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Rise And Fall Of Auburn Football..


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AUBURN - Auburn's national championship was still fresh when head coach Gene Chizik got an early-morning telephone call in March 2011. The news was bad.

One day beyond two months after the Tigers won the BCS championsip, four players had been arrested and charged with armed robbery. All were dismissed from the team the next day.

The first crack in the foundation of Auburn's football program had appeared. And like on a windshield hit by a pebble, the crack would grow until the glass finally broke. Sunday, Chizik and his entire coaching and support staff were fired after his fourth season.

Twenty-two months and two weeks after hoisting the crystal football in Glendale, Ariz., Chizik watched his team be crushed 49-0 by Alabama last Saturday for its 10th consecutive SEC loss, eight of them by 17 points or more. Auburn and Kentucky shared last place in the league.

Thus ended a season of unhappiness and unrest, one which left players often shaking their heads in frustration and confusion. And it went deeper than what happened on the field.

Mandatory workouts became voluntary for some when assistant coaches got players out of punishment. Some players went to class. Some didn't. Discipline, those close to the team say, was unevenly applied if at all. Strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall's role in discipline was greatly reduced.

"They've cut Yox's legs off," said a former player who is close to the team. "Coach Yox is the main reason we won a lot of games in past years. We were scared to death of him. We wouldn't cross him. They're not scared of anybody now. They're coddled and they're soft."

But many of them weren't happy.

"Players want discipline," the former player said. "They crave it. They really do. But some of them will do whatever they can get away with."

When discipline was applied, players who did things the right way often felt they were being punished for those who didn't.

Perhaps most onerous to players was the hiring of paid security guards to watch them and make they sure they didn't break curfew. The guards had to go inside apartments to make sure players were there and then sat in their cars outside throughout the night. When players missed curfew, some were disciplined. Some weren't.

***

Such an historic crash seemed impossible in the spring of 2011 when Auburn players, coaches and fans were basking in the glow of the national championship. But signs of trouble were showing on the field, off the field and even in the coaches' offices.

What had been a championship program was a program in disarray.

In the summer of 2011, Chizik's book, "All In: What It Takes to Be The Best," was released. It was the story of Auburn's climb to the national championship, but it was mostly about Chizik. Other than a mention in passing of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's role in signing Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, not an assistant coach was mentioned. The assistant coaches took notice.

"He really was bothered because he didn't feel like he got the credit he deserved for the championship," one who called him a friend said. "It was Gus and Cam and Nick (Fairley). Gene didn't like that. It was like he changed, like he was a different person."

After the 2010 season, Malzahn, with an offer to become Vanderbilt's head coach, signed a new contract with Auburn that paid him $1.3 million per year. He was the nation's highest paid assistant coach. He wondered to friends at the time if he'd made the right decision.

Three games into the 2011 season, the Tigers were 2-1 with a 42-38 victory over Utah State, a dramatic 41-34 victory over Mississippi State and a 38-24 loss at Clemson. They were averaging 393 yards per game. Chizik sat down to talk with Malzahn.

In that meeting, Chizik told Malzahn he wanted him to slow down his hurryup, no-huddle scheme to take some pressure off the defense. Malzahn protested, telling Chizik his scheme would not be effective that way. Chizik was adamant. After that day, in 15 SEC games through the 2012 season, Auburn scored more than one offensive touchdown just four times. It scored no offensive touchdowns five times.

It wasn't long after his meeting with Chizik that Malzahn told his agent to find him a job. He wanted out. At season's end, after narrowly missing out at North Carolina and Kansas, he took a $500,000 per year pay cut to become head coach at Arkansas State.

Meanwhile, Chizik was heavily involving himself in the defense. Most often, he sent director of football relations Wayne Bolt to sit in on meetings and report to him. On more than one occasion, he told defensive coaches to make major changes at midweek when gameplans were already in place. He told defensive coordinator Ted Roof to radically simplify what he was doing.

The defense struggled to stop good teams and Roof resigned at the end of the season, moving to Central Florida and then to Penn State.

The fall of Auburn football was picking up speed.

***

In December 2008, Chizik was athletics director Jay Jacobs' choice to replace Tommy Tuberville. It was controversial, to say the least. Chizik, who had been Auburn's defensive coordinator from 2002-2004, had been 5-19 in two season at Iowa State. He arrived at Auburn on a 10-game losing streak.

But Chizik quickly won over Auburn players, adding perks to the locker room that made players want to hang around, and scheduling team-building functions. He restored confidence that had been lost.

