ATLANTA — Distractions are nothing new to Auburn coach Gene Chizik.
During last year’s national championship run, he was smothered by the off-field monster, but still came away with the Sears Trophy.
So, it only makes sense that right before Auburn’s bowl game — the game that could generate the needed momentum for spring — Chizik and his Tigers are once again surrounded by distractions.
There are coaching distractions with defensive coordinator Ted Roof leaving and rumors running rampant about the future of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Things then took another disappointing step forward when star running back Michael Dyer was indefinitely suspended from the team for violating unspecified team rules.
Privately, these are probably headaches that keep Chizik tossing and turning at night, but he said he doesn’t have time to consume himself with selfish players and he certainly won’t waste his time with rumors floating around about his program.
“I don’t pay any attention to the outside chatter,“ Chizik said. “I think that’s what makes college football great that everyone has an opinion, and I appreciate it and respect it. But that’s not how I proceed with my football team. We know what’s going on within our four walls and that’s all I concentrate on.”
For now, Chizik is concentrating on not just preparing his team for Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl but he’s trying to get his defense back into shape, after taking over as defensive coordinator following Roof’s departure. Chizik has 11 years experience as a defensive coordinator, so he has the credentials, but he expects the next couple of weeks to be a challenge with him pulling double duty.
“I did it for a lot of years,” Chizik said of being a defensive coordinator. “I gotta get back on the horse and ride that horse again.”
As far as hiring someone to take over as coordinator after the bowl game, despite the rumors swirling about who’s up for the job, Chizik said he has no timetable for making a hire.
“Certainly, we’ve started the process,” he said. “Once we find the right man, the one we feel is the best fit, then we’ll hire him.”
In the meantime, Chizik’s focus is on improving a tremendously young team. A year removed from that national championship run, Auburn basically had to start over after losing just about every component to last year’s special season.
Couple a boatload of youth with a pretty tough schedule, and Chizik expected growing pains and struggles.
He got both, as the Tigers head into their bowl with a 7-5 record.
Regardless of the season he and his team have had, Chizik refuses to make excuses and he refuses to say that expectations for this team should have been tempered. In fact, he thinks fans should have expected another championship push.
“In this conference, everyone who has allegiances to their schools have high expectations. That’s not going to change and I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Chizik said. “People expect to win and at Auburn right now we’re all about championships.”
Two undefeated seasons in the last eight years will create that.
“That’s the expectation that we’ve come to know and that’s the expectation that everyone has -- that Auburn wins,“ Chizik said. “At the beginning of the year, we don’t make excuses about how many guys we do have or don’t have. We continue to move forward with the program and try to lay the foundation for a long time.”
And to Chizik, that foundation looks pretty solid. This season wasn’t always easy, but Chizik saw a young group that rallied behind its youth and remained strong. There were squabbles along the way, but underneath it all, Chizik found a group of talented youngsters who he believes will get this program back on track.
“I’m extremely excited about the future and what’s going on,” he said. “We have guys that want to win and guys that just had an unbelievable amount of exposure to a lot of things in this league and a lot of experience. It’s going to be great carryover.”