AUBURN, Ala. – The 2010 football season was memorable for all the right reasons.
Since that Cinderella run to the crystal ball, Auburn football rewrote history for all the wrong reasons.
Gene Chizik’s firing Sunday establishes one last record-setter of inglorious proportions.
The powers that be at Auburn University finally decided they had seen enough to make a major move in the beleaguered football program, removing Chizik from his post after four seasons on the Plains.
Chizik, 50, is the first college football coach to get pink-slipped within two years of leading his team to an Associated Press national championship. The AP poll was born in 1936.
Chizik is in line to receive a buyout severance package from Auburn valued between $7.5 and $7.7 million in monthly installments averaging $208,334, though a rumored NCAA investigation might throw a wrench in that contractual agreement.
Chizik is also obligated to forfeit the offsetting difference of any future income he earns while coaching, broadcasting, publishing media or any other type of football-related employment between now and Dec. 31, 2015.
Nothing can take away what Chizik and the Tigers experienced nearly 22 and a half months ago: the rare ecstasy of claiming a national championship. Not only that, but Auburn did it without losing a game once along the journey, none too easy in the rugged SEC – only 1998 Tennessee and 2009 Alabama have equaled that distinction in the BCS era.
However, as Chizik predecessors Terry Bowden and Tommy Tuberville cautioned last month when asked about their Auburn tenures and the state of college football, it is very much a “What have you done for me lately?” business.
Lately, the Tigers have done nothing but lose. Heavily. To the SEC rivals Chizik ($3.5 million salary) and his staff are paid handsomely to beat, or at least compete with.
Auburn was shellacked by ten different conference opponents by at least 17 points in the past two seasons, and sank to the program’s first winless league slate in 32 years, capped by a 38-0 defeat Nov. 10 to Georgia and Saturday’s 49-0 loss at Alabama.
Many will look back at the Chizik’s tumultuous four years and choose to view his schizophrenic results: With Cam, and Without Cam.
Whether or not that’s fair, in a comprehensive evaluation, there’s no denying Auburn could barely pass as a mediocre program without the Heisman Trophy winner in a No. 2 uniform.
Auburn was 33-19 overall under Chizik, but an even 19-19 without Newton.
Auburn was 9-12 against the SEC West, but just 4-12 without Newton.
Auburn began 9-2 against opponents ranked at gametime – including a cool 6-0 the championship year – but went down each of its nine final tries.
Auburn was never ranked higher than 15th in the AP poll with Chizik, without Newton. The Tigers only played eight out of 38 games in 2009, 2011 or 2012 bearing an AP ranking.
Throw in multiple storm clouds brewing of potential NCAA investigations, and rumored unrest among the current Tigers in terms of program structure and coach-to-player trust, and Sunday’s choice appeared clear.
There were some good times, though, outside the unforgettable championship. Chizik immediately quieted doubters who couldn’t believe Auburn was taking a leap of faith on an Iowa State head coach with a 5-19 mark in two years, going 8-5 in 2009 capped by a 38-35 overtime win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl.
Last year’s 43-24 pummeling of Virginia in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, and a 16-13 shocker at then-No. 10 South Carolina, also come to mind.
Chizik’s 30 victories in his first three years set a school record for quick coaching starts.
Chizik is the fourth SEC coach to be dismissed in November, joining Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, Tennessee’s Derek Dooley and Arkansas’ John L. Smith on the unemployment line.
Chizik was hired Dec. 13, 2008 away from his first head coaching stop at Iowa State. A 1985 Florida graduate, he previously served as Auburn’s defensive coordinator from 2002-04, while also spending time on staff at Texas, Central Florida, Stephen F. Austin and Middle Tennessee.
The search for Auburn’s 27th head coach begins immediately, with fans undoubtedly restless in hopes of landing a high-profile replacement who will attempt to recoup as much of Auburn’s ballyhooed incoming recruiting class as possible.