TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Two years ago, Gene Chizik saluted the adoring Auburn fans with both arms raised and several passionate fist pumps before leaving the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
On Saturday, he solemnly walked off that same Bryant-Denny Stadium field after what was almost certainly his last game as Auburn’s head football coach.
The epic crash that was Auburn’s 2012 football season culminated with a humiliating 49-0 loss to No. 2 Alabama, the second most lopsided Iron Bowl in the 77-year history of one of college football’s fiercest rivalries.
If it was indeed the end for Chizik, and most signs point to an official announcement coming Sunday or Monday, it was about as ugly as it gets.
But, then, this entire season has been ugly.
Alabama, which cruised to a 42-0 halftime lead, scored touchdowns on each of its first seven possessions, and Auburn set an unofficial Iron Bowl record for missed tackles.
No coach is ever going to accuse his team of quitting. But all you really need to know about this Auburn team is that it ended the season by being outscored 112-7 in the first half of its final three SEC games. And in those final three SEC games, the Tigers’ opponents scored touchdowns on 16 of their 18 first-half possessions.
Chizik repeatedly declined to discuss his job status following Saturday’s beatdown, but it’s only a matter of “when” now and not “if.”
“I’m not going to get into the job situation,” Chizik said. “This isn’t about me.”
Chizik called it a “sad performance,” and said the Auburn fans and alumni didn’t “deserve” such a poor performance in a game that means so much to so many people in this state.
As for what his message would be to the fans in terms of making a case for why Auburn should bring him back next season, Chizik said only, “I don’t have to make a case. Y’all saw what you saw out there.”
What everybody saw were the charred remains of a program that crashed and burned this season.
The Tigers (3-9, 0-8) are just two years removed from winning a national championship, but it might as well be 32 years after a season like this.
It was Auburn’s first winless season in the SEC since 1980 and the first time in school history that Auburn finished with an 0-8 record in league play. The Tigers will head into next season on a 10-game SEC losing streak, the longest in the league. Five of their eight SEC losses this season were by at least 17 points.
“Any time you’re 3-9 in a season, it’s hard to stand up here and say there were a lot of positives,” said Chizik, who would be owed a $7.5 million buyout. “We’ve got to coach better, and we’ve got to play better.”
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said prior to Saturday’s game that a decision, one way or the other, would come quickly.
“We need to know which way we’re going in the next few days and then move on from there,” Jacobs said.
Auburn president Jay Gogue said a few weeks ago that he would evaluate Chizik following the season and after receiving a recommendation from Jacobs. Gogue did not attend Saturday’s game.
Jacobs declined to say Saturday prior to the game what his recommendation would be, but the Tigers’ performance later in the day all but made that recommendation for him.
Sources told ESPN.com on Saturday night that nothing official had been decided and wouldn’t be decided until Jacobs had a chance to meet with Gogue and Chizik.
“It’s not acceptable and very disappointing for all of our fans,” Chizik said of the Tigers’ performance.
It’s also a far cry from where this program was this time two years ago.