TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Again, Auburn coaches and players spent all week talking the talk. They swore they had improved, promised practice went well, tried to convince anyone who would listen that Saturday would be filled with pride and passion.
For the final time of too many to count, actions spoke louder than words.
The final nightmare was administered by bitter rival Alabama, which outplayed, outcoached and out-everythinged the woebegone Tigers 49-0 Saturday.
“It was a sad performance,” coach Gene Chizik said. “The Auburn fans and the Auburn alumni don’t deserve that.”
Closing the book on 2012, the Tigers’ collective talk surfaced for a few moments in a crowded visitor’s media room beneath the south stands at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Every Tiger vouched for their embattled head coach, his coordinators and their assistants.
The outgoing seniors Emory Blake and T’Sharvan Bell … the returning veterans Jake Holland, Nosa Eguae and Chad Slade … the upstart youngsters Tre Mason, Angelo Blackson and Jonathan Wallace.
The whole group universally talked the talk: they want Chizik to lead them to better and brighter days in 2013.
But a few accurately added a caveat: it’s not up to them.
The actions the Tigers subjected their fans to this year took the decision out of their hands, and put them in the palms of university president Jay Gogue, who said Nov. 16 he would await season’s end to determine the program’s future.
The words Chizik said Saturday – in a forum offered to him to beg for his coaching life with more than 20 cameras from local and national media pointed at his face – were faint and reserved, if not completely consigned to his fate.
“I don’t have to make a case (to be retained),” Chizik said. “You all saw what you saw out there tonight. I’m just very disappointed for our fans. We’ve been in tough times before. We’ve got to come back and continue to work and try to fix everything that kind of spiraled down.”
Chizik, who admitted “there weren’t many” positives this season, was asked specifically whether he had been told by Gogue or athletic director Jay Jacobs whether he’d be back next year. He didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question, responding, “I’m not going to go into all the job situation with any questions. This isn’t about me.”
While he didn’t enter specifics of his mindset for the future, Chizik spoke as though there is an Auburn future to address.
“Of course, I am the head football coach at Auburn,” Chizik said, “and there’s no question in my mind that I believe we can get this thing turned around and back on the right track.”
Following an abbreviated six-minute press conference, Chizik’s coordinators, Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder, were not made available to the media for the first time this season.
That left the players to answer for their coach’s tenuous position.
“He should be back,” Wallace said. “I definitely love coach Chizik and the whole coaching staff. They know exactly where this program needs to go, and they know what to do. I hope they are back next year. I really do believe they will be.”
“Coach Chizik is an awesome coach,” Eguae said. “He’s definitely an amazing person and a man of Christ. I just wish the best for him. I’m just looking forward to next season with him as our coach.”
Asked by a reporter how he’d feel about a new regime, Wallace, the freshman quarterback from Central-Phenix City, said, “I don’t agree with that. I don’t really have any comment on that.”
Blackson, a sophomore defensive tackle, said he’d be glad to get Chizik back, but understands the nature of the business – undeniably illustrated by three other SEC coaches (Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, Tennessee’s Derek Dooley and Arkansas’ John L. Smith) being shown the door this year.
“You know, it would hurt, but at the same time, it’s something that you sign up for when you get to college,” Blackson said. “Coaching change is a part of the game … As a team, you’ve got to win. You’ve got to put together a gameplan to win to beat your rival team, but when you don’t, it’s part of the game.
“It’s the consequence you’ve got to pay.”