Posted: Wednesday October 27, 2010 12:32PM ; Updated: Wednesday October 27, 2010 2:13PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Give Gene Chizik some credit for Auburn's success; more Mailbag

Story Highlights

Cam Newton and Gus Malzahn wouldn't be at Auburn if not for Gene Chizik

A Big East turnaround depends on adding teams and hanging on to coaches

Playing on the West Coast won't hurt LaMichael James' Heisman chances

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Auburn's 8-0 start is impressive, but Gene Chizik will ultimately be judged by victories over Alabama and SEC titles.
Auburn's 8-0 start is impressive, but Gene Chizik will ultimately be judged by victories over Alabama and SEC titles.
Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMI

The general rule of thumb is that deserved or not, the head coach is always the first person lauded or lambasted for a team's triumphs or tribulations. In the case of Auburn's surprising 8-0 start and No. 1 spot in the BCS standings, however, some observers are looking to credit everyone but head coach Gene Chizik.

Stewart, with Iowa State's upset of Texas this weekend, Paul Rhoads has notched a second victory over a major opponent in just his second year there. When Gene Chizik left Iowa State for Auburn, there was talk that he wasn't really as bad a coach as his 5-19 record may have indicated there because it's just that difficult to succeed at Iowa State. My question is, how much of Chizik's success at Auburn can be attributed to offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and dynamic playmaker Cam Newton? Are we going to see Auburn sliding back into mediocrity once Malzahn inevitably leaves for a head-coaching position and Newton departs for the NFL?
-- Wayne S., Russellville, Ala.

It's way too early to make any long-term projections about Chizik's tenure at Auburn. All I know is that to this point, he's done everything Tigers fans could have hoped for (even this guy). Would the Tigers be 8-0 right now without Newton and Malzahn? Of course not. Malzahn is one of the most innovative offensive minds in the country, and Newton's arrival is the single biggest reason the Tigers have gone from a 3-5 SEC team last year to a 5-0 team this year. But the head coach isn't generally the one designing or calling the plays. And Auburn is hardly the first team to achieve success because of its star quarterback.

As the CEO of a major college program, the head coach's two most important responsibilities are assembling and managing his staff and recruiting great players. To this point, Chizik gets an "A" for both. He had the foresight to recognize that Malzahn, then at Tulsa following a brief and controversial stint at Arkansas, did in fact have the acumen to succeed in the SEC. Meanwhile, in a very short time, Chizik turned Auburn into a force in the recruiting world, landing a top five class last season. Note that the three most talented players on Auburn's roster -- Newton, defensive tackle Nick Fairley (a juco transfer) and freshman tailback Michael Dyer -- were all members of Chizik's two recruiting classes. They wouldn't have signed if they didn't like what the head coach was selling.

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All that said, Chizik technically hasn't accomplished anything yet. Ultimately, Auburn fans won't measure him by 8-0 starts. They'll want to see victories over Alabama and SEC titles -- starting this year. Whether he can achieve and sustain the type of program they demand will depend in large part on his ability to keep making good hires (if in fact Malzahn leaves) and keep recruiting at a high level year-in, year-out. Chizik wasn't at Iowa State long enough for us to get a sense of his long-term prospects. Rhoads deserves all the credit for the Cyclones' successes, but who's to say Chizik wouldn't have had a similar breakthrough? I don't think Auburn will "slide back into mediocrity," because it's rarely been a mediocre program, but it's too early to tell whether we're witnessing the start of a dynasty or simply one particularly special season.

I've been a big fan of the Mailbag for a few years now and enjoy reading your columns on SI.com. I remember you writing an article a couple years back about Gene Chizik having "absolutely no chance of succeeding" at Auburn after being hired away from Iowa State. With Auburn now holding the No. 1 spot in the BCS rankings, do you regret making that statement?
-- Daniel, San Antonio

Yes. I guess the one saving grace is that I didn't show up at the airport and boo the AD.

Stewart, you really think LaMichael James can win the Heisman? Only three non-USC players from the West Coast have won the Heisman, and it has been 40 years since that happened. Until they fix the lopsided and disproportionate voting system, no West Coast player, no matter how outstanding, will win if he isn't in Cardinal and Gold.
-- Luke Martinez, Tulare, Calif.

False!

I don't know if you've noticed, but the Heisman has been bucking history a lot in recent years. No freshman or sophomore had won prior to Tim Tebow; now three straight sophomores have won it. A defensive tackle from Nebraska and a running back from Stanford were finalists last year. The historic "East Coast bias" you're referring to wasn't a product of any "disproportionate voting system" -- the electorate is divided evenly by region -- as much as the fact that there used to be far fewer games on TV, and USC tended to hog the Pac-10 telecasts.

But this is 2010. Do you really think Oregon is hurting for exposure? I'm guessing every voter from Maine to Montana has watched the Ducks play and is more than familiar with James. He also happens to play for the No. 1 team in the country. I don't know if he'll end up winning it, but if he doesn't, it won't be because he plays for a West Coast team.

 
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