Not much was expected of the Tigers in 2009, but they went 8-5 and beat Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Other than a 31-10 loss at LSU when quarterback Chris Todd was having arm problems, they were competitive in every game. Eventual national champion Alabama had to have a touchdown drive in the final minutes to win 26-21. Auburn was throwing into the end zone as time expired. The future seemed bright, and it was.

In 2010, Newton, Fairley and more than two dozen seniors took Auburn where it had never been, to a 14-0 season and a BCS national championship. After that season, Chizik got a handsome a raise and a $10 million buyout. After all, he was 22-5 at Auburn and had won the national championship.

Some close to the program say there were issues then, too. It was easy to ignore them because the team was winning and everyone was happy.

But all was not well.

***

Shortly after Chizik arrived, he and executive associate athletics director Tim Jackson became a team. Chizik ceded substantial responsibility to Jackson. Did Chizik know what was going on? People close to him wonder.

In 2010, as the accusations against Newton's family surfaced, Jackson was with Newton almost everywhere. Newton didn't get into trouble, and winning overshadowed everything else. A year later, Jackson focused on running back Mike Dyer. Things weren't as good for the team on the field or off the field, and some players didn't like what they saw as special treatment.

As time went on, uneven discipline angered and frustrated players. One player was punished for missing a class he didn't miss. Another was punished because he'd missed a tutoring session while in another academic meeting. His advisor called and explained. It didn't matter. Another, more prominent, player missed classes regularly and was never disciplined at all.

Off-field problems mounted. Promising players were sent home for good. Others found their names in the newspaper when they were arrested.

The Tigers were 8-5 in 2011, better than most expected. But all five losses were blowouts. Dyer, who had broken Auburn's freshman rushing record in 2010 and been the offensive MVP in the BCS Championship Game, was suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia and eventually left the team.

Over the course of the spring and summer of 2012, more players got in trouble. More left the team. Wide receiver DeAngelo Benton was implicated as one of the antagonists in a confrontation that allegedly led to the tragic shooting deaths of three people, including two former Auburn players. Benton was suspended for two games. His return angered some of his teammates.

As the 2012 season began, few people knew it but Auburn was a team divided.

Things didn't look so bad in a 26-19 loss to Clemson in the season-opener. But they looked really bad a week later in a turnover-filled 28-10 loss at Mississippi State.

Things seemed to be getting better after a 31-28 win over upstart Louisiana-Monroe in overtime and a hard-fought 12-10 loss to LSU. But the next week, the stage was set for the rest of the season. Arkansas, with interim coach John L. Smith in charge, had been outscored 110-10 by Alabama and Texas A&M. It had lost to Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers. But the Razorback beat Auburn 24-7 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

One very close to Auburn players privately sounded a warning before the next game at Ole Miss.

"We're not going to beat Ole Miss," he said. "There are players on this team - and it's more than a few of them - who just don't care. They just want things to change."

As the 2012 Tigers staggered toward the finish line, setting records for ineptitude, some players talked openly about leaving.

"If something doesn't change," said one player's parent, "the exodus of players leaving this program will be a national story."

Down the stretch of the season, things got historically bad. In the final three SEC games - against Texas A&M and Georgia at home and Alabama on the road - Auburn gave up 16 touchdowns on 18 first-half possessions and was shut out twice.

Sunday morning, Chizik got the word from athletics director Jay Jacobs that his time was up. Jackson was told he'll be reassigned and won't be involved with the football program.

"Winning three games is unacceptable," Jacobs said Sunday afternoon. "We have high standards here at Auburn, and we are going to keep those high."

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Florida went through the same thing. Auburn has the clout to come out of this successfully but they have GOT to nail the next coaching hire. They cannot afford to misfire again.

We have the talent on the roster, we just need someone to bring discipline and develop all these former 4 and 5 star recruits who looked like 2 stars under Chiz-dik and co.

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This is why I have been screaming for Chizik's head. This is the first I'm reading about a lot of these allegations of the locker room being divided, but it all makes sense now.

what i thought was interesting was phillip marshall who wrote this piece has been writing exact opposite pieces and comments on this for the past 2 years and now he comes out with this revelation. i know reporters don't want to get burned, but it would make more sense for phillip to not post his homer "he is a cheerleader" stuff since he knew the reality of the situation was much different and this article wasn't just something he decided to write. he has been gathering this data for sometime.

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