It’s Time for Gene Chizik to Open Up

There isn’t much I don’t like about Gene Chizik. I like how he coaches. I like how he recruits. I like who he hires. I like how he runs the program and deals with internal issues and disciplinary problems. I like how he represents the school. I like how he seems to only worry about winning football games, building the program, and preparing kids to be men in this world. He doesn’t care what people say or think. But that, in today’s day and age, is the only thing I wish Chizik would change – at least a little bit.

In general, Gene Chizik is a quiet, mild-mannered man. Sure, he’ll wave his arms and yell towards the student section after a big win, and he’ll get in a player’s face when they’ve done something stupid, but for the most part, he’s even-keeled.

When it comes to talking to the media, he’s the same way. He doesn’t get too excited, doesn’t say anything too outlandish, and keeps it pretty simple. His press conferences are filled with coach speak. He refuses to answer or steers away from any question that may even hint at a touchy or controversial subject. This has understandably caused the media to label Chizik as a boring interview.

Now normally I’d be completely fine with that. The media has never given Gene Chizik anything and have ignored any and all of his accomplishments, so why should he go out of his way to give them a soundbite that may make their job easier? Plus, as I mentioned before, his job is not to be entertaining behind a podium. He’s a football coach, and he’s ultimately there to lead Auburn to football victories – but times have changed.

With the amount of media coverage and the amount of money that surrounds college football (especially SEC football) these days, a head football coach is way more than that. He is the CEO of the program. He is the head marketer. He is the press secretary. He is everything. Sure, there are other people who have these jobs in reality, but when it comes down to it, like wins and losses falling on the head coach’s shoulders, the same can be said for each part of the program today.

That is why Gene Chizik must open up, give a little more, show a little personality, and do his best to win over the public outside of the Auburn fanbase.

He has the recruiting part down. He’s had some bad apples, but has taken care of them. He’s got coaching down. He’s 30-10, with an SEC and National Championship in three years. He’s done enough to be labeled successful and among the top coaches, and he’s done enough to be respected, but as a whole, I would say he is not.

Right or wrong (mostly wrong or irrelevant), the media has plenty of ammo towards Chizik. There’s the whole 5-19 thing. Some of them are still convinced that Cam Newton was paid to go to Auburn, and that he beat entire teams by himself. It doesn’t help that Chizik stands in front of them looking like he’d rather be in a pine box than answering their questions. And when he does answer those questions, no matter what it is, he somehow brings it back to the most generic coach speak imaginable.

This year’s SEC Media Days was a perfect example. Chizik’s opening statement and press conference to the print media ended 10 minutes short due to the fact that nobody wanted to ask anything else. Why? Because they knew they wouldn’t get even a slightly interesting response. It would just be something else from the Handbook of Old School Football Clichés. It doesn’t matter that there was nothing negative about what he said, but do you think the media is going to go out of their way to write something positive with nothing positive to work off of?

Another example was from when one of my questions to Chizik was selected by ESPN SportsNation to be answered in their chat yesterday. I even requested no coach speak and got nothing but.

Not everybody in the world is born with great public speaking skills, nor does everyone have the most bubbly personality in the world, but he can do better. I know he can.

I’m not trying to say that he should just play to the media and chum it up with those that still call him a failure and think he was a one-year, Cam Newton-led wonder. I’m not trying to say that they hold his future entirely in their hands, but in a way they do.

As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword. Through only a few articles in the past years, it wasn’t tough to turn the entire country against Chizik and the Auburn program – and I say “turn against’ in the sense of thinking their success was a fluke or bought. The public can be and has been swayed very easily. Over time, if enough negativity is spewed, you will see even the people who have backed Chizik slowly turn against him. An 8-5 record this season would almost certainly put him on the hot seat in the media’s eyes. Once that is written about enough, a chunk of the Auburn fanbase will start to believe it. Jay Jacobs will hear about it, and there go the dominoes.

I know that’s a stretch and to say that the media controls hirings and firings may sound crazy, but they do have an effect on those sorts of things these days. You catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar, and I just think that Chizik could give a little more honey. He doesn’t have to. He shouldn’t have to. If he wins football games, he should be good. But that’s not enough right now, given how things have transpired over the last two years.

It’s not just about the media, though. In 2010, I remember a strong contingency of fans that were not happy with the fact that he always kept it quiet while the entire Cam Newton saga played out. In some cases, it’s best to keep your mouth shut, and for a time I understood why Chizik did so, but that whole mess was one of the most unprecedented witch hunts of all time. It did end up actually having some legs (well, one very small leg), which caused the short suspension of Cam Newton, but all we got from Chizik was a short statement at the beginning of the Georgia week press conference that basically just referenced the “garbage” being spewed about Cam’s student record at Florida.

Some Auburn fans wanted more defense of the program, if not just for reasons of pride, but also for assurance that Auburn wasn’t in the wrong. The silence hurt. There’s no doubt about it. I’m not saying it was all Gene Chizik’s call to keep it to a minimum, but joined with the fact that nothing is ever said, and that whole CEO thing, it falls on him.I don’t want to just completely come down on Chizik. Like I said before, I pretty much love 99 percent of what he does at Auburn. I just think a little more personality will go a long way. He obviously has a great personality to recruits, given his strong track record there. I just wish the public could see it more, and the only way for the public to see is through the media. I think he’s likeable. I’ve met him a few times, and he’s very personable. The rest of the fanbase deserves to see that, and the rest of the country needs to see it.

I know the number one comment on this blogle will be “I don’t care what anybody thinks about him. He’s doing a great job, and he’s a great Auburn man, so who cares?” Honestly, I completely agree, but Chizik’s situation is very unique.

All of the drama from past seasons coupled with the media’s new love affair with Nick Saban (which I will address next) has Chizik at a point where he can either continue to get bashed for every season that doesn’t end up with ten wins, or start to gain a little benefit of the doubt by coming off as more of a nice guy.

Speaking of Saban, something has happened to him in the last year or so. He has seemed slightly happier behind the podium, and he’s much nicer to the media. This has led to a new movement by some, namely Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, to label Saban the new king of coaches of sorts. I won’t get into how his argument is completely contradictory to his point, but it shows that the national media are completely, without a doubt, in love with Nick Saban.

Sure, the National Championships and overall success of the program has a lot to do with that, but even during the first National Championship season, they still weren’t all on board. They, especially local media, bashed him for his media-bashing antics. Now, they’re all on board. He wins, and now he’s nice to them. That’s all they need. He can now do no wrong (which is the problem with Dodd’s article).

I know. It’s blasphemous to say that Gene Chizik needs to be more like Nick Saban, but in this case it’s true. What would it hurt to come off as a nice, open, personable guy? Sure, keep football the number one thing. It should be. But when facing the public through the media, you’re going to win over a lot more people if you look like someone that any normal Joe could sit down with and talk about whatever.

I don’t want Chizik to go the Spurrier route because eventually people just start laughing at you rather than with you. I don’t want him to become a huge promoter like Vanderbilt’s James Franklin because then you just become annoying. But somewhere between those would do just fine.

The bottom line is that Chizik is old school, and I love it. But the game has changed. Coaches no longer just patrol the sidelines. They are the face of the football team, the athletic department, and the school. Auburn has had so much hate thrown towards it lately that it’s time to kill the world with kindness. Smile, Gene.

Oh, and I still love you…