Four embarrassing blowouts against primary rivals and SEC West neighbors.
That was last year. In a year that concluded with eight wins, including an easy victory in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl over Virginia.
A year that included getting crushed by four division foes – including the Tigers’ axis of evil in Alabama, Georgia and LSU – was a pleasure cruise compared to what has become one of the most ignominious years in program history.
It started with Mississippi State 28, Auburn 10.
Then continued with Arkansas 24, Auburn 7.
Then compounded by Ole Miss 41, Auburn 20.
At least none of those games were in the national spotlight. It got worse.
Texas A&M 63, Auburn 21.
And now, on Saturday, Georgia 38, Auburn 0.
“It’s very painful,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “It’s painful for coaches and players, certainly the fans and alumni. It’s very painful for everybody.”
It might be a new low, from an emotional standpoint. This was the Tigers’ most lopsided loss to Georgia in the series’ 116-game history.
“We didn’t play very well tonight in any phase of the game. I think the score pretty much indicated that,” Chizik said. “It’s what you see. It’s been frustrating. It’s one of those years where it’s kind of snowballed in momentum, and we haven’t been able to really catch any.
“This league is what it is every year, it’s not going to change. We haven’t played very well.”
The final count – at least for another two weeks, before a certain ticked-off in-state rival plays host to the Tigers (2-8, 0-7 SEC) – is nine abject calamities against SEC West foes, all losses of 17 points or more.
Nine disasters in the past 401 days. Nine disasters since the Tigers raised the crystal football in the Arizona desert and brought home their second national championship.
Nine disasters since – and this is critical – the NFL lockout of 2011, when Auburn alum and 10-year NFL veteran Heath Evans worked out with the Tigers. Evans went on ESPN Radio in Birmingham Friday morning and shared a multitude of shocking revelations from “a scary offseason”, poisoning his perception of the Auburn football program’s structure, accountability and overall trust between coaches and players.
Draw your own conclusions from that. While Chizik has not wavered from praising practices on a daily basis, those have not rolled over to the football field Saturday after Saturday.
“During the week, it’s energy, it’s passion,” junior defensive end Dee Ford said. “It’s embarrassing for the Auburn people, especially in these types of rivalries.
“Practices are great. I know practices are closed, but I wish people could see what I see. Practices are tough, rugged, every day, we’re working. Even on Thursdays, it’s not a walk-through – we’re flying around. That’s why it hurts so bad to walk off the field with a deficit like this in a rivalry game.”
Chizik says he hasn’t lost the team’s focus. Nor has he pondered much about his job security, which has been a popular subject with fans and the media in recent weeks.
“I don’t entertain those thoughts,” Chizik said. “We talk about the things we can control, and we’ve been like that since day one. So we can’t control what’s being said or thought, everybody’s opinion. We can’t live our lives that way. We’ve tried to keep them focused and directed, continuing to do their job.”
However, Chizik made no bones about where the responsibility lies.
“Coaches and players. Accountability’s always on me. This is my football team,” Chizik said. “We’re all in this game together. This is a team game. We all take this very personal. This is our livelihood. The accountability goes on everybody, but it certainly starts with me.
On Thursday, AuburnUndercover.com reported university president Jay Gogue was making plans to potentially form a search committee for a new head coach, suggesting Chizik’s days were numbered. The report added athletic director Jay Jacobs would be retained and football executive Tim Jackson would be reassigned within the department.
“I talk to Jay Jacobs on a daily basis. I typically don’t have a lot of contact with Dr. Gogue day in and day out until the end of the year anyway,” Chizik said. “I’m not going to go into the details of any of that. I’ve got one goal, and that is come back to work tomorrow.”