evaluation of the player that you potentially could be recruiting.
So I think there's different things that they do in terms of sending you film, sending you information, sending you things that can be of value. And you just have to sit down, as we do, and really evaluate if that's what you're looking for, no different if you were going to go out and buy anything on the market, being good stewards of your money. Are you going to buy this versus this, and what does it provide you in return. It's really that simple.
Q. You mentioned on January 11th you felt like you moved on. What things have you done with 18- to 22-year-olds to make sure they moved on? Not to belabor the point, but do you feel a little bit disappointed that your colleagues maybe sold you out a little bit about talking publicly about that meeting?
COACH CHIZIK: The first part with our football team, you know, football is cyclical. I mean, we kind of get in the same mode every year. We come back from a bowl game, they get a couple days' rest, you start onto the next thing. We haven't done anything earth-shattering that is going to impart on them that now we've moved on.
In college athletics, first of all they kind of know that. But, you know, we talk about it continuously. I mean, all you have to do is look around our team meeting room and they can see the dynamic of our team has drastically changed. We have so many young guys fighting for jobs that it's pretty much common knowledge and obvious that, you know, we've moved on to the next thing.
Obviously, in every position room, including myself, we emphasize the fact that all that other stuff is in the past. The only thing, again, that I will bring up is they know what a championship team ought to look like now, where before they did not.
So that's what we've done.
Then to the second part of your question, visit our archives at asapsports.com Coach Chizik - 07 21 11.doc 6
again, you used the word 'sold out.' Again, I'm not of that world of thinking. Again, I've got way too many things to do to concentrate on a daily basis with Auburn football, so I don't focus necessarily on any of those outside potential distractions.
Q. How do you feel about Mike Blakely's appeal to the NCAA being denied? What are your expectations of him next year when he can play for you guys?
COACH CHIZIK: Again, the process is still ongoing. I'll let everybody know when it's not, number one.
But Michael is a good football player. Again, he came in with a recruiting class that we have high expectations for this year in terms of guys being able to contribute. That's what we told him when we recruited him and it certainly hasn't changed any for us right now.
Q. In terms of an NCAA investigation as it results in recruiting, even if you're found to have done nothing wrong, how damaging can that be when prospects continually ask you about it, have that in the back of their mind? As you know, those investigations don't move so quickly.
COACH CHIZIK: Well, I can only speak for us personally. Our recruiting class right now is really, really going well. We've had two top-five back-to-back recruiting classes. We don't expect this one to be any different.
Again, there can be different rumors, innuendos, all those things that go with it. We've got one goal in mind: keep pressing ahead, keep doing the things we know is right, which is what we try to do on a daily basis. All that stuff unfolds favorably for us as we move forward.
Recruiting for us, I'm extremely excited where we're at. We have to ramp it up more, and we will. I don't expect this class to be any different than the previous two.
Q. This year you have Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida on your schedule from the east. How do you feel about the way the conference does that round robin scheduling for the opposite divisions?
COACH CHIZIK: I think obviously they've been doing that for years. I think it's really, really neat to be exposed to different teams on the other side.
Obviously Georgia is the staple for us. But, you know, the rotations I think have been fine. Again, I think it's neat for our kids to be able -- obviously, every year they're going to play the same teams in the west. I think it's cool that the kids in a four-, five-year career get a chance to experience other venues in the SEC because the SEC East has such great competition, such great teams and great venues that I'm excited that our guys get a chance to see something a little bit different.
Q. Danny Sheridan said on a radio show here in Alabama yesterday he had sources at the NCAA that said they think they found a third-party bagman that helped in recruiting Cam Newton to Auburn and tied that in with Auburn. I was wondering about your response to his statements.
COACH CHIZIK: I'll make this real clear. The NCAA on more than one occasion has said that Auburn has done nothing wrong in the recruitment of Cam Newton. Nothing's changed.
Again, can't control everybody's microphone. Can't control everybody's opinion. Don't try to. But, again, I'll say as I've said it maybe the fifth time today. I feel really good when my head hits the pillow tonight.
Q. Has the ongoing investigation taken any of the joy away from the national championship? Have you been able to enjoy it?
COACH CHIZIK: I've had a blast. I've had a blast. Our players have had a blast. Again, I think one of the things that we do a great job of at Auburn is keeping everything within the family. What an incredible journey we had in winning the national championship.
Hasn't taken the joy out of anything. Hasn't changed anything for our players or our coaches or administration. We've had a ball.
Q. Coach, can you talk about your football players for a second, talk about Barrett Trotter, and where does Kiehl Frazier fit in as possibly playing this season?
COACH CHIZIK: When we recruited Kiehl and everybody else in this class, what we told them was that there's going to be incredible opportunities this year because obviously we had foresight into the number of seniors, just opportunities that young guys could have.
When we recruited him, we told him that, visit our archives at asapsports.com Coach Chizik - 07 21 11.doc 7
You're going to have these great opportunities. We also told them, If you are the best guy, whether you're a freshman, sophomore, junior, doesn't matter, true freshman, whatever it is, if you are the best guy that gives Auburn a chance to win on Saturdays, then you will be the starter.
So I've got two really good quarterbacks that have battled it out all through spring practice. We've got a third one in Kiehl that will come into the mix. Again, whatever one of the three gives us the best opportunity to win, that's who's going to be calling the shots on game day.
Q. Was there one game early last year that you saw this team could be special?
COACH CHIZIK: Well, there was. I think being down against Clemson, that was a pretty incredible comeback. That was the first sign that this team is special because everybody can do well when things are going well.
We always measure things by, How are you and who are you when things aren't going well. I thought that was the first indication that our team, they never panicked. They never pointed fingers. It was a total team game.
Then following the next week at South Carolina, I know you only asked about one game, but I have to group them together because a similar situation happened against a great South Carolina team next week. Back to back, they were able to answer the bell and respond to negative situations on the field, going down by 17 and 13 respectively.
That was when I thought, You know what, this is coming together as a team, because the chemistry dynamic of a team is what you don't ever know. You can have great athletes, but you don't know what the team chemistry's going to be, and that's a huge part of the equation when you're looking at championship-level teams in my opinion.
That's the first time I felt like, you know what, I believe we've got a chance.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Chizik, thank you for your time.
COACH CHIZIK: Thank you.