Posted: Wednesday September 12, 2012 11:17AM ; Updated: Wednesday September 12, 2012 4:55PM
Stewart Mandel

Gene Chizik's doubters at Auburn return after hiatus; more Mailbag

Story Highlights

Despite winning the BCS title in 2010, Gene Chizik is receiving criticism at Auburn

Rich Rodriguez's, Todd Graham's success has hinged on inheriting right personnel

Plus: positive signs for Syracuse, thoughts on struggling Colorado and much more

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Auburn coach Gene Chizik
Gene Chizik has been the subject of heavy criticism following Auburn's 0-2 start.
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Of all the columns I've penned for, no headline came back to haunt me more obviously than: "Chizik Has Zero Chance to Succeed." The first gloating e-mails from Auburn fans started trickling in about halfway through the 2010 season, picked up steadily once the Tigers won the SEC Championship and kept on coming for months after the BCS title game.

Obviously, I was wrong. Gene Chizik succeeded at Auburn. He won a national championship. However, the gist of that column was not an indictment of the man's coaching ability. (In fact, I wrote "Having observed him first-hand ... I believe Chizik is a pretty good football coach.) My point was, given how universally unpopular the hire was -- forever encapsulated by that heckler at the airport -- Auburn fans would never fully embrace him. "Every little misstep he incurs -- the first bad loss, the first questionable decision -- is only going to fuel the skeptics that much more," I wrote.

Most of those skeptics went into hiding for a year or two. But boy are they back now.

Is there anyone who actually still thinks Gene Chizik is a competent head coach? Aside from striking gold with Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, his records at Iowa State and Auburn are mediocre or worse. And looking at this year's schedule, it's hard to envision the Tigers not finishing with at least five losses again (probably more like six or seven). Does the national championship buy him extra years or would Auburn dump him if he has a losing season?
-- Keary, Lawrenceville, Ga.

When Gene Chizik was hired you questioned the hire, then he wins the national title, now the team looks bad. I know this is Year Four, but take away the Cam year and Auburn has been very mediocre. How soon will Chizik be on the hot seat and how much credit should Cam Newton and Tommy Tuberville (who recruited most of the other players) get for winning the title?
-- Forest Worgum, Montesano, Wash.

It's pretty amazing, really. Rarely does a coach get so little credit and gain such little mileage from winning a national championship. Before the season, the Sporting News ranked all 124 FBS coaches; Chizik, one of just six active coaches with a BCS championship ring, came in 36th. Even Larry Coker enjoyed a longer honeymoon at Miami before the Butch Davis NFL pipeline ran dry and angry fans started flying banners over the Orange Bowl. Chizik's skeptics have never let him live down that 5-19 run at Iowa State. They were hesitant to give him credit even during the Tigers 14-0 in campaign in 2010, often citing offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn as the real brains behind the operation. And of course, there is a segment of the public that will always believe Auburn "bought" that championship, proof be damned.

To answer Forest's question, Chizik certainly deserves credit for the 2010 run. He hired Malzahn. He recruited Newton. And though it seemed like it at times, Newton and Fairley did not win those 14 games by themselves. You could tell that team had incredible chemistry, and that starts with the head coach. But take away that one magical season and Chizik is 16-12 at Auburn, 7-10 in the SEC. Last year's slide back to 8-5 wasn't all that surprising given Auburn lost two-thirds of its starters from the year before and suffered mass attrition from the 2008 and '09 recruiting classes. But Tigers fans expected to see improvement this season. So far, all they've seen is two losses, most notably a horrific showing at Mississippi State last week.

Plenty of teams have dug themselves out of 0-2 holes and have gone on to have nice seasons. Remember, just two weeks ago the Tigers took a top-15 Clemson team to the wire. It may be that Mississippi State is just a lot better than we thought. However, just as I lauded Chizik for hiring Malzahn, I've previously questioned his puzzling choice of Scot Loeffler as his new offensive coordinator, and the first two games have not assuaged my concerns. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier looks completely miscast for Auburn's offense. He's completing 49 percent of his passes, has four interceptions and has not been a factor in the running game. That's a major problem.

