One of the great mysteries of the universe, or at least the SEC West Division, was the inexplicable hiring of Gene Chizik as head football coach of Auburn in 2008.
(Auburn President: Radio silence on Newton story, FBI arrests)
Though a former defensive coordinator for the Tigers, Chizik had just completed coaching Iowa State to a 5-19 record when he was offered one of the most prestigious jobs in college football.
Even stranger though was the circumstances surrounding Chizik’s hire, which included school officials being heckled at an airport by Auburn fans before Chizik had even signed a contract. Though those events didn’t prevent current Auburn President Jay Gogue from taking complete responsibility for the hire.
From an ASSOCIATED PRESS report shortly after Chizik was hired:
Auburn University President Jay Gogue said he made the decision to hire football coach Gene Chizik, and he said he did it without seeking or receiving input from school trustees or other boosters.
Gogue told The Birmingham News in a story Thursday that the ex-Iowa State coach was the only candidate recommended by athletic director Jay Jacobs.
The hiring has drawn criticism by some Auburn fans because Chizik was only 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State.
Gogue said he was “somewhat surprised” by the negative reaction.
Gogue said he wasn’t involved in interviewing any other candidate before meeting with Chizik and Jacobs Saturday in Memphis.
The president also instructed Jacobs to get permission from a school’s athletic director before interviewing a coach.
Gogue’s vocal defense of Auburn Athletics was ironic considering that he had previously admitted having nothing to do with the coaching search besides signing off on Chizik after Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs recommended him.
A Chizik who, despite his 5-19 Big 12 coaching record and then-current 10-game losing streak, was the only candidate Gogue talked to before making *his* hire.
Yet Gogue was “somewhat surprised” by the outrage over the hire?
Gogue is either too naive to be president of a major university or was not being entirely honest with the public.
I’m not so sure what’s so unbelievable, Chizik getting hired as head coach of an SEC powerhouse while on a 10-game coaching losing streak or the fact that the president of Auburn revealed that Chizik was the only candidate whom he was “recommended” by Jacobs.
Then again, we are talking Auburn, so perhaps “unbelievable” isn’t the best choice of a word here.
Immediately after Chizik was hired, on Dec. 15, 2008, the BIRMINGHAM NEWS reported:
Chizik started the recruiting game with a short deck. He was on the road, but without a full-time staff - or any staff, apparently. He elicited the help of former linebackers coach Joe Whitt, who was working as a fundraiser for athletics.
More specifically, Whitt was - and is - working for Tigers Unlimited, which serves as the main fundraising organization for Auburn athletics. A fundraising organization which despite its association with a state-funded institution like Auburn, is private and allowed to keep its financials secret from the public.
Here’s an account of Whitt’s hire in Dec. 2008:
When Chizik was named Auburn’s head football coach on Dec. 13, he asked Whitt to hit the recruiting road until he had a staff put together. Whitt, who left the football staff after the 2005 season to become a fundraiser for Tigers Unlimited, packed his bags.
“There was absolutely no hesitation,” Whitt told AuburnUndercover.com. “I know how to do it and I know how to do it the right way. I have a lot of contacts and people I know across the four states we basically recruit. It’s something I needed to do.”
In a quarter of a century of trying to convince young men to play football at Auburn, Whitt became renowned as one of the game’s top recruiters. From those who are still playing to those who have gray hair and expanding waistlines, Whitt maintains relationships with those players to this day.
“It was absolutely easy to do it because of my relationship with Gene,” Whitt said. “I believe in Gene and the quality of man he is and what he brings for Auburn. But even if Gene wasn’t involved, I’d do it for Auburn. I’m an Auburn man. When you are needed, you answer.”
Whitt spent last week on the road – sometimes flying, sometimes driving. His message was that Chizik is the right man at the right time for Auburn football. He carried that message, he said, because he believes it.
Whitt did have a previous coaching relationship with Chizik, so his hire wasn’t completely out of the blue. But Whitt’s assisting in Auburn football recruiting while also an employee of a private Auburn athletics fundraising organization - Tigers Unlimited - apparently wasn’t a concern to the school.
The school has also yet to express concern over the federal indictment of Auburn alumnus and lobbyist Robert Geddie. Geddie, whose firm Fine-Geddie is contracted to perform lobbying services for Auburn, was arrested last month by FBI agents on political bribery charges after a federal investigation that included wiretaps.
Why might that matter to Auburn athletics? Geddie’s firm, which has retained its contract with Auburn even after Geddie’s arrest, is primarily paid by the same Tigers Unlimited fund that currently employs Whitt.
Why would the Auburn Athletics fundraising arm be paying a political lobbying firm? Not to mention someone who was recently, actively recruiting for the Auburn football team?
Another good question is where Auburn President Gogue, who was so quick to defend Auburn Athletic Director Jacobs for recommending he hire Chizik, has gone since the Cam Newton recruitment investigation story exploded nearly a month ago.
Not sure where Gogue has been, but I am sure of one thing: He’s said exactly zero publicly about the Newton situation since it broke.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that when he was hired as Auburn President, like Chizik, Gogue was the “only candidate” for the job.
There seems to be a pattern developing here.