Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve Feedback

Time for another round of Feedback, where I reproduce and respond to various e-mails and comments that have trickled into the ol' JCCW inbox. Oh, and the occasional cell-phone picture, I guess, like the ones sent in by reader John, who attended one of Lassiter (Ga.) High's holiday break basketball games and passed along the following:

That middle blur in the top picture, the masked man with his back to the lens in the second? None other than Gene Chizik, who was in attendance for reasons I'll let John explain:
A friend of mine coaches for a local high school and we recently went to a holiday basketball festival they were playing in. The game preceding his school's game featured Lassiter and Phillip Lutzenkirchen. I watched the first half and marveled at his athleticism and nimbleness of his feet. I looked up in the tiered gym and saw Chizik observing the game like a hawk with a couple of cohorts. I was as disappointed as anyone in his hire, but seeing him in person, after one of our top prospects, excited me. At the very least, he is doing what he said he would do. He is putting a face to the Auburn program, and working as hard as possible to win the respect of the recruits. From a distance, you could see the easy and natural rapport Chizik had with the Lutzenkirchen family.
Good stuff to hear. One the one hand, I sort of feel like "Well, Chizik had better be working his ass off and schmoozing recruits' families like schmoozing is going out of style." On the other, as John points out, it's one thing to talk the talk, it's another to walk the walk. What the end result is going to be is still way too early to guess, but at least we have hard evidence that the work is indeed being put in.

For a less positive take on the impending Chizik era, check out the following comment left by an Iowa St. fan calling himself "Chizzed on," which got tagged onto this post:
As a long-suffering Cyclone football fan, allow me to present my perspective of the Gene Chizik Auburn defection:

Initally, Cyclone nation was ecstatic when Chizik was hired. His presence here allowed our AD to nearly double our athletic program budget, at that time of his hire it was the lowest in the Big 12.

That's the only positive comment I can make about the man. Gene Chizik promised the Cyclones a winning program. In a press conference prior to leaving for Auburn he publically professed his love for Ames, for Iowa, for the students, faculty, alumni and boosters. Mr. Chizik told ISU fans he'd do what it took as long as it took to turn the program around.

And then without warning he bailed...QUIT.

Good riddance to Chizik. And I'm truly sorry that Auburn ended up with this guy. His actions here clearly demonstrated he can't be trusted, lacks character, has questionable values and low integrity. If he had any balls at all he would have finished what he started and made good on his promises. Instead, he runs away at the first opportunity.

These aren't values you look for in a head coach. Maybe I'm wrong...he might become a great head coach. But his recent actions at ISU indicate differently.

Right now, I'd give him 2 years at Auburn...after he 'Chizzes' all over you like he did ISU and runs the program into the ground dump his sorry ass and get someone who you'd be proud to call Coach.
To some extent, I want to call this kind of response pure, undiluted, classic vintage sour grapes. Certainly, there's not enough cheese in all Wisconsin to accompany the kind of whine ISU AD Jamie Pollard produced in the wake of Chizik's departure, and I mean, come on--Auburn's the better job. Expecting a guy without any Iowa roots like Chizik to choose to stay in Ames after receiving an invitation to the Plains was never going to make rational sense, no matter strong a sense of duty you might expect Chizik to have. Duty's great, really. But a gigantic raise and a program with 10 times the professional potential? It ain't that great.

But ... but ... for those same reasons, shouldn't there be just a sigh of resignation and blank surprise coming from ISU? Where is all this anger coming from? The press conference, right, the alleged late-game assurances, right ... is that enough? It all makes me uneasy. I don't much care for the idea that our new head coach was telling his current employers he wasn't really interested in leaving until he left. I don't care much that so many bridges seem to be burned behind him. Coaches who leave that kind of scorched earth don't always succeed at their next stop. Franchione. Petrino going to Atlanta. Rich Rodriguez, at least to this point. I don't want to call it karma, but it just doesn't seem to be a positive omen.

Then again, it's not necessarily a negative omen, either, as Todd Graham and Nick Saban and, ahem, Tommy Tuberville will attest. It makes me uneasy, certainly, but in the end whether Chizik succeeds at Auburn won't come down to how classy or how smooth his departure from ISU was--it'll be how classy and how smooth he is now that he's here.

