A quotation from the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens best summarizes the Gene Chizik era at Auburn: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
On Sunday, November 25, 2012, Jay Jacobs and Auburn University made an announcement that most of the Auburn Family expected: Gene Chizik had been fired.
He did not step down. He did not politely step back from the position. He was not given an option to replace his coaching staff. The choice was not his. The decision was made, and the decision HAD to be made after Auburn went 3-9 and 0-8 in SEC play; the worst season in 60 years.
Although the factors of Gene Chizik’s departure may leave a sour taste in many mouths of the Auburn Family, one must not overlook some of the “best of times” during the Chizik era.
Therefore, I give you the 5 most memorable games in the Gene Chizik era at Auburn:
5) 2010 SEC Championship Game: #1 Auburn vs. #19 South Carolina
Date: December 4, 2010
Overview: The 2010 Auburn Tigers came into the match-up with the “you win, you’re in” situation staring them directly in the face. The South Carolina Gamecocks entered Atlanta with a rematch, after coming close to defeating Auburn a few months before with a score of 35-27. Both sides were hungry for a win. If Auburn won, there was no doubt they would be heading to Glendale, Arizona for a chance at the BCS National Championship. South Carolina, on the other hand, was looking for revenge for the earlier defeat. After Auburn established a 2 touchdown lead in the first half, they slammed on the gas pedal in the second half to soundly defeat South Carolina by the score of 56-17. Cam Newton had 4 TD’s through the air, passing for 335 yards as well as rushing for 2 TD’s and 73 yards.
Importance: Auburn dominated on both sides of the football during this game. The 2010 SEC Championship game was probably the most dominating performance in a conference championship game I have seen in my lifetime. This game was certainly important due to the BCS stipulation. Also, Cam Newton showed the Heisman voters plenty of reasons why he should (and did) win the Heisman Trophy.
4) The Rain Game: West Virginia vs. Auburn
Date: September 19, 2009
Overview: After defeating Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State to start the Gene Chizik era, a tougher test awaited the 2009 Tigers in the form of the West Virginia Mountaineers. The Mountaineers defeated the Tigers a year before by a score of 34-17. About an hour before kickoff on that September day, a monumental rain storm hit Jordan Hare Stadium. Although Stadium personnel recommended the fans to leave their seats and take shelter in the inner walkways of the stadium, the student section maintained their position and sat through the rain storm while cheering and chanting. The momentum never left the Tigers after that. Even though WV stormed out with 21 points in the first quarter, AU maintained their emotions and fought back to make it a one point game by half. The second half belonged solely to the Tigers as they defeated the Mountaineers by a score of 41-30.
Importance: Just thinking about this game gives me chills. I remember the game being delayed due to the weather. I fondly remember, once the game finally kicked off, that the commentators mentioned the spirit of the fans throughout the night. There was no doubt about it: The Auburn Family believed in Gene Chizik and rightly so. This game exemplified the Auburn spirit perfectly.
3) 2009 Iron Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. Auburn
Date: November 27, 2009
Overview: The Alabama Crimson Tide came into Jordan Hare Stadium on that faithful Friday afternoon with a date with destiny. If they could get past Auburn, they would have a date with Florida which would open up an opportunity for their first National Championship since 2002. Needless to say, they did not expect the 7-4 Tigers to give them the fight they received. After jumping out to a 14 point lead, Auburn watched Alabama slowly fight back, like most championship teams do, to take the final lead with 1:24 left to play. The score would hold as Alabama defeated Auburn 26-21.
Importance: You may be scratching your head thinking, “Wait. Auburn lost this game. Why is this game even mentioned?” Well, to me, it is quite simple. Alabama was a favorite. Auburn was the underdog. In an unlikely turn of events, Auburn gave the eventual National Champion everything they could handle. The Auburn Family chanted the well-known “It’s Great to be An Auburn Tiger” after this game just because this Auburn team left it all on the field. This was, by far, one of the best Auburn performances I have seen in my lifetime. It is my belief that the guts and the integrity of the 2009 team laid the foundation of the 2010 team which leads me to…
2) “The Camback”–2010 Iron Bowl: #2 Auburn vs. #11 Alabama
Date: November 26, 2010
Overview: The #2 Auburn Tigers came into Bryant Denny Stadium on top of the world. With a date already set in Atlanta with SEC East Champion, South Carolina Gamecocks, Auburn knew they had a chance at a once in a lifetime opportunity which included a BCS Championship. Alabama, as Auburn did a year prior, was playing the spoiler role and would have liked nothing more than to knock their instate rival off of the pedestal. Throughout the first half, it seemed Alabama was going to do just that. Alabama put 21 points up against the Tigers in the first quarter alone and increased the lead to 24 by the second quarter. By halftime, the score was 24-7 in favor of the Tide. In the second half, Auburn came out an entirely different football team. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, Auburn did the impossible by coming back to win the game 28-27 in one of the best Iron Bowls to have ever been played.
Importance: Coach Gene Chizik and company were out coached throughout the entire first half of this ballgame, BUT they made adjustments during halftime to frustrate the Tide. The first and second halves were daylight to dark. Alabama completely dominated the first half, and Auburn dominated the second half and had enough in the tank to win the game. By far, this will be an Iron Bowl to be remembered by both fans for a very, very long time.
1) 2011 BCS Championship Game: #1 Auburn vs. #2 Oregon
Date: January 10, 2011
Overview: After fighting off a pesky Alabama team the end the regular season and completely dominating SEC East foe South Carolina, Auburn had made it. Center stage. The big show. The big one. For all the marbles. Auburn faced off against a very speedy Oregon Ducks team in attempt of capturing their first National Championship in over 50 years. This was one of the best games I have had the privilege of seeing in my lifetime. Nerves played a big part early on with mistakes for both teams, but by the second half, each team had settled down. As the game continued, you just had the feeling that whoever had the ball last was going to win. That team just happened to be the Auburn Tigers. After a brilliant Michael Dyer run set up a Wes Byrum field goal, the Tigers won the right to be named the best college football team on earth with a score of 22-19.
Importance: This is Auburn and Gene Chizik’s crowning moment. After more than 50 years of waiting, the Auburn Family was finally rewarded for their patience with a National Title. This moment is one that I was not sure I would ever see in my lifetime. Throughout the Auburn Family, a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and awe were present. It was as if we were dreaming. It will forever be an occasion that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Overall, a decision had to be made after the total domination Alabama put on Auburn in the 2012 Iron Bowl. No matter how recent the National Championship was won, a 3-9 season is not acceptable. There is NO DOUBT in my mind that Gene Chizik is a great man that loves Auburn. It just seems like he lost control of something special. I will forever remember his time at Auburn due to the great accomplishments and memories he leaves behind.
As of right now, Auburn is in the midst of a very hush-hush coaching search that includes names such as Bobby Petrino, Gus Malzahn, and Jimbo Fisher, just to name a few. No matter who is hired, the new coach will inherit some players that have played on the big stage before and are talented and realize the expectations to win at Auburn University. Gene Chizik may have lost control of the ship, but in the end, we must remember that we visited some great places while he was at the helm.
Be patient Auburn Family. Good things are coming! War Eagle!