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by | College Football Insider

Two years after BCS title, Chizik appears to be out of Auburn's picture

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AUBURN, Ala. -- A quiet hallway in the Auburn football offices might as well be the Gene Chizik wing. Life-size, framed photos of Auburn glory line the wall, and Chizik is the star.

There's Chizik hoisting the Waterford Crystal.

Chizik flashing two thumbs up to the crowd.

Chizik soaked in Gatorade.

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What will come of those photos in the days after the Iron Bowl, when all signs point to Auburn thanking Chizik for four years of service and sending him on his way? Do they go in a dusty closet, with the rest of the Auburn ghosts, to make room for Bobby Petrino portraits? Or do they stay on the wall, as piercing reminders of how cold The Plains can be when Nick Saban is pointing the Death Star to the southeast?

Those photos were taken 22 months ago, which is why this is unprecedented territory for Auburn. Firing a national championship coach in less than two full calendar years after reaching the sacred honor has not happened before.

But when it's this bad -- possibly point-of-no-return bad -- the school (mainly, president Jay Gogue) appears to have no choice.

Auburn is 0-7 in SEC play for the first time in the school's history. Dating back to Iowa State, Chizik is 23-37 without Cam Newton. An opponent hadn't touched 63 points in Jordan-Hare Stadium until Texas A&M did so on Oct. 27.

The 38-0 loss to Georgia last week wasn't shocking, but more of a formality at this point. All this negates the decent job the Auburn staff did with a young team last year (8-5).

Every week, Chizik stands at a podium and takes accountability for his team's struggles, promising eventual improvement.

"I think it is really going to start with evaluations," Chizik told reporters this week about trying to avoid going 2-8 next season. "From top to bottom."

Prominent boosters aren't talking. Several messages left with the 14-person Board of Trustees were not returned. Gogue said in an Oct. 25 release that he'll evaluate Auburn football at the end of the season, and university spokesman Mike Clardy said Gogue is sticking to that statement despite reports of Chizik's potential firing.

Gogue, Chizik and Jacobs were not made available for this story upon request.

From a local restaurant the day before the Georgia game, a group of Auburn fans are talking aloud about Chizik. One says, "You just can't go 3-9 at Auburn."

He's interrupted by his friend.

"You're assuming we're going to get that third win," the friend said.

Auburn will play Alabama A&M, a SWAC team with a 7-3 record, on Nov. 17. And that's not a lock anymore, apparently.

These are the comments you might find on the Paul Finebaum show these days. Auburn is too easy a target for verbal Tide snipers.

Former players are starting to speak out, too.

"I love my Auburn Tigers to death, but this is str8 embarrassment," former safety Zac Etheridge tweeted Saturday night. "Something has to change ASAP."

Added former fullback Heath Evans recently to ESPN 97.3 in Birmingham: "I saw this coming and nobody wanted to believe me. ... Discipline, structure, accountability, and most importantly, mental and physical toughness. It's non-existent. It's absolutely pathetic, and I know those are harsh words, but see, the thing about mental and physical toughness is, they're created. They really are. I can show you the man that looks the biggest and the toughest, and most likely, I can put him in some circumstances where he'd crumble. Great coaches know how to make great men, and they're built."

Other factors are in play, too. The Tigers scored one of the nation's best spread-option quarterbacks, Kiehl Frazier, only to switch to a pro-style offense under new coordinator Scot Loeffler.

Former coordinator Gus Malzahn's no-huddle offense stretched Auburn's own defense at times, but it was effective.

Auburn coaches privately acknowledged this year's talent disparity on both sides of the ball but figured they could squeeze out some SEC victories.

The results? Auburn ranks 12th or worse in the 14-team SEC in seven of eight major offensive and defensive statistical categories (Tigers are ninth in passing defense).

Not every fan is ready to dog Auburn. Chizik has at least some support on campus.

"I hope we give Chizik one more year," said Walker Hall, an Auburn senior. "He seems like a good guy. He did so well recently. A month or so ago, I thought he'd definitely get one more year. But as I hear more and more grumbling, it just gets worse. The whole situation is sad."

"Everybody's still yelling War Eagle," said Dusan Milosevich, who works in the student body center. "Auburn's not no sissy team."

Added James Carpenter, who also works in the center: "They always play hard. They come with spirit. But Alabama, those are some big boys."

When a large portion of the fan base seems to turn on a coach, regaining trust is difficult without a barrage of wins.

With mega-booster Bobby Lowder's authority over athletics seemingly gone, the onus falls on Gogue or athletics director Jay Jacobs to make the coaching calls. Typically, athletics directors can hire and fire coaches, but Jacobs' future appears shaky after he gave Chizik a hefty buyout after the title game worth a reported $7.5 million if the school pulls the trigger this year.

A prominent Alabama booster says there are three prevailing beliefs out of Tuscaloosa: Fire the coach, fire the AD or fire both.

And to think less than two years ago, Chizik's career was a snapshot of greatness.


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
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