If you're an Auburn Tigers football fan, then this past offseason has been tough on your stomach.
Actually, check that: All of last year was pretty awful. It all started with the Tony Franklin debacle midseason (or really, when he was hired) and ended with a 5-7 record and the "resignation" of Tommy Tuberville, the fourth winningest coach in the university's history.
So what did the school's athletic director, Jay Jacobs, go out and do?
Hire a guy with only two years of head coaching experience and a 5-19 record. Oh, brother.
The hiring of Gene Chizik was tough to stomach for most die-hard Tigers fans. Why on earth a top-tier program like Auburn would fire a coach who had done as much for the program as Tuberville had to hire a man who has proved very little as a head coach was as puzzling as the whole "Jetgate" scandal of 2006.
Coupled with the fact that prior to the 36-0 drubbing the Tigers took in the Iron Bowl last year, Tubs had won six straight versus the Crimson Tide (a feat that has never been accomplished in the school's history), and none of it seemed to add up.
Well, that was way back in December. The program has moved on, and it seems that Tubs has as well. Chizik, for all of the criticism, has handled the transition quite well. For all of those doubters who said there was no way he could compete with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide on the recruiting trail, much less the football field, Chizik has had a response.
In fact, he has proven to be an apt recruiter, as evidenced by his over-the-top (and admittedly, a bit cheesy) Tiger Prowl and Big Cat Weekend. Those parades and a solid staff full of great recruiters have already netted them a few big-name high schoolers for the 2010 class in WR/RB Shaun Kitchens, LB Jawara White, QB Tyrik Rollison (actually a member of the '09 class), and CB Jonathan Mincy.
Chizik has also shown a propensity to rely on outside help from coaches and the administration, which is always important in keeping the balance of power in order for the program. Something tells me that Saban doesn't take too kindly to much outside help or advice.
The help for Chizik in returning the Auburn program to national prominence comes in the form of Gus Malzahn (offensive coordinator), Trooper Taylor (wide receivers coach), Curtis Luper (running backs coach), and Tracy Rocker (defensive line coach).
Malzahn is widely considered one of the best offensive minds in all of college football, having been the architect of the nation's top offense two years in a row at Tulsa. He will help spread the field and open up the passing game (don't worry, not like Tony Franklin) via the running game that Auburn has always hung its hat on.
As Chizik stated when he introduced Malzahn back in December, "When it comes to our offense in this league, we have to start with our running game. That is very important to me."
They don't call it "Running Back U" for nothing.
Taylor and Luper are incredible communicators and recruiting specialists. Chizik has placed a renewed emphasis on in-state recruiting, as well as in Georgia and Florida, and Luper and Taylor seem to fall into that same line of thinking. Rocker, a former Auburn star, brings a sense of tradition back to a very proud program that is looking to re-enter the national picture.
So, the real question is, what can Auburn fans realistically expect out of their football team this year?
For all of the changes that have been made this offseason, the mood around the program seems to be quite optimistic. I don't think we'll see the effects of this new regime on the field much this season, but the new environment that coach Chizik and his staff have created has given fans reason to be positive about the future of Auburn football.
For all of those doubters that have now written off Auburn and returned them to their slot as the No. 2 school in the state, Chizik may have a few tricks of his own. He isn't going to run from the challenge that the Tide present, and he isn't going to settle for second fiddle in the Heart of Dixie.
"Those guys aren't going away, so we better find a way to compete," Chizik said.
For those who bleed orange and blue, these may be trying times. Those Auburn faithful, both disgruntled and hopeful, must be patient during this time and know that the pride of the program will one day be restored, and that the wonderful folks who make up "The Loveliest Village on the Plains" will one day soon able to roar "WAR DAMN EAGLE!" at the top of their lungs.