If you fell into a slumber from the moment Gene Chizik lifted the crystal ball in Glendale, Ariz., and woke up today, you would assume the universe had played out in a natural, linear way. Top-ranked Alabama visiting No. 4 Auburn in a monster game with the SEC West title - and a whole lot more - on the line between the two winners of the last two (and now four) national titles.
You'd look on the Jordan-Hare Stadium sidelines and see Gus Malzahn calling plays and Chizik's recruits executing them. You'd see everything Chizik built, but not Chizik. Though he still lives in Auburn, Chizik won't be at the game. Instead, he's taking his son Cally to Kansas City to see the Chiefs take on the Broncos, the younger Chizik's first NFL game. He's got that kind of time now.
There's no doubt Chizik has lived a lifetime in the last decade. From his personal 28-game winning streak with the undefeated 2004 Auburn team and the national champion 2005 Texas squad, to his 5-19 tenure at Iowa State, to his eventful four seasons at Auburn, where he went from 8-5 to 14-0 to 8-5 to 3-9 to out of a job.
A year and a day since his firing at Auburn, Chizik sat down for a lengthy interview with USA Today's Dan Wolken about his experience at Auburn, living through the final days of his tenure, what he's learned and what he's doing to fill his time as an unemployed coach for the fist time in a 27-year career. At just 51 years old, Chizik has the experience, perspective and financial wherewithal to do whatever he wants with the rest of his life. As he says, "Coaching is what I do. It's not who I am."
I've pulled some excerpts from the Q & A, but I encourage you to read the entire thing. Any coach at any level of game could learn something from Chizik.
On what he's doing now... I've had a great opportunity to spend a lot of family time. I've always said I'm a husband and a father and a coach. That's what I am. So I've really been able to kind of lay back, spend some great, great family time and do some really creative and cool things. This Saturday I'm taking my son to his first pro football game. I've been able to do that, and I've obviously done some TV and some radio. Not too much. Again, in this time I've really wanted to lay low and spend a lot of great family time, so I haven't fully devoted to the radio and TV world but I've done some of it. I've spent a lot of time, believe it or not, studying the game and really staying up on the game.
On how much time he spends reflecting on what went wrong at Auburn... I've reflected on the past. I haven't dwelled on the past. I'm a guy that always looks forward and always try to stay very positive in what can sometimes be a very negative world. But I choose not to go down that path because one thing I have realized, particularly in coaching, is that for the guys that it didn't work out at once place or another for them, coaching-wise, I've seen them very bitter where they look back and refuse to take responsibility for whatever happened. It was everybody else's fault.
What I've found from those guys is, everybody else moves on. The fans move on, the coaches move on, the players move on and the only one left bitter is you. I refuse to do that. Have I been reflective on the good and the bad? I've had 27 years of a dream career as an assistant and head coach, but if you stay in it long enough you'll have to deal with some of the downside of it to, and I've done that. I've definitely moved on, but I'm reflective as well.
On why he still lives in Auburn... Our children, if you ask them where they were born, they can tell you. If you ask them where they're from, there was a point in time where they couldn't tell you. Now if you ask them, they'll say they're from Auburn. That's very important to me. They've given up a lot because of my career and how it required you to move, and I didn't think it would be fair at all that just because dad isn't working for the university that we just up and moved again.
On where it went wrong... What we probably didn't anticipate was, we didn't anticipate the struggles at quarterback. And we struggled mightily at quarterback, to the point where the last four or five games we started a true freshman.
And you now in this league, that's just hard. So you've got new coordinators, struggles at the quarterback position, and if you just look at this league, the teams that play at a high level, you're getting high-level quarterback play. That's just the way it is. So you've got those two dynamics put together and then there was a momentum issue in there.
On why he transitioned from a spread to pro-style offense following Malzahn's departure... For me, what we tried to do is look at in our league, what type of offense was, through the test of time, consistently productive and winning? And we wanted to kind of shift gears somewhat. It wasn't a wholesale shift to a pro-style offense, because if you look at consistency of success in our league you're looking at the Georgias and Alabamas and LSUs because they can recruit really good players that you could win with in that type of pro system.
On what he'd have done differently in 2012 if he knew he could be fired within the year... I'd have never dreamed I had one year. That never crossed my mind. I was making decisions to transition to something I thought through the test of time would be the right thing to do, and looking back on it, knowing I had one year, there's two things that come to play for me when I look back. No. 1, I'd always make sure that I had viable options at the quarterback position. And No. 2, I'd be very cautious in changing so much so quickly meaning coordinators and offense.
On if or when he'll coach again... I'm going to enjoy the first Thanksgiving I've had in 27 years without the pressure to win a game and I'm going to enjoy that. But if the right thing hits, that will be great because I am a football coach.