AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn coach Gene Chizik was fired Sunday after the Tigers’ rapid fall from a national champion to a winless Southeastern Conference season.
The Tigers endured the worst slide within two years of winning a national championship of any team since the Associated Press poll started in 1936 and hadn’t lost this many games since going 0-10 in 1950. The decision came 17 months after Auburn gave Chizik a contract worth some $3.5 million annually through 2015 with a hefty buyout.
“After careful consideration and a thorough evaluation of our football program, I have recommended that Coach Chizik not be retained,” Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said in a statement. “President [Jay] Gogue has accepted my recommendation. Earlier this morning, I informed Gene that he will not return as head coach.”
The players were informed in a team meeting Sunday. Jacobs scheduled a news conference for later in the afternoon.
“I’m extremely disappointed with the way this season turned out and I apologize to the Auburn family and our team for what they have had to endure,” Chizik said. “In my 27 years of coaching, I have gained an understanding of the high expectations in this profession. When expectations are not met, I understand changes must be made.
The Tigers went from 14-0 with a perfect SEC record with Cam Newton leading the offense in 2010 to 3-9 and 0-8, losing their final three league games by a combined 150-21. Auburn was blown out by Texas A&M (63-21) and Georgia (38-0) but the finale was even more painful for Tigers fans.
No. 2 Alabama cruised to a six-touchdown halftime lead en route to a 49-0 demolition Saturday that could easily have been much worse. It was still the second-most lopsided Iron Bowl in history, behind only the Tide’s 55-0 win in 1948.
“While we experienced a tremendous low in 2012, I will always be proud of the incredible highs that we achieved, including three bowl victories, an SEC championship and a national championship,” Chizik said.
|Red indicates national championship|
He was 33-19 in four seasons and 15-17 in SEC games.
Auburn said the total buyout for Chizik and his assistant coaches is $11.09 million. Chizik’s buyout will total $7.5 million and be paid in monthly installments for the next four years.
The deal calls for Chizik to make “reasonable” efforts to land a new job, with that salary deducted from the buyout.
Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said players gave Chizik a standing ovation after the team meeting and that the coach was tough on himself. Lutzenkirchen also understands the reality of life in the SEC.
“Not winning a conference game isn’t going to cut it wherever you are in this league,” he said.
Defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker said, “It’s kind of crazy right now. I had a special bond with Coach Chizik.”
Chizik had sandwiched two 8-5 seasons around the national title, but never approached the success of 2010, when Newton won the Heisman Trophy. The Tigers were 7-17 in SEC games outside of 2010 during his tenure.
His hiring was criticized by some fans after Chizik went 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State and lost the last 10 games of his first head coaching job.
Jacobs was heckled at the airport after making the hire.
A search committee comprised of former Heisman Trophy winners Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson and former Tigers fullback Mac Crawford will assist Jacobs, the school said.
A transition year might have been expected.
Chizik had to replace the offensive and defensive coordinators after last season. Chizik made an ill-fated switch from Gus Malzahn’s no-huddle, spread offense to a pro-style system with the hiring of former Temple offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.
The Tigers struggled in the transition, partly because of shaky quarterback play. Auburn finally turned to freshman Jonathan Wallace — the season’s third starter — for the final four games.
Auburn ranked at or near the bottom of the SEC in every major statistical category offensively and defensively.
Chizik’s tenure was marred by off-the-field problems, too, to the extent that Chizik had employees of a private firm run curfew checks on players this season.
Chizik’s contract includes a clause that it wouldn’t owe the buyout money if he is fired for cause, including findings of major rules violations or significant or repetitive violations” involving him or his program.
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