'A Tough Day, An Awesome Day'

New Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik discusses a variety of topics as he prepares to take over the Tiger defense on Friday.

Orlando, Fla.--Gene Chizik says his decision to accept Tommy Tuberville's offer to direct the Auburn defense was "really a no brainer for me."

After four years as defensive coordinator and secondary coach at the University of Central Florida, he is leaving UCF and reporting to work at the Auburn Football Complex on Friday.

"You get in this profession and you work your whole life to get to a place like Auburn," Chizik told Inside the Auburn Tigers on Thursday evening. "I love Central Florida. I love the people here. I feel like I put in four good years here. Defensively, when I came here I told Coach Kruczek I felt like I could really build a defense here if he would give me the time to do it. When I came in here, they were in the 80s (nationally in total defense) and this year we finished up pretty good around 15th or 16th in some different categories.

"It is hard to leave anyplace when you love coaching your kids and you enjoy being around the other coaches. It is hard to leave somewhere and if that is not an issue, then there is something wrong. This was a tough day for me, but in the same sense it is an awesome day for me because I am leaving to go to Auburn. I am excited about it and I can't wait."

Chizik came to Auburn on Wednesday and met with other staff members, something that went well, Tuberville says. "I believe he is really going to fit in well with our staff," the head coach says.

The new coordinator, who grew up on SEC football being raised in Florida and playing for the Florida Gators, is excited about his new assignment. He says he believes in being aggressive on defense and adds that he is sure that is what his boss at Auburn wants. "I know this, the tradition at Auburn is built on defense, running the football and being very aggressive and playing a violent tempo in football games. Certainly, we are going to do what it takes to put those kids into a position to be able to do that."

In addition to his on-the-field work as a secondary coach and coordinator, Chizik developed a reputation as strong recruiter and Tuberville says that was a major plus that helped separate Chizik from a long list of more than 100 coaches who expressed interest in the job.

"The thing that I looked for, number one, was somebody who had the same type of philosophy that I have had over the years, a hard-nose, physical, defensive football team built around speed and quickness that also plays great technique," Tuberville says. "Knowing that, we can win football games defensively.

Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.

Chizik moved up the ranks from high school coach, to college graduate assistant and college part-time assistant. Then he became a full-time coach at the Division I-AA level at Middle Tennessee State and Stephen F. Austin before moving up to the relatively new Division I program at UCF.

"Gene has persevered over the years," Tuberville says. "He has worked hard. He has worked his way up the ranks from a graduate assistant all the way to a coordinator's job. It kind of reminds me of myself growing up that way and having to work different jobs to try to make a name for yourself. He has done a good job--an excellent job--at Central Florida over the last few years. I have watched film of Central Florida. We have played Central Florida. I have just been real impressed with the things they have done."

Commenting on coaching the secondary, Chizik says, "This has been my philosophy that I have developed over the years. The thing we always talk about with the secondary is that we can never, ever give up the deep balls on the big plays. You take Florida, for instance, when Coach (Steve) Spurrier was there. You knew he was going to try to take you deep seven or eight times a game. Different people are different about that, but the first thing the secondary can never do, because it can deflate the ego of the defense very quickly, is give up those deep passes.

"Even when we blitz right now, 85 to 90 percent of the time we are going to have a man deep so we don't give up those deep balls," Chizik adds. "You have always got to live for another down. You can't live for another down when you are giving up deep balls for a touchdown.

"We definitely don't want to sit back and give people the dink five-yard and six-yard routes all day, but that is why you have different coverages to scratch different itches. If one coverage was good for everything, then everybody would be playing it. What I think you do is try to have a multitude of different things that are simple for the kids then you let them go back there and play football."

When asked his philosophy of protecting a lead late at the end of a game, he says, "I have learned a lot of things over the years. A perfect example is the 1998 game (Central Florida at Auburn). We had the lead 6-3 and we got into a situation, I believe on third down. All day long the quarterback (Gabe Gross) really hadn't hurt us very much. You live and learn. I think we blitzed him on the play they scored (a Gross to Karsten Bailey) pass play. As I look back on it, you wonder if you should have just stayed there and let the quarterback beat you by playing man-under, two-deep or your zone coverage and make the quarterback beat you with a throw he has to stick in there--a throw that has to be perfect.

"When protecting a lead you don't want to get too conservative and you certainly don't want to give quarterbacks too much time to throw, so I think different situations dictate how you play. Are you ahead by a touchdown or ahead by a field goal? How far are they away from the end zone? I think there are a lot of factors involved, but I certainly don't like to sit back and passively watch people go 70 yards down the field and score at the end of the game in a three-man rush all of the time. That is really not my philosophy. So, I think different variables dictate how you play at the end of the game to protect the lead, but I certainly don't think that a passive way is the way to do it."

Former defensive coordinator John Lovett and current staff member Phillip Lolley shared responsibilities in the secondary. Last year, Lolley's primary assignment was the cornerbacks.