Even if this season does turn into a full-on disaster, it's unrealistic to think Auburn would dump Chizik just two years after winning the national title. I think. Then again, this is the same school that ousted Terry Bowden halfway through a season after winning 10 games the year before, secretly interviewed Bobby Petrino while Tuberville was gainfully employed and eventually paid $5 million to buy out Tuberville following his first losing season in nine years. I guess we'll find out soon enough how many folks on The Plains are still All In.

That Auburn vs. Louisiana-Monroe game this week just got a bit more interesting.
-- Ben, Fort Collins, Colo.

Indeed. Maybe Kolton Browning can play all-time quarterback.

With the announcement that Notre Dame is joining the ACC and will be required to play five ACC teams in football every year, don't you think this will hurt recruiting? This move could eliminate traditionally annual games with Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State and take away from Notre Dame's Midwest presence, where most of its recruits are from to begin with. Even though they are well known across the country, they still hit the Midwest recruiting trail pretty hard.
-- Shawn, Lima, Ohio

What a treat we have for you this week. A bonus question I scrambled to add after the Mailbag had already been published!

I suppose that's a risk, but look at this way: It's not like the current approach was working wonders. While Notre Dame's move was based primarily on other factors -- concerns about future scheduling, access to the ACC's bowl lineup and the deterioration of Big East basketball -- there's the possibility this could actually help in recruiting. It's a tall task trying to beat Ohio State and Michigan head-to-head for Midwest kids. Just last year, four-star offensive lineman Taylor Decker flipped from Notre Dame to Ohio State upon Urban Meyer's hire. However, Notre Dame's allure remains as strong, if not stronger, on the East Coast, where there's fewer competing powerhouses. Theoretically, the Irish will now play in that area more often. Even better, the Irish will now play regular games in the Southeast, by far the most important recruiting region in the country. While Notre Dame isn't likely to beat LSU or Alabama for a kid in those schools' backyards, it could attract interest from prospects open to leaving the region.

Keep in mind, the ACC only became a realistic option for Notre Dame within the past 12 months. Previously the league was adamant about insisting on full membership. For years, we'd always assumed if the school ever joined a new conference, it would be the Big Ten, but both parties seemed to sour on that notion during the recent realignment wave. Then the Big 12 made a push, but that never seemed a logical fit. This move makes more sense because Notre Dame has a lot more in common with schools like Boston College, Virginia and Duke than it does with Texas and Oklahoma or Ohio State and Michigan. It's always been a virtual East Coast school that happens to be in Indiana. And if and when Notre Dame finally decides take the conference plunge in football, it has a much better chance of competing for championships in the ACC than it would in those other leagues.

I think I woke up with a hangover... I'm a bit disoriented from watching the Big Ten yesterday. What is going on with the conference?
-- Eric, Hoboken, N.J.

Simple answer: A bunch of teams took on challenging nonconference opponents, all on the same day -- and almost all of them lost. Kudos to Northwestern for bucking the trend against Vanderbilt, but that was the highlight of a day in which the Big Ten managed to collectively go 6-6. The entire conference just received a bid to the Little Caesars Bowl.

Nearly all the teams that went belly up had seemingly evident concerns entering the season, but we either chose to ignore or downplay them. Wisconsin lost six assistant coaches and an opening-day NFL starting quarterback in Russell Wilson. Danny O'Brien may be a fellow ACC transfer, but he looked like the farthest thing from Wilson against Oregon State. And Bielema's new staff was apparently enough of a problem to merit firing offensive line coach Mike Markuson two games into the season. Meanwhile, Nebraska's defense regressed significantly last season and lost its coordinator (Carl Pelini) and three best players (Lavonte David, Jared Crick and Alfonzo Dennard). We assumed Bo Pelini would fix it. We assumed wrong. And Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz lost the only offensive coordinator he's ever had and about 27 running backs; the Hawkeyes have scored 24 points in two games. The list goes on.

Many of these teams will rebound, but so far they've done nothing but validate my preseason belief that Michigan State is the class of the conference. The Spartans have their own unanswered concern (their passing game) and their own nonconference test this week (Notre Dame), but they may well be the conference's lone hope of producing an elite team this season. Now I know what you're going to say. What about 2-0 Indiana? Unfortunately, the Hoosiers lost starting quarterback Tre Roberson for the season against UMass. The Big Ten can't even seem to win without losing.
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