AUBURN, Ala. — One of Gene Chizik’s go-to mottos when asked on a weekly basis about his job security as Auburn’s head coach is, “it’s not about me.”
Chizik, the eighth-highest paid college football coach in the country ($3,577,500 salary) per USA Today’s annual survey Tuesday, prefers to place the focus on grooming his players, giving and receiving support from the Auburn fan base, and gameplanning for the Tigers’ next opponent.
This week, there’s a high emphasis on all three phases. Auburn (3-8, 0-7 SEC) will need nothing short of a miraculous 60-minute effort to compete with second-ranked Alabama (10-1, 6-1) in the Iron Bowl Saturday, one of college football’s most intense rivalries.
A look at history says there’s even more than that on the line for Chizik, who is widely presumed to be out the door shortly following the Tigers’ final regular season game of his fourth season Saturday.
Chizik is on record as believing this bounce-back project starts with him. That he should have an opportunity to fix this.
However, if the Tigers can’t upset Alabama — favored by more than four touchdowns in the Iron Bowl — they’ll be losers of all eight SEC games for the first time in school history.
That bodes far from well for Chizik’s job security, though athletic director Jay Jacobs has been silent on the subject and university president Jay Gogue has maintained he’ll make no decisions until after Saturday.
In the five seasons preceding this one, three SEC coaches went 0-8. None of them lasted another game.
Ole Miss’s Ed Orgeron (2007) was dismissed on Nov. 24 of that year, the final straw served by blowing a 14-point lead to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
Vanderbilt’s Bobby Johnson (2009) retired the following July from coaching.
Ole Miss’s Houston Nutt (2011) resigned Nov. 7, sticking around for the final three games.
Fast forward to this season, with two SEC teams besides Auburn currently winless in league play. Since Kentucky (2-9, 0-7) visits Tennessee (4-7, 0-7) Saturday, one of them will definitely get on the board.
Both head coaches, however, have been told they will not return — Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, fired Nov. 4, agreed to finish out the year, while Tennessee’s Derek Dooley was ushered out Sunday and will not coach Saturday’s game.
Auburn’s history is just as ominous for Chizik, who won National Coach of the Year accolades just two years ago.
Since Ralph “Shug” Jordan’s retirement in 1975, the Tigers have won less than three SEC games in a season eight times in 37 seasons. Two of those tough years were part of rebuilding projects under first-year coaches Pat Dye and Tommy Tuberville.
The other six? 1980, an 0-6 slate. Doug Barfield was fired … 1991-92, a pair of 2-win seasons. Dye was done after that … 1998, a 1-7 effort. Terry Bowden mysteriously resigned midway through the year … 2008, back to 2-6. Tuberville resigned.
The sixth is 2012. Time will tell — likely, within the next week to 10 days – what’s in store for the future of Auburn football.
NOTHING TO SHOW
Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt, 2002
Had inherited a 0-win team in 2002, his first year; remained coach until 2009
Jackie Sherrill, Mississippi State, 2002
Coached the 2003 Bulldogs to 1-7 in SEC, retired following that season
Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss, 2007
Fired on Nov. 24 after blowing 14-point lead to Mississippi State
Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt, 2009
Retired in July 2010 from coaching
Houston Nutt, Ole Miss, 2011
Resigned on Nov. 7, allowed to coach the rest of his fourth season
Joker Phillips, Kentucky, 2012
Fired on Nov. 4, allowed to coach the rest of his third season
Derek Dooley, Tennessee, 2012
Fired on Nov. 17, not allowed to coach final game of his third season
Gene Chizik, Auburn, 2012
Widely rumored to be dismissed at end of his fourth season