AUBURN, Ala. — Gene Chizik led Auburn to perhaps the greatest season in the program’s history, and two years later to maybe its worst.
The rapid fall from a national championship to 3-9 and the Southeastern Conference doormat led to Chizik’s firing Sunday, the day after a humbling 49-0 loss to No. 2 Alabama that showed just how far the program has slipped.
The Tigers endured the worst slide within two years of winning a national championship of any team since the Associated Press poll started in 1936 and hadn’t lost this many games since going 0-10 in 1950. The decision came 17 months after Auburn gave Chizik a contract worth some $3.5 million annually through 2015 with a hefty buyout.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said he informed Chizik Saturday night that he would recommend to President Jay Gogue the next morning that Chizik not be retained.
He said he had concerns with lopsided losses in 2011 but grew “very concerned in our fundamental approach to the game” after the Arkansas game.
“I had hoped our team would show some improvement this season,” Jacobs said. “Unfortunately it didn’t. The competition in our league is fierce. I decided we could not risk falling further behind by waiting for another year and hoping for improvement.”
The players were informed in a team meeting Sunday.
“I’m extremely disappointed with the way this season turned out and I apologize to the Auburn family and our team for what they have had to endure,” Chizik said in a statement released by Auburn. “In my 27 years of coaching, I have gained an understanding of the high expectations in this profession. When expectations are not met, I understand changes must be made.”
The Tigers went from 14-0 with a perfect SEC record with Cam Newton leading the offense in 2010 to 3-9 and 0-8, losing their final three league games by a combined 150-21. Auburn was blown out by Texas A&M (63-21) and Georgia (38-0) but the finale was even more painful for Tigers fans.
The Crimson Tide cruised to a six-touchdown halftime lead and the second-most lopsided Iron Bowl victory in history, behind only the Tide’s 55-0 win in 1948.
“While we experienced a tremendous low in 2012, I will always be proud of the incredible highs that we achieved, including three bowl victories, an SEC championship and a national championship,” Chizik said.
He was 33-19 in four seasons and 15-17 in SEC games.
Auburn said the total buyout for Chizik and his assistant coaches is $11.09 million. Chizik’s buyout is expected to total $7.5 million and will be paid in monthly installments for the next four years.
Six assistants are under contract through June 30, 2013 while defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor have deals extending another year beyond that.
The buyouts could be reduced if the coaches find other jobs.
Auburn joins Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky as SEC teams with job openings showing the huge divide in a league with six teams ranked in the Top 11.