Even the players on offense have noticed as preparations continue for the Tigers’ Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl game with Virginia.
“It’s crazy,” said wide receiver Emory Blake. “You don’t really see him like that. He’s usually walking around and overseeing everything. Now he’s focused on the defense. He’s really hands-on. It’s cool to see him actually get into it like he is. He’s intense. He’s a very intense defensive coach.”
When defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Ted Roof left last week to take a similar position with Central Florida, Chizik immediately announced he would fill both roles for the Tigers in their bowl preparations.
The majority of Chizik’s experience prior to becoming a head coach is on the defensive side, mostly coaching the secondary and as a defensive coordinator, although he has also coached linebackers and defensive line early in his career.
He said he welcomes the return to the more hands-on aspect of coaching.
“It’s a part that you miss somewhat when you’re a head coach,” Chizik said.
“But it’s fun getting back in there with them. It’s fun getting back in the meeting rooms. The grind of the film work and the practice film and things of that nature. It’s fun going back and kind of getting into it some more. So the last few days have been really good for me.”
The linebackers say Chizik set the tone early.
“Coach Chizik, he’s straight-forward , he’s going to tell you the truth like it or not,” said Auburn linebacker Eltoro Freeman. “That’s the type of guy I like and he ain’t going to sugarcoat nothing. That’s one of the things he did in the meeting room. He let everyone know where we were and how he felt about each and every one of us as a football player, the things we can work on. That’s exactly what I like and I’m going to do his thing full speed, I’m working hard in film, at practice, and trying to do whatever I can do to help Auburn and help my team get that eighth win.”
Linebacker Jake Holland said that initial meeting has the players on the same page.
“I really respected him when he said that,” Holland said. “It really lets us know where we stand. It gives us an opportunity to get better. He’s really intense. That’s the style of coaching I like. A lot of one-on-one coaching and that’s really helping me.”
The players agree that the overall philosophy on defense has not changed, but the difference with Chizik taking a more hands-on approach has been in the details.
“It has been a lot more intense and a lot more focused on little details and footwork and where your alignment and assignment is supposed to be,” said freshman linebacker Justin Garrett. “It has been a lot more physical. It’s a little bit different because I’m more active around him. Before he was the head coach and we weren’t around him as much, but having him coaching me up on the little details on what I’m supposed to do and where I’m supposed to be helps me out a lot more.”
Defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker said he noticed a change in Chizik’s demeanor after the very first bowl practice.
“Coach Chiz is always a high-motor, high-energy, high-tempo guy, and he was that,” Whitaker said. “You could tell he was back in his comfort zone. He didn’t want to say nothing, but he had this edge to himself, he’s back in his comfort zone. He’s a great coach, we love Coach Chiz, and you know he’s going to do a great job.”
Even though he’s taking on more work, Chizik said he loves it.
“I enjoy being around the guys,” he said. “I love teaching and I enjoy coaching, and doing it more in depth than I normally do is a lot of fun.
Freeman predicts that Chizik’s coaching will have benefits that extend beyond the bowl game.
“It’s real big and it’s very big for the young guys because coach Chizik, he’s the real deal, man,” Freeman said. “He’s setting the tone. He’s real strict and he’s a man of his word and he expects things done right and the Auburn way. If it’s not done those ways, you ain’t going to be a part of Auburn. I think these bowl practices and the standards Coach Chizik have set are going to help Auburn men become better men and also better football players.”