Larry Burton (Panama City Beach, Fla.): Two new coaches came to the SEC for the 2009 season that caused fans across the country to drop their jaws and say, "Who?"
One was Lane Kiffin, the other was Gene Chizik, and though each was at first thought of as a joke by those outside their respective programs, they approached their work from very different angles.
Of course we all know that the Vol fans pretty much all dislike Kiffin now, as the rest of the organization did the whole time he was there, but Chizik has grudgingly gained acceptance...not only from the other coaches, but from the SEC and national fan base as well.
Why did one succeed while the other failed in so many ways?
Chizik understood the SEC. As a former Auburn coordinator, he knew that it's best to work your butt off and let the results and accomplishments do the talking for you. Kiffin still doesn't understand that.
But to a certain extent, each was hired to do a different job. The A.D. at Tennessee hired Kiffin knowing he would be a media whore and put U.T. squarely in the media spotlight, and that it may help recruiting, which had gone flat after so many good years.
Chizik was hired at Auburn because they thought he was someone they could "control," unlike Tuberville, who thumbed his nose at the authorities at Auburn.
I wrote an article that exposed the strange circumstances of the hiring of Chizik and I know that hit the rounds of the athletic department at Auburn. I was told as much by an Auburn coach face-to-face who said it was pretty much spot on. If you missed it, it's here.
Reading the comments from Iowa State fans, they were glad to be rid of him, and his 5-19 record at Iowa State was hardly the background to get you a job at a premier school in the SEC.
He had only won two conference games in the Big 12 in two years and they play in the worst division in college football, the Big 12 North.
And though they're hard to find now, many Auburn fans were loudly vocal wondering what the Auburn staff was thinking. There was even the famous YouTube video of him being booed at the airport upon arrival.
So now after a year on the job, I have to tell you I owe Chizik an apology. Though he was hired as a lap dog, and I wrote as much, he has taken his own approach to the job and made it his own.
He has proven himself to be an able "boss," and like all good bosses, he has assembled a good staff around him. His choices of coaches seem to have all worked out, and they work together as a team with no visible cracks in it.
For a first-year head coach, that is something that is not all that common.
He works hard, doesn't trash talk, recruits like a bloodhound, and has proven to Alabama fans and Nick Saban that he isn't giving up anybody they both want without a fight.
High school coaches have told me that he works hard not just to build relationships with the players he wants, but the high school coaches themselves. Many are impressed with him and the message he brings to their campuses.
He has his team mentally prepared for each game and has them confident in the well-laid game plans he's come up with for each.
He gets a lot from players who many didn't expect a lot from. Who knows, maybe he tells them that people didn't expect a lot from him when he got there either, so why don't we both just keep proving them wrong? Boys buy into that kind of mentality.
He did something no other Auburn coach has ever done: he won a bowl game in his first year at Auburn and sent the message that this is not an Auburn team that will be kicked around very long.
Auburn could very well finish second in the SEC West this year, and with no offense to the SEC East, the SEC West is the better of the two for this year at least.
Here are the grades from a writer for Auburn's biggest rival:
Strength and Conditioning—C+
Game-Day Coaching and Game Planning—A-
Though few, including me, thought very much of Chizik's hire, Gene is proof that a man can chart his own path and not be subject to the dictates of the expectations of others.
He may not be a Nick Saban or Urban Meyer, but those men weren't great at this point in their careers, either. Chizik has two things going for him, being the man in the right place at the right time and having potential.
Anyone who overlooks Chizik again may be making a big mistake; he does have potential and no one stays on top forever. Just ask Saban and Meyer themselves; both have been at the top and been toppled.
And when they have a down year, Chizik may be ready to pounce.
So however Chizik got the job, it's his now, and he's surpassing most expectations and he may for years to come.