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Senior College Football Columnist

Chizik's almost certainly gone at Auburn, and he has Bama to thank

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama fired Gene Chizik here on Saturday. An official announcement is expected in the next couple of days.

You read that right. Alabama fired Chizik. Officially, Auburn's coach for the last four years was still drawing a paycheck following his team's ignominious 49-0 loss Saturday to the No. 2 Crimson Tide. But when and if the end comes (and it is expected quickly), Alabama will have been largely responsible.

As bad as the Tigers looked Saturday -- and they were incredibly rotten -- the Tigers' coach has been a victim ... of geography. Deposited in one of the most competitive rivalries in the world, Chizik couldn't keep up.

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He didn't fail. He just couldn't maintain the pace.

The man knew on some level what he was getting into when Auburn came calling four years ago. But when you're 5-19 at Iowa State, you don't ask questions. You grab the rope and get yanked out of the quicksand.

The ugly end has happened before to better coaches than Gene Chizik in this rivalry. But unless an increasingly vocal fan base and an equally silent administration (always a bad sign) are sending the wrong message, it's over.

History will be made: No coach in the wire-service era (since 1936) has been fired within two years of winning a national championship. They have retired, gone to the NFL and taken other college jobs but never been fired that soon after being No. 1. That's a statement about Auburn, Alabama, the SEC and Chizik. Maybe that's all it was supposed to be -- a short-term joy-ride. They derided Chizik for being that under-.500 coach at Iowa State with roots to the Tigers. But look what they got. For one bright, shining moment in 2010 they were better than Alabama. And maybe that's as good as it gets for a while. A long while considering who's in power here at the moment.

But you don't fail landing a once-in-a-generation player (Cam Newton), going undefeated and winning the school's first title in 53 years. You don't fail coordinating a national championship defense at Texas or proving you're not that 5-19 Iowa State coach. Chizik won 64 percent of his games at Auburn, right down the road from perhaps the best program ever.

That's not failing. Auburn has less of just about everything than Alabama. If that hurts Tigers, then it should. Ninety-five percent of the schools have less than Bama. But when Alabama rolls you're always a victim whether you like it or not.

Strip away everything -- the loss of Newton, his offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the injuries, a possible NCAA probation, a depressing 3-9 season -- Chizik's agent isn't negotiating buyout money if Alabama isn't right down the road.

"I don't have to make a case," Chizik said, sounding like a man resigned to his fate. "Ya'll saw what you saw out there tonight."

Auburn compares itself to Big Brother every day. Tommy Tuberville lasted longer than most, beating Alabama six straight times. It was one of those post-Bear runs when the Tide couldn't figure themselves out. But even Tubs didn't win a national title, denied a chance by the BCS in 2004.

Consider Chizik, then, a comet that flashed across the heavens. That should be good enough for a school just down the road from The Best of Everything. Meanwhile, Nick Saban's permanency stands nine feet tall outside Bryant-Denny. He and his program aren't going away anytime soon.

Even with Newton and All-American defensive lineman Nick Fairley for that magical 2010 run, when the currency became national titles, Auburn folded its hand. Suddenly, spectacularly and in degrees these past two seasons.

Since kickoff of the 2010 Iron Bowl -- one of Auburn's best wins ever -- the program is 13-14. Not bad except when it pales in the glow of Alabama's 24-3 record over the same period. Chizik has turned from Newton lottery winner (insert snarky joke here) to epic loser.

The difference between Saturday and that 2010 game were startling. Those Tigers rallied from a 24-0 deficit. These Tigers were road kill for Bama's fourth shutout this season, the program's most since 1979. Those Tigers shocked the world. There were empty seats Saturday up top at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The crowd on both sides seemed primed for the inevitable. They got what they came for: A play-in game for the SEC championship game, not the Iron Bowl. Alabama scored on its first seven possessions and that, essentially, was that.

By winning, Alabama put itself in position to win three national titles in four years. If it happens, Chizik will also be responsible for keeping the crystal football out of enemy hands (the other 49 states) since 2008.

That's not failing. That's not keeping up.

Anywhere else, firing Chizik less than two years after a national championship would be absurd. At most places, even with this season's 0-8 SEC record, he'd be given another year -- or two. Championship coaches usually earn their right to work their way out of it.

Since 2003, Saban and Urban Meyer both left their schools that close to winning titles -- by their own choosing. The coaches' poll showed Tom Osborne ultimate love awarding its national championship less than a month after he announced his retirement in 1997. Chizik is about to be shown the door 23 months after winning his school's first title in 53 years.

"Everything went wrong," Auburn running back Tre Mason said.

Chizik probably hired the wrong offensive coordinator, Scot Loeffler, to replace Malzahn. Or made the wrong decision to go to the pro-style. It didn't matter when there were three starting quarterbacks, just as many tight ends and an offensive line changing membership.

Saban followed up his 2009 title with another two years later and, as mentioned, is gunning for a third. If this is the end, Chizik’s short 52-game stay will have started and ended with boos -- of AD Jay Jacobs on the tarmac -- and in the court of Tiger opinion.

Hey, it could have been worse. Turner Gill, anyone?


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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