Stars, Stripes, and Big Cats: Gene Chizik's First Offseason at Auburn

Chris MizeranyCorrespondent IAugust 10, 2009

Reporter: "Are you afraid to recruit against Nick Saban?"

Coach Chizik: "I'm sorry, I don't know who that is...War Damn Eagle!"

Ah yes, new Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is one smooth talker. Ever since his controversial hire just seven months ago, he has said all the right things and displayed a certain bravado that has Auburn fans thinking positive for the first time in a while.

Yes, Chizik can talk the talk.

But talkin' ain't walkin', and the Tigers' new head man has a lot of walkin' to do to escape the shadow of his 5-19 record at Iowa State.

Auburn has practiced four times now and is preparing for their first scrimmage. It is officially preseason.

So, with that in mind, how much walkin' did Coach Chizik and staff get done in their first offseason as Auburn Tigers?

One thing is for sure: This was no dull offseason for Auburn.

Much of a head coach's success is based on his surrounding staff. Shortly after his hiring, Chizik put together one of the youngest, most charismatic, most talented coaching staffs in the country.

His hires included young hotshot offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, recruiter extraordinaire Curtis Luper, outgoing and tough receiver coach Trooper Taylor, and a former Outland Trophy winner at Auburn, Tracy Rocker.

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Not a bad start.

Shortly thereafter, Auburn closed out the 2009 recruiting class strong by signing such highly touted recruits as Tyrik Rollison, DeAngelo Benton, Emory Blake, Dontae Aycock, Jamar Travis, and Nosa Eguae.

Building momentum...

Soon, it was the no contact period for coaches. They could not communicate with any 2010 recruits in any way. So, the Tiger Prowl was born.

Auburn's entire coaching staff, besides Chizik (head coaches could not visit high schools in this period), travelled the state of Alabama, visiting high schools in a stretch Hummer limo.

Is this stuff actually working?

Then came the big show and the top story of Auburn's offseason, Big Cat Weekend. Coach Chizik and staff hosted some of the top recruits in the nation (including the top three running backs) on a weekend of fun and a family atmosphere.

The weekend drew mixed reviews from critics, but not recruits. Temple (TX) High running back Lache Seastrunk, the No. 2 overall prospect in the country, called it the best visit he ever had.

Now there's a buzz in the air.

Then, the highly anticipated Stars and Stripes Weekend came. Then, it passed. Just like any other weekend.

Slight disappointment, but still hopefully optimistic.

That brings us to preseason practice.

There it is—Auburn's offseason. Let me guess: It sounds great, but is something missing?

Oh yeah.


Auburn heads into the season with 14 total commitments, including a pair of top receiving threats (Jeremy Richardson and Antonio Goodwin) and a big JUCO defensive end (Joel Bonomolo) from California.

The big names, however, are still missing. Top 100 names such as Seastrunk, Dyer, Lattimore, Reed, and Owens remain uncommitted. The Tigers are big players for these prospects, but Coach Chizik will have to lead his team to some solid game day performances and a much improved season to land them.

So, for generating the hype you have, for hiring the staff you hired, and for renewing hope for fans, coach Gene Chizik receives an A- offseason grade from this writer.

It is unclear how this season will play out for Auburn University, but one thing is clear: Chizik has a message he wants to send out.

"This is Auburn. Respect it."

Yeah, nice talkin' Mean Gene. Now, keep on walkin'.

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