Why the Auburn coaching situation could get ugly

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Auburn finds itself in quite an interesting predicament right now with head coach Gene Chizik. The Auburn Tigers are clearly underachieving. Sitting at a 1-4 record (0-3 in conference) with their lone win coming against Louisiana-Monroe in overtime, it is quite the 2012 resume for the 2010 National Champs, no?

When any big program encounters a season like 2012 is with the current one, the focus immediately turns to the head coach. In this case, Mr. Gene Chizik.

As we’ve discussed previously, because of the recent extension Auburn gave him following the BCS Championship in 2010, he currently is sitting with a $7.5 million buyout. While definitely an obstacle, it’s not an immovable obstacle. Under the right circumstances, I believe that Auburn would make the move regardless of the buyout.

With Auburn playing two road games in the next two weeks (Ole Miss and Vanderbilt), this situation has the potential to get ugly. Ole Miss is favored against Auburn, and Vanderbilt won’t be a slouch either. Moreover, they still have Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. I would project Auburn finishes either 3-9 or 4-8.

The record alone gives ammunition for those wanting Chizik gone, but there’s one thing that would potentially create the right situation to make the move. That is a complete embarrassment against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Paul Finebaum noted on his show earlier this week that if Auburn leaves Bryant-Denny Stadium and they’re staring up at the scoreboard which reads something like 45-0, you can bet that a lot of Auburn folks are going to want to make the move.

The Alabama-Auburn rivalry creates an environment where a coach’s hot seat gets turned up even higher. In the state of Alabama, Auburn fans aren’t just comparing the Auburn 2012 team to the 2010 team, but they’re also comparing Auburn to Alabama. Unfortunately for Chizik, they’re also comparing Gene Chizik to Nick Saban.

As SDS contributor Skip Oliva discusses in a recent article, the in-state and in-conference rivalry sets the stage for massive coaching overreactions:

Chizik would be facing criticism regardless of Alabama’s current performance, but the firing talk may not have gathered steam as quickly if Auburn was being compared to LSU or even Florida. Clearly, the presence of a more successful in-state rival may accelerate Chizik’s firing.

During the most recent SEC expansion the conference added Missouri and Texas A&M. It was understood the SEC would not pursue schools in states that already had an SEC member. Thus, there were no overtures to Florida State or Clemson, two schools that were arguably better overall fits for the SEC than Missouri or A&M. Conversely, A&M was eager to leave the Big 12 Conference, where its major in-state rival, Texas, was the dominant member.

Having an in-state rival in-conference greatly accelerates pressure on the coaching staff not only to perform well, but to outdo your rival. This can lead to a cycle of poor management decisions. If Alabama repeats as SEC champion and Auburn responds by firing Chizik, there’s no guarantee Auburn will recruit a stronger coach to replace him. The coaching market is always volatile, as Auburn’s recent history demonstrates.

As we get into the second half of 2012, Auburn’s program might take center stage depending on how the season develops. One major question to consider, depending on how bad the situation gets, is would Auburn consider Bobby Petrino? In my opinion, if there’s one program that could do it, it is Auburn. And Alabama has a lot to do with it.

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