Here’s hoping that all of the energy that Chizik has put into consoling and soul-coaching his coaches and players through a brutal year of real loss comes back to him as he grieves for his mother, Rita, who died at age 86 early Monday morning.
Because never mind losses on the field this season, on which the 1-6 Tigers have suffered more than a program with Auburn’s advantages should. Auburn has endured more than its share of real loss in recent months.
And never mind what questions many, including this hack, have raised about Chizik’s on-field coaching. Never mind calls, including my own, for Auburn to make a change in head coaches.
The guy who named one of his kids after a deceased former player and unabashedly evokes God is probably as well-suited as anyone to do the soul-coaching Chizik has had to do.
When the time comes to sum up Chizik’s contributions to Auburn’s program, the greatest ones could be the hard-to-sum, private moments he has experienced with those under and around him, sharing and assuaging grief.
Such moments are best left private, but the news that made them necessary has been anything but private.
People have heard the story of wide receiver Quan Bray’s mother’s passing more than a year ago.
We’ve heard about fullback Jay Prosch’s mom dying Sept. 3, losing the fight with brain cancer that prompted her son to transfer from Illinois so that he could be close to her.
We’ve heard about tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen’s grandmother recently, and who can forget the tragic events of a late Saturday night in June?
How many followed the minute-by-minute developments on Twitter as news broke that two recent, former Auburn players were shot at a pool party in Auburn?
How many Tebowed when word came down that Ed Christian and Handley’s Ladarious Phillips were among three killed and six shot?
Chizik, who sometimes comes off as pitch-unperfect in moments like his “God-thing” comment following a victory over Clemson in 2010 and his apology to fans after a loss to Arkansas this season, came off pitch-perfect. In his somber, genuine way, he announced that, for now, football doesn’t matter in Auburn.
He summoned the same, spot-on tenor that he used to dismiss the “wizard behind the curtain” and keep an investigation into Cam Newton’s recruitment from distracting the Tigers’ national-title run in 2010.
He found that same inner-something that helped him mend divisions within a fractious Auburn team he inherited — divisions including some along racial lines, he has acknowledged publicly.
He sold an entire fan base on his slogan, “All in.” He sold it to an Auburn “family” long known for airing its differences publicly.
For whatever Chizik might lack in terms of chops to lead a top-level college football program to consistent, on-field success, for whatever questions one can raise about his ability to evaluate and develop talent, he sure has seemed a natural when times required a personal touch.
That time is now for Chizik, who has suffered the loss of his mother at what has to be one of the lowest points of his career.
To his credit, he hasn’t walked away. Unlike a previous Auburn coach we could name, he has vowed to keep fighting and keep answering questions.
Chizik answered questions at his weekly news conference Tuesday, less than 48 hours after his mom’s passing. The world would have forgiven him had he sent a stand-in assistant, but there he was.
Naturally, no one asked blunt questions about Auburn’s on-field issues or his job security. One writer asked how tough a year Chizik has endured personally, and he addressed it more from a football perspective.
“I’m the leader of the program. I’m the leader of Auburn football, so that’s my job, you know,” he said. “Your jobs aren’t easy sometimes, what you guys do. My job’s not easy sometimes, what I do, but I love my job, and I love being a part of Auburn, and it’s all my responsibility.
“Have there been difficult times? Of course there have, but there been some great times? Absolutely, too, so we don’t look at the past, and the ‘woe is me.’ You’ve got to take it one day at a time. You’ve got to keep moving forward, and so that’s the name of the game for me.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in these young guys, and I’ve got a lot of faith in Auburn, and I’ve got a lot of faith in our coaches. We’ve got to keep plugging along. We can’t look back at what things happened in the past just didn’t unfold exactly the way we wanted them to. We’ve just got to keep working every day, and that’s my responsibility to make sure that’s what happens, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
There was his opening statement, when he mentioned how “tough” the past 24 hours had been and thanked Auburn fans for their offerings of thoughts and prayers, but he made it clear why he was there.
“I want this to be more about Auburn football and our game with Texas A&M,” he said.
Whatever energy Gene Chizik has put into helping his coaches and players through grief, whatever words and gestures he has given in such in-his-element moments, here’s hoping they come back to him now.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.