Auburn fans are starting to worry that head coach Gene Chizik could be a disaster of Jimmy Carter proportions. The Auburn Tigers have a coach who could choke on the gnats of minutiae while losing focus on the larger problems swarming the Auburn football team.
Auburn fans have reason to worry with a 5-19 coach and meddling from former Auburn coaching legend Pat Dyeâ€”remember, Tommy Tuberville did his best work when Pat Dye was banished from the program. Will Chizik be able to breathe, much less thrive, with Dye looking over his shoulder?
Other things that have the Auburn faithful worried come from stories of Chizikâ€™s handling of the Iowa State program. In one story, â€œ…When he made the players spend 20 minutes of the first spring practice of 2007 precisely lining up their helmets, you wondered if a real life Captain Queeg hadn’t taken over the ISU football program.â€
It sounds like former president Jimmy Carter who issued memos on the misuse of the pronoun â€œIâ€, and held meetings with the GSA over a rodent infestation of the White House. Can a chief executive be successful when obsessed over such minor matters?
In Carterâ€™s case the answer was a resounding NO.
And it has Auburn fans worried. One blog opines, â€œ…What does it say about Chizik himself that he’s worried about this level of detail? I understand the argument that you have to take care of the little things before you can worry about the big things, but there’s also a point at which the little things are so little they’re not worth worrying about, a point where you’re so detail-oriented all you see are details.â€
One of the worldâ€™s most successful college coaches is Nick Saban. Would anyone doubt he obsesses over every minor detail? He is a guy who doesnâ€™t like people talking to him in the hallway. In fact, Sabanâ€™s attention to detail is one of the things which makes Alabamaâ€™s coach the person he is. Saban is a fanatic about details from off-season preparation to game prep. It is hard to say if Chizikâ€™s dedication to detail is reasonable, but it is too soon to call it a sign of mental illness like Captain Queeg. Getting to know Chizik better could help explain why he insists on the proper arrangement of helmets.
What do we know of Gene Chizikâ€™s background? Perhaps the most important detail is Gene Chizik, Sr.; Chizikâ€™s dad was a Marine, decorated with the Bronze Star after fighting at Sugar Loaf Hill.
According to mackbrown-texasfootball.com:â€¨â€œSugar Loaf Hill was only a little more than 50 feet high and three football fields long, a knoll in a trio of them on an obscure island in the Pacific Ocean. To understand Gene Chizik, it is important to understand about Sugar Loaf Hill.
â€œBecause it was there that lessons of humility, character, commitment, team, loyalty and family all were manifested. For it was there that his father, Gene Chizik, Sr., earned a medal for bravery that he never bragged about, and survived a battle not many men did.â€
Chizikâ€™s relationship with his father is important. The relationship was so close, Chizik, Sr. was best man in his sonâ€™s wedding.â€¨
“He was the man,â€ Chizik was quoted as saying. â€œMy father and I were very close. He was a Marine, a tough, tough guy. He was a man’s man. When he came back from the war, he finished college playing football, and from there he went directly into coaching, then went into administration and was a high school principal.”
As Marines like to say, Marines never stop being Marines. The Marine Corps teaches attention to detailâ€”a fanatic attention to detail. Anyone who has been a Marine passes those traits on to their offspring (or at least attempts to pass on those traits.) With Chizikâ€™s close relationship to his father, a father who was also a football coach, it stands to reason Chizik learned much of his style from his father.
The style would include many military values. Just in case it wasnâ€™t clear, the military places value on order. Uniforms must be neat, gear must be stowed correctly and bunks must be squared away. There are important benefits in the way a bunk is made, as these exercises teach discipline. And can anyone doubt the importance of discipline to an army or a football team? Small things like the treatment of equipment can teach big lessons to a football team. Lessons such as, if you are precise in the daily tasks then you develop traits to be precise in other things.
Too many commentators say that players today wonâ€™t tolerate discipline. However, you donâ€™t want those types of players on your team (see Alabama under Mike Shula.) Football players without discipline arenâ€™t a football teamâ€”they are a rabble waiting to be routed.
It can take time and be painful to change attitudes. As the Auburn blog points out, â€œWhen things go wrong this season, and next–and things will go wrong, from time to time–how is Chizik going to respond?â€
The bigger question isâ€”How will Auburn respond? Will Auburn give Chizik the time to rebuild the program in his image? Would one disastrous season followed by a mediocre one get him fired? It only took one bad season to get Tommy Tuberville fired.
And Auburn fans are already divided on Chizik.
Going back to Captain Queeg and the Caine Mutiny, Queeg, while strange and ineffective, was done a disservice by his officers; the officers were quick to find fault and never embraced that Queeg was a man with the same faults as any man. Those officers sound like football fans, boosters and college administrators.
Time likely isnâ€™t on Chizikâ€™s side.