"We said when we came in two years ago that we really felt confident that we could win a championship," the coach told Tiger fans. "We didn't put a time limit on it. Two years later, we've done what one of our goals was to do."
Now as the football Tigers prepare for their third season under Chizik, they do so with the knowledge they previously set lofty goals and were able to work diligently and achieve them.
Coming off a national championship season, Chizik is no longer the 5-19 Iowa State coach who some questioned when hired to take over the reigns from Tommy Tuberville. He is now the 22-5 Auburn coach who has won it all and is currently working on producing his third consecutive Top 10 recruiting class.
When he first spoke after arriving at Auburn, it was with youthful enthusiasm peppered with familiar euphuisms commonly heard from a new head coach. Now when he speaks his words are laced and supported with credibility. It's the kind of credibility that only comes with a proven commodity.
"Our goal is championships, period," Chizik stated. "It doesn't matter if we play with 22 freshmen. The goals have not changed. The expectation and standard has not changed. Anything less than a championship is not good enough."
These are bold words, but no more bold than the message Chizik had for Tiger fans after arriving at Auburn. Reading between the lines, Auburn's head coach is now searching for consistency in his program. In order to become a champion, you have to prepare like a champion. Once you become a champion, it requires even more preparation to circumvent complacency, which often comes attached to success.
Championship teams are not built, they are born. The building portion is actually the seed and fertilization followed by the nurturing required for growth. In football terminology, it comes down to recruiting, development and coaching. Under the right circumstances, a team will mature and blossom into something special, which we witnessed during the 2010 season. Chizik knows that even if his 2011 team doesn't blossom into a champion, the maturation process could occur during 2012. He also knows the foundation for success began in 2009 in the same manner the 1981 Auburn Tigers paved the way for a championship run in 1983.
Chizik reached the mountaintop in just his second year, sooner than the three years it took Coach Pat Dye to build his first championship team. It took Coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan seven seasons and Tommy Tuberville six years. Auburn fans won't soon forget the 1957, 1983, 2004 and 2010 seasons, but coaching legacies are built on time and consistency established over a long duration. This is the latest challenge for Chizik, who will now strive for consistency. The 1983 team was the closest Auburn would come to winning a national title under Dye, but he had three additional conference championship teams after that.
If Chizik is going to be fondly remembered by Auburn fans as a great coach, it will take more than the achievement of his 2010 team. Terry Bowden went 20-1-1 during his first two years, but his name doesn't carry the same credence as Shug Jordan or Pat Dye when it comes to coaching legacies. Teams will forever be remembered and celebrated, but coaches will always be judged on their collective body of work. When you consider the average coaching tenure of the last five Auburn coaches is less than 12 years, Chizik will likely have another 10 years under the right circumstances. If this holds true, he will likely be remembered for his future endeavors rather than his current achievements.
Gene Chizik talks to his Tigers prior to Auburn's victory over South Carolina in the 2010 SEC Football Championship Game.
With the limited scholarship numbers and the limited time allotted for coaches to spend with their players, coaching today has become more demanding than two to three decades ago. There once was a time coaches were allowed a considerable number of years build their programs and to maintain them. When Bob Stoops won a national title at Oklahoma in year number two, it changed the expectation level for success. To his credit, Stoops has maintained a high win percentage since 2000, but where would he be if he had not? Tuberville was gone four years after going 13-0 in 2004. Coach Larry Coker was gone five years after winning a national championship at Miami.
Coach Frank Beamer's path to success at Virginia Tech will likely never be seen again in the modern era of college football. Beamer posted a 22-32-1 record during his first five seasons at Virginia Tech. The Hokies were 39-17-1 during the five years before his arrival so it wasn't like they were not accustomed to success.
Despite an unpleasant beginning, Beamer was allowed to build his program and he won 73 percent of his games after his first five seasons with an average of more than nine wins per season over the next 19 years. Beamer could have easily been the Hokies version of Doug Barfield, but ended up being Virginia Tech's version of Shug Jordan.
For now times are good for the Auburn football program under Chizik. For the most part everyone is on the same page, pulling in the same direction and the program appears to be on solid ground, building for what Auburn fans hope is a brilliant future. Chizik is off to the best start of any previous Auburn coach.
When he arrived at Auburn, Chizik had a plan for success, which certainly appears to be working to perfection. The good news for Auburn fans is that his plan was to build a solid program and not just one championship team. If he is capable of carrying out the remainder of his plan, he will indeed solidify his legacy as one of Auburn's most successful coaches.