By Dennis Washington
SCOTTSDALE, AZ (WBRC) - When Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik was given the opportunity Tuesday to celebrate his team's national championship victory, there was no gloating or 'I knew we were going to win.' Instead, Chizik spoke from the heart.
"Obviously it has been a tremendous, tremendous five months for the Auburn family. Couldn't think of a better way to culminate a lot of hard work, starting about a year ago now."
Chizik spoke to reporters Tuesday morning in Scottsdale, Arizona, just hours after the Tigers defeated Oregon to become the national champions of college football. Chizik was full of pride Tuesday morning as he reflected on the win.
"I couldn't be more proud of our young men, the way they represent themselves on the field, off the field, in our community. Just feel very blessed. That's all I can tell you is I feel very blessed to be part of a program that represents and stands for all the right things, starting with our leadership at the top with Dr. Gouge, our president; Jay Jacobs, our athletic director. Just very blessed to be a small part of something really big. So last night was a great night for a lot of young men that will remember that for the rest of their lives, and rightly so. And just, again, proud to be a part of it."
Chizik was asked if he would have any time to enjoy the win and again, he deflected the attention away from himself and to the program.
"You know, you savor the moment. There is no question last night was a great moment for so many people for Auburn football. But, you know, the great thing about college football and especially in our league, which is so competitive in every way, not just on the field but recruiting and things of that nature, there are no days off, to be honest with you."
"We do our best to see our families and be with our wives and our children. We savor every moment of that that we can, and I know I will certainly do that, but as far as days off, they are few and far between. That's just kind of part of the deal. So we'll crank it back up today and have a great memory of what happened last night."
"At Auburn University in terms of football, we have to start all over starting today."
Other comments made Tuesday morning, as transcribed by FastScripts:
Q. Gene, can you discuss -- I know you said you didn't have an update. But when might you have an update on Cam's injury? He said his back went out. I was wondering if you could describe those last five minutes, the pain he was in, what you saw.
COACH CHIZIK: Well, this is a guy that's a competitor. He's playing in a championship game. So whatever pain that he felt, I mean, I certainly can't stand up here and tell you what kind of pain he was in. I can tell you what kind of competitor he is. Whatever pain he was in or whatever difficulty he was having physically, he was going to finish the game. I mean, that's just who he is.
I have said it multiple times, he's one of the -- not one of the, he is probably the most competitive guy I have ever been around. He was going to finish the game. He did finish the game. Obviously he was a huge reason, again, that we won another game.
But as far as knowing the extent of what the injury is right now, I will know more later today.
Q. What advice will you give Cam and Nick and maybe some others who think they might leave early for the NFL draft? And when will you have that conversation?
COACH CHIZIK: We'll sit down. We will all sit down. The time is obviously coming up.
We have one focus before this game and I got so much respect for both of those guys because they are getting hit from every angle with the same question, what are you going to do? Are you going to stay? Are you going to go?
They had a responsibility to Auburn University to help win a national championship. They had a responsibility to the university. They had a responsibility to their teammates. It wasn't about what the next move is. It was about what they needed to do to finish what they started.
So I couldn't be more proud of those guys because the other part of the equation that everybody wanted to ask was not even in -- it was not even part of the mix, with me or them.
It is time now where we are going to have to sit down and hash through some things and talk about it. Don't really know exactly where those conversations are going to go. But at the end of the day, I will always want what's best for the young men. And we'll have those discussions and we'll throw some things out on the table and be very candid with them and their folks. And they'll make a great educated decision, I'm sure.
Q. If you had never heard the Cam Newton story, weren't affiliated with Auburn and had the chance to look back and see from the moment he committed to Auburn, won the starting job, led the team on a great start, the recruiting scandal, winning the national championship, the Heisman, when you look back, what would you make of this story?
COACH CHIZIK: I'm not sure of the question you're really asking me. But I'm not going to speculate on any of the above because I know exactly who Cam is. We recruited him. We went through a year with him. I can only tell you what I do know, and everything that I know is very positive and he is a great young man and we did everything right.
So I'm not really sure what you are talking about.
Q. Just looking back on how incredible the year was for him. I mean, it is really an unbelievable story, when you think about it.
COACH CHIZIK: Yeah, when you look at a guy that a year ago nobody knew who he was, obviously, and you look at just what he's done, it's a great story. There is no question.
He is a huge part of what our football team became. I think he got our players to rally around him in terms of the way they upped their level of play. So there is no question he was a huge part of what we've done.
