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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Pressure's on for coach, players in Chizik's debut

I wrote a story for today's paper about expectations heading into Gene Chizik's first season. Here's how it starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — It’s been nearly nine months since Gene Chizik was hired as Auburn’s head coach. That time has been filled with a seemingly endless parade of practices, preparation and platitudes, none of which has given a clue as to how the Tigers will fare in their season opener tonight against Louisiana Tech.

Even Chizik admits its hard not to second-guess himself on the eve of the season.

“Really, you’re always thinking along those lines,” he said. “I don’t think that ever leaves you. ‘Did we do enough? Did we do too much?’ It’s really human nature to look back and say those things, but I think we’ve been very thorough. We’ve just got to go out and play now.”

Chizik finally takes the field as the Tigers’ 26th head coach tonight at Jordan-Hare Stadium, hoping to get his tenure off to a good start. Auburn head coaches have a 16-8-1 record in their debuts, with four of the last five — Tommy Tuberville, Terry Bowden, Pat Dye and Ralph “Shug” Jordan — notching wins.

Beating an upstart Louisiana Tech won’t define Chizik’s Auburn career, but a victory would certainly calm the nerves of fans who are still skittish about the coach’s 5-19 record in two seasons at Iowa State.

Read the rest here. Also, be sure to follow the blog on Twitter.

Now, the question I most frequently am asked is how many wins Auburn will have this year. My answer usually disappoints. Six. And honestly, that should be considered a success.

As history shows, it's tough sledding for first-year head coaches in the SEC. As my story says, since 1992, the year the conference split into two divisions, there have been 32 new full-time head coaches hired in the conference. Here's how they've fared, from best to worst.

The format is: Coach (school) Record — Record of the team the previous year (whether or not the school made a bowl game the previous year):
  • Bowden (Auburn) 11-0 — 5-5-1 (no bowl)
  • Les Miles (LSU) 11-2 — 9-3 (bowl)
  • Phil Fulmer (Tennessee) 10-2 — 9-3 (bowl)
  • Urban Meyer (Florida) 9-3 — 7-4 (bowl)
  • Houston Nutt (Arkansas) 9-3 — 4-7 (no bowl)
  • Nutt (Ole Miss) 9-4 — 3-9 (no bowl)
  • Nick Saban (LSU) 8-4 — 3-8 (no bowl)
  • Mark Richt (Georgia) 8-4 — 8-4 (bowl)
  • David Cutcliffe (Ole Miss) 8-4 — 6-5 (no bowl)
  • Ron Zook (Florida) 8-5 — 10-2 (bowl)
  • Dennis Franchione (Alabama) 7-5 — 3-8 (no bowl)
  • Steve Spurrier (South Carolina) 7-5 — 6-5 (no bowl)
  • Gerry DiNardo (LSU) 7-4-1 — 4-7 (no bowl)
  • Danny Ford (Arkansas) 6-4-1 — 3-7-1 (no bowl)
  • Tuberville (Ole Miss) 6-5 — 4-7 (no bowl)
  • Brad Scott (South Carolina) 6-5 — 4-7 (no bowl)
  • Saban (Alabama) 6-6 — 6-6 (bowl)
  • Tuberville (Auburn) 5-6 — 3-8 (no bowl)
  • Jim Donnan (Georgia) 5-6 — 6-6 (bowl)
  • Hal Mumme (Kentucky) 5-6 — 4-7 (no bowl)
  • Bobby Petrino (Arkansas) 5-7 — 8-5 (bowl)
  • Mike DuBose (Alabama) 4-7 — 10-3 (bowl)
  • Joe Lee Dunn (Ole Miss) 4-7 — 6-5 (no bowl)
  • Rich Brooks (Kentucky) 4-8 — 7-5 (no bowl)
  • Mike Shula (Alabama) 4-9 — 10-3 (ineligible for bowl)
  • Ed Orgeron (Ole Miss) 3-8 — 4-7 (no bowl)
  • Sylvester Croom (Mississippi State) 3-8 — 2-10 (no bowl)
  • Woody Widenhofer (Vanderbilt) 3-8 — 2-9 (no bowl)
  • Guy Morriss (Kentucky) 2-9 — 2-9 (no bowl)
  • Rod Downhower (Vanderbilt) 2-9 — 5-6 (no bowl)
  • Bobby Johnson (Vanderbilt) 2-10 — 2-9 (no bowl)
  • Lou Holtz (South Carolina) 0-11 — 1-10 (no bowl)
And a breakdown of victories per first season (the average is 5.9):
  • 11 wins: 2
  • 10 wins:1
  • 9 wins: 3
  • 8 wins: 4
  • 7 wins: 3
  • 6 wins: 5
  • 5 wins: 3
  • 4 wins: 4
  • 3 wins: 3
  • 2 wins: 3
  • 1 win: 0
  • 0 wins: 1
As you can see, it's tough to turn things around. Only eight coaches inherited sub-.500 teams and finished better than .500 in their first year. Of those eight, only three finished with eight or more wins. Houston Nutt did it at both Arkansas and Ole Miss. Nick Saban did it at LSU.