Got a couple of late, less-than-impressed comments on the Turner Gill Coachapalooza post, which as you'll recall was mostly ambivalent about Gill's resume for the Auburn job (ironically, of course, it ended up being better than the one belonging to the guy who got hired). Gerald Ball summarized the post like so:
"Turner Gill is a great candidate who deserves a job somewhere, just not at MY school."

That is precisely why there are only 4 black coaches today, and when black coaches do get hired it is at wastelands like Mississippi State, New Mexico State, Temple, Wake Forest, New Mexico, Northwestern, Stanford etc. The only SEC school to offer to hire Charlie Strong, who has been the conference's top coordinator for 10 years? Vanderbilt.

Most people I suppose would only want a black coach after he has already won a national title. (Never mind that if he has already "proven himself", why would he leave?) Meanwhile, Lane Kiffins and Steve Sarkisians, guys not even 35 years old who have been coordinators for less than 3 years, can get jobs with no problem.

It stinks, and attitudes like this are the reason why.
I certainly won't argue that college football's record of hiring African-American head coaches is absolutely disgraceful. Why is Charlie Strong still coordinating at Florida instead of serving as the head guy at N.C. St. or Kansas St. or Minnesota, to name three mid-level programs who have hired retread white guys in the past two seasons? No clue. Why would Syracuse hire a white Sylvester Croom* instead of the dynamic, successful black guy in their own backyard? Search me. I don't see what Tennessee sees in Kiffin, don't see what Washington sees in Sarkisian, and frankly, as hard as I tried, it never got easy to see what Auburn saw in Chizik until we found out they saw "So, the first thing I'm going to do is hire Gus Malzahn." If a clearly qualified candidate like Dewayne Walker is willing to go to New Mexico St. to get his shot, surely he would have gone to Bowling Green, right? So why did the Falcons look at the disaster zone that was the Clawfense and say Hey, we'd better get ourselves some of that?

That said: it wasn't about all those other teams It was about Auburn, and Gill was just not the best candidate I believed Auburn could hire. As I said repeatedly, I believed those candidates were Brian Kelly and Paul Johnson. If Auburn had hired Kelly or Johnson, do you know who I would have recommended Cincy or Ga. Tech hire? Turner Gill. It's not about race, it's about the situation, and whatever you want to say about the Auburn administration's final decision, the attitudes of fans like yours truly obviously had nothing to do with it--or Turner Gill would be Auburn's coach today.

Moving on to more current matters, the Gus Malzahn breakdown offered yesterday went skimpy on one particular set of details, prompting one anonymous reader to write:
I notice there's nothing said about the quality of his recruiting. Hard to gauge coming from Tulsa, and the Arkansas situation was sui generis, but do we have any thoughts on that?
Well, I did mention that the bountiful opportunities for stat-padding that exists in Malzahn's snapitNOW offense would be a natural lure for skill position players, but the commenter's right here--anything that happened at Arkansas is unrepeatable and at Tulsa it's hard to gauge exactly how much attraction Malzahn himself has and how much head coach Graham or the program or some other factor might have.

But I think it's fair to assume Malzahn's recruiting is much, much more likely to be a boon than it is to be an anchor. For starters, if we can't tell exactly how muxh he's helping the Golden Hurricane's efforts, he sure ain't hurting 'em--Tulsa went from having the 11th-best class in C-USA to Rivals in 2006 to 8th in '07 to 4th in '08 to the current top spot for '09. Helping that ranking, as commenter PowerOfDixieland pointed out, is former Michigan commitShavodrick Beaver, the No. 8 dual threat QB in the country and the sort of prospect that never winds up in a C-USA backwater like Tulsa. Except, apparently, when he's recruited by Gus Malzahn. (There was some brief chatter Beaver could follow Malzahn to Auburn, but as he's already practicing with the Golden Hurricane, I think we can rule that out.) And if there's anything to take away from Las Cronicas Locas de Boss Hawg, it's that he does appear to have a very good rapport with his players--it's not a one-to-one match with pure recruiting skill, but again, it's a positive sign. The guess here is that if Malzahn isn't necessarily going to turn Auburn into a coachbot-style recruiting machine, he's still pretty gosh-darned likely to bring in some of those offensive playmakers Auburn has been so starved of since the 2004 bunch left.

