Auburn coach Gene Chizik inferred he could go on and on about what makes his in-state counterpart as good as he is. It just wasn’t necessary to go much further beyond the resume: three national championships, a 151-55-1 head coaching record and zero losing seasons in 17 years at four different schools, including the past six at Alabama.
“Coach Saban is a great football coach; his body of work wherever he has been really tells the story,” Chizik said at his Tuesday press conference. “I don’t think that there is anything that I can say that can inform anybody any differently.”
As the man who recruits directly against the nation’s most well-compensated football coach, Chizik had kind things to say about his relationship with Saban.
“On a professional level, he’s always been very respectful with all of his opponents and all of his peer coaches; likewise, everybody (is) with him as well,” Chizik said. “That’s my dealing with him. He’s very successful for a reason, and I don’t need to tell people all the reasons. I think it’s very obvious.”
Saban has gone 58-7 the past five years, as the Crimson Tide hunt their third national championship and fourth BCS game appearance in that span. Meanwhile, Chizik’s Tigers are 3-8, appearing to need a victory Saturday to bolster the fourth-year head man’s chances at being retained for next year.
“I personally think Gene Chizik has done a really good job,” Saban said at his Monday press conference in Tuscaloosa. “All I know is playing against him, it’s always a tough game, they are always well-coached and they are always well-prepared. That’s all I can comment about.”
The oddsmakers aren’t giving much of a chance to Auburn, a 31.5-point underdog in Saturday afternoon’s Iron Bowl across the state.
“We are going to have to, obviously, play the best game we’ve played all year and be very sound in everything that we do in all three phases of our game,” Chizik said. “Obviously, they’re very well-coached, and they’ve got some great players, so our work is cut out for us.
“But we feel great about being able to play in a game like this because it’s a privilege and all of our players know that. It’s something that they will always remember the rest of their lives.”
No love lost: Defensive linemen Nosa Eguae and Jeffrey Whitaker, who were freshmen the last time Auburn went to Tuscaloosa (in the Tigers’ 28-27 comeback for the ages), vividly recall the hostility that comes with playing in 101,821-seat Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“You definitely feel the hatred,” Eguae said. “You feel what has been brewing for 365 days.”
Asked if he’s been called nasty names by the fans, Eguae responded, “Yeah, a couple with sign language and everything. They let you know.”
Many Auburn players have been asked whether the incentive increases because Alabama’s in position for SEC and national titles. None more is needed.
“It’s the championship of Alabama. This is bragging rights. You’ve got to hear it everywhere you go,” Whitaker said. “We want to fight on this day so for 364 days, we can shut them up before they even say something.”
Everything rides on this: Chizik was asked what makes the Auburn-Alabama rivalry so intense, which Chizik answered in comparison to other nationally-heralded battles like Texas-Oklahoma and Ohio State-Michigan.
“Number one, you don’t have any pro sports in this state, so this is pro football, baseball, basketball all tied into one,” Chizik said. “This is what this state is all about, and when you’re born in this state, you’re usually born one or the other; if you’re not, you’ve got to make a decision real early on which one you are and then you can’t flip.”
Being that the last three national championships belong to teams in this game, success adds fuel to the fire in both fan bases’ passion.
“You know people are going to go back to work on Monday and Tuesday after the game and for the next (365 days, they’re going to have conversations about it,” Chizik said. “It’s different than when you go home to Michigan or go home to Ohio — not that those aren’t great, great rivalries — but I think that’s the difference in this one.”