Commenting on how the coaching assignments will be set, he says, "I think that is something that we are going to have to discuss as a staff. I certainly want to do what is the best for the defense. I feel like everybody's input is important on the way we are going to do it, who feels comfortable where and who is going to do the best job where. Coach Tuberville and I have touched on that. We are really in agreement on let's do what is best for the defense, but for right now until I get there and we really have a chance to sit down and discuss issues like who is coaching where, I can't really make a statement on how that is going to break down now."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Chizik says that he expects to recruit the Orlando area for the Tigers. "I feel strongly that I have got some great Florida ties here. I was born and raised in the state and have a lot of great ties with high school coaches who I have had as great friends over the years."...Commenting on the process of Auburn's recruitment of him to be the defensive coordinator, Chizik says, "Coach Tuberville did it the right way. You can tell Coach Tuberville is a class guy. He called my head coach. The timetables in my mind are kind of...it has been a crazy day. He contacted my head coach about a week and a half ago, what have you, and indicated to him that there was an interest. When he eventually began talking to me I was just as excited as could be and was on cloud nine. Then, we got to discussing some issues and philosophies and I felt like we matched up and we were in agreement and on the same page with all of that. And then, from there, we just decided until after signing day was over it would be best for all parties for this not to occur. But, it was a ‘Catch 22' because we know that March 1st is when spring football starts so you know you don't want to mess up any recruiting. I certainly didn't want to do that here with me leaving early and Coach Tuberville was great waiting until signing day was over. After that, it moved real quick."

Don't look for any major overhaul in style of play for the defensive Tigers from 2001 to 2002. Chizik says he likes to run a "very aggressive 4-3 and a mixture of eight-man front" looks. He says that his eight-man fronts will probably be different than what former coordinator Lovett was using...UCF played an ambitious schedule during his tenure there, taking road trips to SEC, ACC and Big East teams. "When you play at that level, right now, obviously you match wits with the best coaches in America. A lot of those times we were in a gunfight and we didn't really necessarily have all of the ammo some of the other teams had, but you learn how to be sound--learn how to stay in football games by not giving up big plays."...Chizik's 1999 UCF team led Auburn 10-7 at Homecoming at Jordan-Hare Stadium before Auburn rallied with three fourth quarter touchdowns. Two of those scores are hard to pin on the UCF defense, which held Auburn to 98 rushing yards on 37 carries and 19-31 passes for 270 yards with two interceptions. Auburn took the lead as Jeff Klein led the Tigers on a 16-play, 70-yard march hitting Reggie Worthy for the go-ahead TD on a third-and-goal 16-yard pass play. Auburn scored with 3:41 left when an offensive gamble failed by the Golden Knights as Haven Fields sacked QB Vic Penn on fourth down at the UCF eight-yard line. On the next play, Heath Evans rumbled in for a TD with 2:58 left. Alex Lincoln added insult to injury 54 seconds later by scoring on a 20-yard interception return to make the final score 28-10.

A year earlier under the guidance of interim head coach Bill "Brother" Oliver, Auburn managed just 12 first downs, 88 yards on 25 carries and hit 11-30 passes with one interception for 152 yards. However, the Tigers were able to win 10-6 as Karsten Bailey side-stepped a would-be tackler on a sideline route and raced 58 yards for the only touchdown of the game with 58 seconds left to the relief of the Tiger homecoming crowd. The coordinator says he remembers those games well. "What really stands out in my mind is the crowd, the fans and the spirit that you could tell they have at Auburn. That just really stands out to me. We have played in a lot of stadiums around the SEC from Georgia, to Florida, to Auburn to Arkansas. The spirit, and you could tell the pride of the Auburn people, really stands out to me. That just goes along with the tradition that they have built there over the years. Those type of things are what you coach for...that's why you get in the business. The atmosphere of Auburn football is really what stands out to me." Commenting on the 1999 game, "That was a hard one to swallow. As you guys probably remember, that was a very good defensive game on both sides. We had the game in hand from what I remember. I think Daunte (QB Daunte Culpepper, now with the Minnesota Vikings) had a missed exchange with the center...Yeah, it came to the last 50 seconds and I think Karsten Bailey caught the ball down the sideline for 50 to 55 yards for a touchdown and won the game there at the game. That was a tough one, for sure."

Even More Tiger Ticket Extra: Chizik studied under former Auburn secondary coach, defensive coordinator and interim head coach Bill Brother Oliver at Clemson. "Bill Oliver has really been great with me in terms of teaching me football," Chizik says. "He has always had an open door policy with me as I have tried to work my way up the ranks. When I left Clemson I went to Middle Tennessee State and then I went to Stephen F. Austin out in Texas. Anytime I needed things defensively with techniques or anything I that I had questions on, he was always very cordial with me and in the football regard tried to help me. I will always be very appreciative of that."


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