Here are the best one-year improvements:
  • Bowden (Auburn) +6 wins
  • Nutt (Ole Miss) +6 wins
  • Nutt (Arkansas) +5 wins
  • Saban (LSU) +5 wins
  • Franchione (Alabama) +4 wins
  • DiNardo (LSU) +3 wins
  • Ford (Arkansas) +3 wins
So, anyone driving the eight- or nine-win bandwagon should know that an improvement like that, which would require Auburn to increase by three or four wins, is extremely rare. In the last 17 years, only seven coaches have had that big of an improvement in Year 1, less than a quarter of the coaches hired.

Just for fun, here are some debuts from Auburn's most recent coaches. And notice how their record in the first season doesn't necessarily correlate with long-term success:
  • Tuberville (1999) — won 22-15 vs. Appalachian State, 5-6 for season (85-40 career at Auburn)
  • Bowden (1993) — won 16-12 vs. Ole Miss, 11-0 for season (47-17-1 career)
  • Dye (1981) — won 24-16 vs. TCU, 5-6 for season (99-39-4 career)
  • Doug Barfield (1976) — lost 31-19 at Arizona, 4-7 for season (29-25-1 career)
  • Jordan (1951) — won 24-14 vs. Vanderbilt, 5-5 for season (176-83-6 career)
And one last thing, at least on Sports Illustrated.com writer thinks Auburn will be a surprise team this year. Here's what Arash Markazi had to say (you have to scroll down on the link to find it):
New offensive coordinator Gus Malazahn was one of the innovators of the trendy "Wildcat Offense," and if he can get the Tigers to play with some consistency they could be a scary team. The Tigers lost four games by five points or fewer last year because they finished 104th in the nation in total offense and 110th in scoring.


§teveFC said...

Auburn will likely win 7 or 8 games. Nine wins would be incredible. This team has more talent than your usual 5-7 team. Even with one of the worst offenses in college football, we were in every game except 2.

The limiting factor on this team is depth. Luck with injuries will determine if this is a six or nine win team.

War Eagle AC-47 said...

Yeah, I agree with Steve. We looked terrible last year, but remember we were only a few points away from winning three or four of those games. Poor kicking and penalties, lousy play-calling-- all addressed this year.

Now the only scary variable is depth/injuries.

We win 8 games.

Andy Bitter said...

It always seems like people use the "couple points" argument to say how many more games a team could have won. Well, a couple points the other way and (like two against Tennessee and one against Mississippi State) and Auburn would have been 0-8 in the SEC.

I agree with SteveFC (sorry, I don't know how to make that symbol). Depth is the biggest concern and injuries will happen. It's inevitable in football, especially with 11 straight weeks of games. That's why I say 6 wins.