So, a quick overview of how things went during these critical early days of the Gene Chizik era while the JCCW was away ...
Staffing. Yeah, so Stacy Searels stayed in Athens. I don't think anyone's all that surprised or even that disappointed--we all knew we'd probably have to offer him the offensive coordinator's chair to get him to move, and we didn't, so he didn't. Would it have been awesome if the glory of his alma mater's Plains alone would have been enough to bring him to Auburn? Yes, yes it would have. But he's got a good situation at UGA, no question, and if he wants to hold out for an OC position* somewhere, fair enough.
Everything else? Champagne wishes and caviar dreams to this point, man. Start with the retention of James Willis, which while kind of a well, duh move is also the kind of well, duh move that shows Chizik's not really so dumb as to throw the previous regime's babies out with the bathwater. And then yesterday we get the Gus Malzahn bombshell dropped on us. I'll delve more deeply into what we can expect from Malzahn later today, but suffice it to say for now that it's hard to pick out anyone available who would have been a better choice.
Perhaps the best part of the Malzahn hire is this: what we've been hearing ever since Chizik was hired was how Auburn was hauling itself 20 years back in time to the Pat Dye era. "200 years old" Pat Dye offensive mindset, Pat Dye coaches, Pat Dye himself. But as it turns out, that talk (to this point, at least) has been pretty cheap, since Chizik just filled the most important position on his staff with the most revolutionary, forward-thinking offensive mind this side of Mike Leach. Gus Malzahn wants to snap the ball as fast as possible, run from the spread or the Wildcat, take long shots down the field as often as possible, and go for it on any makeable fourth down, even in your own half of the field. It's not possible Chizik could have made a hire more removed from the Pat Dye mindset. This? Is an awesome and very reassuring thing, especially when one has lived in terror of Pat Nix for the last few weeks.
There's still time for Chizik to fill out the rest of the staff with Dye retreads, I guess, but you couldn't ask for a better indication that those fears aren't entirely well-founded. (And of course some of those retreads--Rodney Garner--would be welcome.)
Recruitin'. Honestly? I think it could be a lot worse. Auburn had two JUCOs in the class--Eltoro Freeman and Onterio McCalebb--who were generally seen as must-get, immediate impact-type players. Freeman's already in the fold and by all accounts McCalebb's going to arrive soon as well. Add in Nick Fairley's commitment at an area of substantial need--DT--and Freeman's stunningly positive response to Chizik's visit and this might even be seen as a "good" start. Sure, there's going to be decommits along the way--at last word Jermaine Johnson is off to Miami, if he ends up going off to anywhere--but there's nothing that can be done about a lot of them in the wake of a regime change and with another spread guy on board, the chances of locking up the Franklin-impressed likes of Phillip Lutzenkirchen or Travante Stallworth have to be a lot greater than they were before Malzahn came on board. Again: things aren't perfect, but I think it's totally fair to say they're at least looking up.
General buzz. Things had to get better. When your football program has hired a 5-19 head coach and it gets roasted over a national media flame for a solid week for allegedly taking football race relations back to 1961, that's pretty much rock bottom. There was nowhere to go but up. (Well, hiring Pat Nix as OC would have proven this theory decisively wrong, but we didn't hire Pat Nix, did we?)
But, nonetheless, things are looking up. For the above staffing-and-recruiting reasons, for the simple passage of time healing ever-so-slightly the initial wounds of the Chizik hire, for tidbits like this one from K-Scar:
At Auburn's insistence, Chizik didn't use his agent, Jimmy Sexton, to negotiate a preliminary letter of agreement outlining the general terms of the deal. That's almost unheard of for new coaches at major programs.Due, that's ... that's just awesome is what that is. Chizik had a choice between what was best for Auburn and what was best for Jimmy Sexton, and he chose Auburn. As much as I love and appreciate Tommy Tuberville, there were times in the past couple of years where he's had that same choice to make, and he's sided with his agent. Between this, and Chizik's willingness (reported in that same article) to forego salary to lure in the assistants he wants, and the repeated, repeated statements of how badly he wanted this job and how much he enjoys Auburn ... I think it's quite possible Chizik really does enjoy Auburn about as much as he says he does. Or at the very least, wants to win at Auburn as much as he says he does.
In addition, it appears that Chizik has cut ties with Sexton, although their working relationship was barely two years old.
That wouldn't matter much if recruits were ignoring him and he was hiring his staff straight from the Pat Dye Recommended Reading list. Thus far, though, that hasn't been the case. So it does matter. Auburn's stock arrow: up. Again, it would be hard after the firestorm of the hire for it to point further down. But it's not, and after the neverending slog that has been the Season of DEATH, it's not for the first time in what seems like a very, very long time. I'll take it.
*Don't call it that.