Auburn brass didn't wait long to get rid of Tommy Tuberville when things started heading south. The 10th season was the last on the east Alabama plains for the former Ole Miss head coach.
A 5-7 record including a 2-6 league mark, along with Alabama having an undefeated regular season, an 8-0 Southeastern Conference mark, and postseason trips to Atlanta and New Orleans, were too much for Tiger folk to bear.
So out with the old, as Tuberville left with a sizeable payout, and in the with new, as former Auburn assistant coach Gene Chizik took over.
Not a household name, but those who follow college football know of him. After his three seasons under Tuberville at Auburn as the defensive coordinator (2002-04), he spent the next two seasons as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach to Mack Brown at Texas.
Then it was on to Ames, Iowa, to try to make a winner out of an Iowa State program that rarely wins. Chizik, who reportedly had the program headed in the right direction, didn't have much to show for it record-wise his first two years, compiling an overall mark of 5-19 at the upper midwest outpost. He was 2-14 in the Big XII, including 0-8 in that difficult league last season.
But it didn't hurt his chances of moving up with at least one bigtime program, which looked beyond wins and losses and saw what it was looking for in its next head coach.
When Auburn came calling to become a head coach in the SEC, Chizik wasn't about to stay at ISU. He turned in his red and yellow coaching shirts for Tiger stripes, which he felt comfortable in given his previous time in the Toomer's Corner neighborhood.
"I'm very honored to be representing Auburn University and Auburn football," Chizik said. "It's been a whirlwind of seven-plus months, starting back in mid-December. As we took the job, we started on the recruiting trail after I assembled a coaching staff that I'm very proud of and very glad to have with me at Auburn. We signed a very good football class. After that, obviously we went into the normal things that you do when you're starting a program from the ground floor."
It doesn't necessarily appear to be the ground floor, although the Tigers aren't picked to compete for the SEC West this season. There is still talent left from the previous regime, and Chizik will be expected to win more right away than he did at Iowa State.
"Our football team has really worked this summer extremely hard," he said. "Obviously everything was on a voluntary basis. We had great work ethic. Kids are really buying into what we're trying to do. And so it's an exciting time for me personally here at Auburn. It's an exciting time for our fans. And it's gonna be kind of a new beginning."
Defensive end Antonio Coleman said it's indeed a new start for Tiger football.
"Anytime you have a coach for 10 years and then a new coaching staff comes in, there will be changes," the senior from Mobile, Ala., said. "With all the changes, it's been great for the University. Fortunately, one Auburn man (Tuberville) dropped off the radar and the good Lord brought in another Auburn man (Chizik)."
While the so-called rebuilding of Auburn football is underway, there's the first order of business – trying to win games in 2009. The schedule is favorable early, with four straight games at home against Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, West Virginia, and Ball State. The Tigers could get off to a solid start with that lineup before hitting the road to Tennessee and Arkansas. Auburn has eight home games this season, including Ole Miss on Halloween.
Personnel-wise, just last week there was a shakeup at quarterback. Junior Kodi Burns, projected to start at QB, has been moved to wide receiver, and senior Chris Todd has taken over the reins as the signal-caller. Burns is also being used in the Tigers' Wildcat formation as quarterback and receiver, depending on the situation.
Auburn returns 14 starters, seven on each side of the ball. Offensively the Tigers struggled last season, for example, losing 17-7 at Ole Miss and 36-0 at Alabama, and only winning 3-2 at Mississippi State.
Experienced senior Ben Tate could be the starter at tailback. Sophomore Darvin Adams and junior Terrell Zachery combined for only five receptions last season but should figure heavily into the pass catching for this year's team. Senior Montez Billings has the most experience.
Safety Zac Etheredge, a junior, led the team in tackles last season and is back, while stellar corner Walter McFadden, a senior, also returns.
Chizik is looking forward to the season.
"I think our players feel very confident that we can be a very good football team," he said. "We'll just have to let it all play out on the field."
It's a bold new day at Auburn, and the Tigers should surprise some people this season. There's enough talent left from the Tuberville regime for the Tigers to have a shot at a bowl game, if they start fast, playing four straight games at home to open the campaign.
Depth will be a problem, especially if halfway through the season there are injuries. Late-season games with LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama demand that the squad remain healthy and that some of the younger players step up and help out.
Chizik needs a fast start to win over the remaining skeptical fans, given his coaching record the past two years. Starting 4-0 or 3-1 would help do that.
Scouting The Opponents: Auburn
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