Chizik's replacement will have difficult chore at ISU

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It really shouldn't be a surprise that Gene Chizik is leaving Iowa State. The biggest shock, however, is that it came when it did.

Barely a month after he professed his love for pork tenderloins, Ashton Kutcher, the State Fair of Iowa and everything else from the Tall Corn State, Chizik is headed back to his old stomping grounds in the Southeastern Conference.

It's surprising he's receiving the opportunity. But I wouldn't be shocked if he Chizik thrives once he gets there -- even as competitive as the Southeastern Conference's West Division has been.

The former Auburn and Texas defensive coordinator was the hottest of all assistant coaches when he arrived in Ames two seasons ago. Nineteen losses in 24 games since then have dimmed much of that glimmer.

But I'm betting that these two seasons have taught Chizik many huge lessons. He learned from Mack Brown to categorize all of his thoughts -- good and bad -- on index cards. I bet he's compiled a slew of things not to do during his two seasons with the Cyclones.

He gets a fresh lease on life at Auburn. I'm betting he's a better head coach today than he was when he greeted Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard when he accepted the Cyclones' head coaching job.

The biggest question will be who Pollard turns to replace Chizik. The hottest candidate is Buffalo coach Turner Gill, who obviously would be on the radar at Nebraska if he enjoys any kind of success with the Cyclones.

Other potential candidates include Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley and maybe even a couple of blasts from the past like Gary Barnett, Glen Mason, Dennis Franchione or even Tommy Tubervile. A better choice might be somebody like legendary FBS coach Mel Tjeersdma from Northwest Missouri State, who would be infinitely more ready for the challenge than most of those those thirty-something coordinators out there.

But whoever arrives has to know about Iowa State's historic struggles in whatever conference it has been a member. The school has a limited recruiting base and facilities compared to almost every other Big 12 member.

The Cyclones had 17 non-winning seasons in a 19-year period before Dan McCarney took them to five bowl games during a span of six season from 2000-05. McCarney was let go after a 4-8 record in 2006.

But Chizik has been challenged in the Big 12 North Division, posting a 5-19 record in his two seasons at Iowa State, including a 2-14 record in conference play.

Iowa State has never notched an outright conference championship in the 117-season history of the program. The Cyclones shared Missouri Valley Championship titles as co-champions in 1911 and 1912.

The Big 12 North has never been seen as wide-open at the top. Top quarterbacks Chase Daniel and Joe Ganz are leaving Missouri and Nebraska, respectively. Todd Reesing will be the division's best quarterback, but the Jayhawks again will face an unyielding cross-division schedule that will feature games next season against Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. Kansas State will be bringing back a legendary coach in Bill Snyder who needs to show he can be relevant in the new millennium. Colorado just needs to make it through a season without a slew of injuries for a change.

The Iowa State job will be an enticing one for the right candidate because it's in the Big 12. And the division does seem to be inviting for the right team.

It will be interesting to see who follows Chizik and how he will attack the school's unique challenges.