Some of the criticism Gene Chizik has received for his poor performance as head coach at Auburn is undeserved. However, when he steps between the lines to coach against Alabama on Saturday, it could be the last time he ever dons the orange and blue.
After a 22-5 start to his tenure at Auburn that included two bowl wins and a national championship, Chizik finds himself in the middle of an 0-7 SEC conference record in 2012.
Before the game against Georgia, AOL Sports helped report that upper-level officials at the university were looking into making full-scale changes in the athletic department.
Cries of poor QB play, the change from the spread offense to a more pro-style look and the recent discovery that players were having a hard time making curfew have all contributed to Chizik being firmly situated on the hot seat.
By comparison, in-state rival Alabama will host the Tigers as a favorite to represent the country in this year's national championship game. Nick Saban has heard the cries for Chizik's head, and had this to say about Chizik, per AP SEC writer John Zenor:
Saban: I personally think Gene Chizik has done a really good job. His teams are always well coached and always well prepared.— John Zenor (@jzenor) November 19, 2012
Additionally, Chizik isn't exactly a cheap option to keep around. Despite all the revenue and publicity from the national championship game, Chizik and running back Onterio McCalebb are the only noticeable hold overs from that 2010 championship team.
Cam Newton is firmly planted in the NFL, and he isn't walking through the door in red and blue tights any time soon.
Can the school justify paying Chizik the eighth-highest salary in college football if he can't win a conference game? If he fails to beat No. 2 Alabama on Saturday, that will be the case. Birmingham News reporter Joel A. Erickson help spread the word to Chizik haters that he's one of college football's elite—in terms of salary.
Gene Chizik's salary ranks eighth in nation, USA Today says; Auburn's entire staff thirdal.com/auburnfootball…— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAEricksonAU) November 19, 2012
Fans are clearly eager to get a new figurehead. Players respect Chizik, and the university has been non-committal about his return. All that adds up to one of the biggest rivalries in college football.
It's almost as if Auburn officials are stopping to watch.
If Chizik can win—or at least keep this from embarrassing Tiger fans—there's momentum heading into 2012 and a glimmer of hope. If he loses, and loses big, his fate is likely sealed.
It might already be sealed, but let's at least give him one final chance with his back firmly against the wall.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.