ESPN.com expert impressed with Auburn
The first person I called was Chris Low, who does an outstanding job blogging about the SEC for The Worldwide Leader. I have him bookmarked. You should, too.
Here's what he had to say about Chizik and the entire Auburn operation:
Q: Do you think Gene Chizik has sparked a 180-degree change in the Auburn program>
A: I wouldn't say 180. I didn't think the program was totally in the tank. It came down to a bad decision by Tommy Tuberville in hiring Tony Franklin. That didn't work out very well. It wasn't like Auburn was down like Mississippi State was. Or even Tennessee. It was a big gamble, taking a guy with a profile like it was at the time, but I have to say: Auburn is looking pretty smart right now.
Q: How big of a gamble was it?
A:He was the ultimate huh? hire at the time. I had no idea what Auburn was thinking.
Q: What has impressed you most about the job he's done?
A:The best thing he has done is that he's gotten people to buy in pretty quickly. They have a horrible numbers crunch, especially on defense, but the body of work is more impressive than I expected. They're a play or two away from winning in Athens. They probably should have beaten Kentucky. If you had told me during the summer that Auburn would have a chance to win 8, 9, 10 games, I wouldn't have believed it.
Q: What do you think of Gus Malzahn?
A: I know this -- athletic directors love him. They like him for the same reasons they love Dan Mullen. He's young, he's bright and he does things that create excitement. You can sell that. A good offense gets the fan base more geeked than anything else. It's like a new toy. I'm not saying he's ready to be a head coach, but I know he is and will be on some short lists.
Q: What is your opinion of Chizik as a coach?
A: I know he comes off as pretty dry in interviews. He's a lot better with the players. He doesn't let the media see much. One of the things I remember about going down there during the summer was how well he related to the players.
Q: What about his approach toward recruiting?
A: I think this staff will recruit better than Tommy. He was great in big games, but I think this staff has some guys who will be great in big games, too. I look at it this way: If this staff is going to recruit much better than Tommy and they're already winning 7 or 8 games, they're going to improve on that win total very quickly.
Q: What is their ceiling?
A: I think they're going to be a Top 4 team in the SEC. Right now, you have Alabama, Florida, LSU and there's room for one more. (Auburn) can get back there. In two years, they'll have a chance to be that fourth team or even higher. They have to get the right quarterback to run Malzahn's system. Is that going to be Tyrik Rollison? We'll have to see.
Q: Final thought?
A: Auburn is better than I thought. Had they beaten UK, I'd seriously consider Gene for Coach of the Year. He's accomplishing a lot.