Posted: Sunday November 25, 2012 10:16PM ; Updated: Monday November 26, 2012 12:16PM
Stewart Mandel
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Gene Chizik's oft-criticized tenure ends at Auburn

Gene Chizik
Gene Chizik was fired as Auburn's head coach Sunday after compiling a 38-38 record in four seasons with the team.
AP

In the end, Gene Chizik's short-lived tenure at Auburn played out almost exactly as predicted in this column four years ago -- except for that whole national championship thing, of course.

Sunday's announcement that Auburn was dismissing its long-embattled head coach came as no surprise after the three months of seemingly endless chatter that accompanied the Tigers' 0-8 SEC campaign. Still, it's a unique and astonishing downfall for a coach to go from 14-0 to out of a job in less than 23 months.

Make no mistake, Chizik had to go, even at an estimated buyout of $7.2 million (mitigated if Chizik lands another job). "I decided we can't risk falling behind another year and hoping for improvement," AD Jay Jacobs said on Sunday. It wasn't just the losing. Auburn, which ended its year with a 49-0 Iron Bowl loss to Alabama, showed no sign of improvement in the two years post-Cam Newton and no particular vision from Chizik or his rebuilt staff. Factor in yet another NCAA investigation into the program's recruiting practices, and no coach, no matter how many rings, could have survived that climate for another year.

STAPLES: Auburn gets rid of Chizik, joins coaching-search circus

Still, something like this has never happened before. No coach has ever been fired within two years of winning a national championship, just as no team that's ever won the SEC championship game has endured a subsequent winless conference season. It's an almost incomprehensible implosion.

The easy route is to simply proclaim that Chizik's brief success was the product of one-year wonder Newton, and that the career 38-38 head coach was exposed without him. But it's more complicated than that. First of all, as transcendent as Newton was, he did not win 14 games that year by himself. Secondly, the quarterback's departure might not have doomed Chizik as much as that of renowned offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and a massive rash of academic and disciplinary casualties. Chizik had lost 43 percent of his first two signing classes by last January, many of the players four- and five-star recruits.

The next Auburn coach will face the same tall task that Chizik did four years ago: Recruiting head-to-head with Nick Saban. That person will need to hire some exceptional recruiters, but another innovative offensive mind like Malzahn would also certainly help. It's unrealistic to think the Tigers will rebuild to the point of beating Alabama and LSU (as they did often under Tommy Tuberville) solely on talent.

Elsewhere on Black Sunday for college coaches, Boston College anticlimactically fired fourth-year coach Frank Spaziani, who regressed as he went from 8-5 to 7-6 to 4-8 to 2-10; Purdue pulled the plug on fourth-year coach Danny Hope, who could not crack the 6-6 mark; in a surprise, NC State dismissed sixth-year coach Tom O'Brien, making a point in its press release to note "O'Brien compiled a 22-26 ACC record and was 11-19 against ACC Atlantic Division opponents (1-14 on the road and 9-5 at home)." And in a truly surprisingly ouster if only for brevity, Colorado pulled the plug on Jon Embree after just two admittedly wretched seasons (he went 4-21).

Compared to some of those records, Chizik looks like a Hall of Famer. He'll make a very good defensive coordinator for someone (unless he chooses to take an extended vacation with that $7.2 million). In the meantime, he becomes part of an answer to a trivia question. He's now one of three ex-Auburn coaches, along with Terry Bowden (in 1993) and Tuberville (2004), to post an undefeated season only to later wind up leaving in discord.

Smaller story, but I'm sure you're following it

Early in the season, Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browing wowed us with his exploits in an upset of Arkansas and a near-upset of Auburn. On Saturday, he endured a less heroic moment.

With just 28 seconds remaining and the Warhawks (8-4) up 17-10 on FIU (3-9), Browning fumbled the snap as he was about to take a knee in the victory formation. The Golden Panthers recovered, and two plays later, freshman quarterback E.J. Hilliard threw a 58-yard touchdown to send the game to overtime.

Mercifully for Browning and Louisiana-Monroe, they prevailed, 23-17.

"That's probably the craziest ending in 30 years that I've ever been around," said Warhawks coach Todd Berry, who had received a Gatorade bath prior to the fumbled snap. "Just shocking."

You'll be seeing Browning again soon enough, as Louisiana-Monroe is headed to its first-ever bowl game.

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Looking ahead

Mini-previews for three of Week 14's big games:

Kent State vs. Northern Illinois, Friday (7 p.m. ET): There's only one championship game this week pitting a pair of teams with 8-0 conference records. NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch will continue his assault on the NCAA record books, while Kent State's Dri Archer will continue to run incredibly fast.

UCLA at Stanford, Friday (8 p.m. ET): At 5 p.m. Pacific Time on a Friday, there will likely be more fans stuck in traffic on the 101 than in the stands by kickoff. Once they do arrive, however, Cardinal fans -- who thought they had seen their last home game on Nov. 10 -- will get an unanticipated extra dose of Chase Thomas and Co.

Alabama vs. Georgia, Saturday (4 p.m. ET): SEC teams have won eight BCS championships, but Georgia has yet to get its first shot. As a result, though Mark Richt has coached 156 games for the Bulldogs -- including four SEC championship games -- this will unquestionably be his biggest contest to date.

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