Let’s see, you are Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs. You had one of the most respected coaches in the nation in Tommy Tubberville, but you decided to fire him (or, accept his resignation, whatever) after a 36-0 loss to then #1 Alabama completed a 5-7 season.
Even though most felt Tubberville deserved another chance, it was Jacobs’ prerogative to let Tubberville go (though you know there was a lot of input from boosters, alumni and the school president). The next thing Jacobs had to do was find a replacement.
He could have hired Texas Tech’s Mike Leach, who turned the Red Raiders into one of the nation’s best programs. That’s not an easy thing to do in Lubbock, especially when you consider Tech is behind Texas and probably even Texas A&M in the hearts and minds of the people in the state. But, Auburn passed, reportedly because the stodgy university people felt that Leach was too quirky. Hey, quirky or not, the guy deserved a chance at the job, and Auburn will probably regret passing on this offensive genius (we all saw how bad Auburn’s offense was this season).
That left two candidates for Jacobs to choose from. Gene Chizik, the former Auburn defensive co-ordinator, who had a 5-19 record in two seasons at Iowa State. And Buffalo’s Turner Gill, who in three years with the Bulls, had the program winning the MAC Championship after spending years as a Division 1-A doormat. While no one was talking about Chizik as a hot coaching candidate, Gill’s name was out there. So, who did Auburn hire? Chizik!
Chizik is said to be a fabulous defensive co-ordinator, and that may be true, but the results haven’t been there as a head coach. Sure, Iowa State is one of the worst teams in the Big 12, but it wasn’t so long ago that the Cyclones were going to bowl games (they went to five under former coach Dan McCarney).
The Tigers also went with a familiar face in Chizik. Remember, he was there for a few years as the defensive co-ordinator, including the undefeated season a few years back. So, they went with someone they were comfortable with.
There is speculation that race played a role in the choice of Chizik over Gill. Charles Barkley, who was right to come out against his alma mater, said Gill told him he felt like the interview he had was a ‘token’ interview. There were reports on ESPN that fellow SEC coaches said Gill would never get the job because he was married to a white woman.
If that’s the case, then everyone involved in the hiring process should be embarrassed. The United States just elected Barack Obama as the country’s first African-American President. Yet, the ‘good old boys in the SEC’ are operating like it’s 1958, not 2008.
Who cares if Gill is married to a white woman? It has nothing to do with whether or not the man can coach. And the man can coach.
In fact, Gill has more head coaching experience than Chizik does (he’s got Chizik by a year). He was also a long time Nebraska assistant. It’s not like he was an unknown.
Consider what Gill has done in three years at Buffalo, and it’s not a stretch to say he would have done better at Iowa State had he been there instead of Chizik.
Buffalo is not a college football hotbed. I lived there for four years, from 1989-1993 (went to college at cross-town Buffalo State). When Buffalo announced they were moving from Division III to Division I, most people in the community barely raised an eyebrow. Buffalo was then, and is now, a pro football town.
For over a decade, the Bulls languished at the bottom of Division I-A. It was so bad there, even Temple used to blow them out.
Gill changed all of that. Sure it took time, but he went from two wins in his first year, to five in his second, and eight this season, leading the Bulls to their first ever bowl game (by comparison, Chizik had three wins in 2007 compared to two wins this year). The Bulls ruined what was supposed to be the Cinderella year for Ball State.
This accomplishment is not small by any stretch of the imagination. Are the Bulls going to be a Top 25 team? Probably not. They aren’t the second coming of South Florida.
Gill was able to get players to come to snowy Western New York, to a program that hasn’t been seen on National television on a consistent basis. And he was able to get them to win.
By comparison, Chizik inherited a program that Dan McCarney put on the map. A program that belonged to one of the BCS conferences. A program that had been on National television. And, what did he do with it? He went 5-19. He had more to work with, including a better recruiting base, and didn’t get the job done.
If you compare the resumes side by side, there is no way you couldn’t choose Gill over Chizik. Unless, of course, you are Auburn, in the SEC, where apparently qualifications don’t matter. Comfort does.
It certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this in the SEC. If you go back a few years, you’ll recall that Alabama hired Mike Shula over Sylvester Croom. Many people were shocked that someone with as little experience as Shula had got the job, but Alabama was quick to point out who his father was. And if that wasn’t enough, he played quarterback for the Crimson Tide in the eighties. That’s how they justified the hiring.
Well, Shula didn’t exactly make anyone forget Bear Bryant while he was at Tuscaloosa. In the meantime, Croom, also a former player at ‘Bama, was so angry he took the job as head coach at Mississippi State, which is only a half step higher than Vanderbilt in the SEC. it took a few years, but Croom turned the Bulldogs into a bowl team before resigning after a down 2008 season.
If ‘Bama had to do it over again, they probably would have hired Croom over Shula. You wonder if Auburn is going to feel the same way in a few years about the choice of Gene Chizik over Turner Gill.
The bet here says they will.