One last thing, also attached to the Malzahn post, from an anonymous Arkansas fan responding to my assertion that coaching credit for Arkansas's 2006 offensive success should be shared amongst Malzahn, Nutt, and David Lee:
Nutt was forced to hire Malzahn against his will and there was much resentment on the Arkansas staff of him (sound familiar?). David Lee didn't arrive until after the 2006 season. His hire is the reason Malzahn went to Tulsa. Nutt told Malzahn that David Lee would be the new OC and that Malzahn would just be the receivers coach. Yes, Houston Nutt is THAT stupid. Malzahn left with class and has never publicly commented one how he was ridiculed and handcuffed by the Nutt staff.

Neither Nutt or Lee brought the Wildcat to Arkansas. That was Malzahn's idea, which Nutt and then Lee co-opted. However, Malzahn is much more than just that offensive set. He is a brilliant mind, that if allowed to do his thing will produce serious benefits for Auburn.

If Arkansas' head coaching position comes available in the future, Malzahn will be at the top of the list. Enjoy him while you have him.

Accounts vary on the Wildcat's genesis, so I think it's safe to say Malzahn had a heavy hand in its creation and leave it at that rather than making any definitive claim (though Anon is correct that Lee wasn't on staff at Arkansas in '06; my mistake). It doesn't much matter: the point is that Malzahn is capable of thinking outside the proverbial box and adapting to the talent he has on hand, and that the majority of fans from the only previous SEC team he's served at think Auburn has made a tremendous hire. For the time being, I'm more than willing to take them at their word.

*Doug Marrone: random longtime NFL assistant, never called either offensive or defensive plays. It's Croom's resume to a T.


Alex P in Smyrna G said...

I have to say, I find JCCW to be the most therapeutic of the Auburn blogs. Most times it feels like I’m reading my own thoughts, just much more eloquently put.

But now I have to repeat an assertion I posted on your Malzahn piece:

He wants to throw deep but we don’t have a single deep threat WR on the roster. Slaughter and Hawethone have dissapointed. Our best hope speed-wise is Frenchy, but all we have with him is potential – under 6-foot potential at that. This is my biggest concern with Gus. Hopefully we find some HS senior burners and tell them they’ll likely start in 2009, because that’s our best shot.

Jerry, I’m begging you: Please help me feel better about this!

Jerry Hinnen said...

Alex, I would respond in two ways:

1. Malzahn's shown an ability to adapt to the guys he has. If he can't find a way to get guys open downfield, hopefully he'll shorten up the routes a bit and still find a way to make things work. Maybe a greater reliance on bubble screens with the aforementioned Frenchy?

2. I think you might be selling Slaughter short, who you'll recall had a good day going downfield against Ole Miss, the one game where Burns got his fly-route act together and we saw a secondary who was willing to bend a bit. He's still just a sophomore, too, right? Better position coaching, better scheme, I think there's something to work with there.

You're right there's not many other guys I can point to and say "That guy looks like a future bombs-away threat"--Billings, maybe?--but that's what recruiting is for. As much as I love the Malzahn hire, it doesn't dramatically change expectations for 2009--next year is mostly about just stopping the rot and taking a couple of little steps forward, and if Malzahn is as sharp as he's made out to be, he won't need a perfectly-matched set of talent to accomplish goals like those.

Brandon said...

The season of death strikes again, in a literal and tragic way. Auburn's swimming and diving coach apparently has an inoperable brain tumor.

Alex P in Smyrna G said...

I'll agree there. Malzahn has used a wide array of methods to utilize the wide array of talent he has had to work with in three separate years. That seems to be something Franklin struggled with; he just kept on shoving the square peg at that round hole.

Given Chizik's track record with defenses - especially those built like AU's (even if we lose Marks, Coleman, and -please no- Powers the players/body types/style are in the same mold as 2004) - then we could see significant improvement next year if we can muster even a middling offense. I think it is definitely arguable that AU 2008 was less a bad football team than a pretty dang good defense and a non-existent offense. Given the number of close losses, I think a middle of the road O would have given us at least 3 more wins in 2008.

Go back and look - with the exception of the WFV and bama games, if our offense could have scored 20 points on its own (I would call that middling) in addition to the defensive and special teams scores we had, then we would have finished 10-2. But the AU offense on its own managed just 13.8 points per game.

I did a handy excel table, but it won't post right here.