Following losses to the schools out of Mississippi this weekend, the calls for the heads of both Auburn's and Tennessee's coaches are louder than ever. From games that looked like both teams had a shot to win in the fourth quarter—both contests were one-score affairs—they have now become tremendous rallying cries. And not the good kind.
Fire Dooley! Fire Chizik! Fire them!
Everybody stop. These coaches are in year three and four respectively of massive rebuild projects. Gene Chizik is in the second phase of a second rebuild after the Gus Malzahn-Ted Roof experiment set them back following their championship season. Dooley is still trying to find a solution to the defensive issues that have not been a constant strength in Knoxville since 2008.
In other words, these guys are nowhere near done, and they need some more time.
Sending them packing might appease the fanbase. It might make that high-powered booster happy. It might create some excitement where "new-ness" is concerned. But ultimately, what the change does is push both schools further from where they want to be.
There are no sure things in the college football world, folks. Building a program is a process, and while gambling on the next big thing always sounds nice, the grass is not always greener on the other side.
For Gene Chizik, the case is pretty simple. His 2010 title is a gift and a curse. Hardware that the Auburn faithful love created an artificial standard that the program was nowhere near attaining. Two transfers lifted the Tigers to that title, one on either side of the ball. That's not a rebuilt program, that's lightning in a bottle. Without Cam Newton, he was able to win eight games in 2009 and 2011. This year, his team will likely miss a bowl.
Missing a bowl is a huge pride hit. It's a tremendous knock to the folks on The Plains. But, that's okay. Stop worrying about what your neighbor, coworker, boss or sister (the Bama fan) says. Look at what Chizik is dealing with—two brand-new faces running the show from a coordinator standpoint.
The Tigers did not just "replace" a coordinator—they made a wholesale schematic change on both sides of the ball. On offense, they scrapped the hurry-up, spread style and hoped to go into a more pro-style set. On defense, they dumped Ted Roofs' "catching" approach to defense and opted to get more aggressive with Brian VanGorder.
If you've watched Auburn play, it is pretty clear that they are still not sure of what they're doing. It happens. Guys don't fully fit into the new systems, and other players just have not fully grasped their role in the new game plan.
Completely pulling the plug on what you were expecting to do and redirecting is not easy. Ask Florida State about year one under Mark Stoops or look at Michigan and their currently nonexistent offense (save for Denard Robinson running around).
Give Chizik a little time to grow kids up in this new scheme. He's still out there recruiting his butt off. He's still looking to push a W across the board. It's not an easy job, but if the kids can make just incremental improvements over their next six games, expect spring to be more about perfecting than learning.
As for Derek Dooley, the head man is in year three, and he has a team that has truly improved from year one to year three. Unfortunately, fans don't care about that. They don't care that the offense is growing the run game and that the offensive line is finally coming together to make things happen. Fans don't care that the defense is showing flashes of grasping Sal Sunseri's scheme, even though they were recruiting for a 4-3 style of play.
No, fans see 0-3 in the SEC with losses to rivals like Georgia and Florida, and they throw a fit. Throw in the way last season ended, and essentially it is open season on a guy who is making clear improvements to his team.
Tennessee isn't an easy job, and while fans live in this world where looking across the yard and wanting what your neighbors have is the driving force, the fact is that dumping guys too quickly hurts, not helps, a program.
Neither of these coaches are pulling a "Larry Coker" with respect to the programs. They aren't mailing it in, skipping on recruiting or allowing bad coordinators to stay employed. They are working to build programs that their followers can be proud of. That doesn't happen quickly.
Give both coaches a little more time. The programs will be better off for it. Chizik is getting talent, and now, with Brian VanGorder, he's on a path to building a defense folks can respect. Scot Loeffler is still a mystery, but the defense is most certainly on the path to recovery.
Dooley is stabilizing Tennessee after becoming the third coach in three seasons in Knoxville. He brings some continuity, and the Vols are improving in a number of areas as the season goes on.
Yes, we live in a "what have you done for me lately" society. Yes, it stinks to have your rivals point fingers at the scoreboard after whipping your behind. However, you build a sound program from the ground up—and both of these coaches are pushing to do just that.
Auburn has a defense that finally has a leader and an offense that's young and is finally figuring out what to do. Tennessee's a team with an offensive line that is improving every week and some players on defense who are growing up before our eyes.
Don't pull the plug on these guys just yet. It's still a little too soon.
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