I think last night there was a great example that he wasn't the only thing that we had at Auburn University. I want to make that very clear, too. I think he will be the first to jump on the sword and say the same thing.
Last night we had 20-plus seniors and a lot of other good players that helped win a national championship. Let's not forget that. So there's people that arguably are going to say, you know, without Cam, X, Y and Z. Let me tell you something: We have a lot of great football players with a lot of great heart that played with Cameron Newton. If we lose sight of that, we're wrong.
Q. Everybody knows the SEC is tough week to week and you guys run great conference-wise. Give me a couple things that make it stand out. Why is it so tough? Why is this happening these last five years?
COACH CHIZIK: You know, I don't know. It is. It is a great conference.
I think if you look at last year's NFL draft, you can start there. Every year we're going to in our league -- this is not slighting any other league. The facts are the facts. In our league, you are going to have year in and year out as many or more draft picks than any other league.
I think the passion and the venues that you play in week to week in our league are second to none. We play in a championship game that we really believe -- I mean, I don't know that there's a guy, a head coach or a university, that doesn't believe that if you get to Atlanta, which that's what we talk about in our league, the road to Atlanta, if you get to Atlanta right now, there's not a guy in our league that really believes you don't have a shot to play for the national title.
And I think there is a certain level of confidence that comes with being able to win our league in Atlanta and going on to the next step and knowing that you've made it through an extremely tough league. And then whoever you play after that, I just think the confidence level that you have, you know, you believe that you can beat anybody in the country. I mean, again, that's not being pompous or anything else. It is just -- there is a lot of confidence that comes with being able to win this league.
Again, I still think it is year to year. That doesn't mean that every year the SEC is going to have somebody that's able to beat somebody in this league or that league or whatever. I still think it is a year-by-year case. It is an extremely tough league to win. And I think there is a lot of confidence that comes with being able to win the league.
Q. For example, how many Nick Fairleys are there outside of the Southeast region? Because in this five-year span, that's arguably the difference, Glenn Dorsey, Marcell Dareus, guys that collapse lines, which is huge. You just don't find them on trees.
COACH CHIZIK: I don't know how many guys are like Nick are out there. We are blessed to have him. They don't come along very often. I mean, we all know that.
The SEC has great players. It just goes back to them. We have great players and offensive line, defensive line, skill positions are unbelievable.
Football in the Southeast is just -- not that it's not anywhere else. I'm not saying that. But football in the Southeast is king. It is a way of life. It is what you do from the time you get on the playground until you're -- three or four years old until you are 18. That's just who you are.
Q. I know you say that you're not going to take any days off. But when you do take time to reflect on this two-year journey that you and this team have taken, what one or two things will you say were the most from that journey?
COACH CHIZIK: I get the most -- as a head football coach, I get the most out of watching guys set goals. Some seemingly that the outside people don't think that they could achieve, watching their face and their reaction when they have set and achieved those goals and have done something that very few people in the country will ever experience.
I really -- I really savor those moments. When you go in the locker room last night and you look at 100 guys that 15 weeks ago nobody would have gave a dime for to win a national championship, which is fact, and you see them look at you and your coaches are saying thank you to the players and the players are saying thank you to the coaches, that's family. And you've brought these guys from point A to point Z.
I get a lot of joy out of that. You are in coaching to obviously -- to keep your job, you have to win, and we all know that. But there is so much more that goes into this, being able to be around 18- to 22-year-old guys and change their lives in a lot of ways, on the field, off the field, what they do in the community, teaching them to be givers and not takers.
There is a lot of things that go into that that me as the head coach at Auburn personally I get a lot of satisfaction out of.
Hopefully you are hoping that all the things you teach those guys translates into winning on the field, because you would like to keep your job to be able to have an opportunity to continue to help them grow.
But for the last two years, I can emphatically say without question I'm extremely proud of how far our guys have come on the field and off the field.
You don't read about our guys in the newspaper all the time, good or bad. And that's by design. You don't read about them bad because we're trying to teach them the things that matter in life, to do the right thing. You don't read about it good because we don't need to stand out there and beat our chest and tell everybody what we did in the community to make everybody happy. But we do it anyway.
But that's what I enjoy about the last two years and what I think we've accomplished at Auburn.
Q. Everybody's making a lot about your teams. But what about the four or five years with this senior class, all they have been through from coming off the heels of that '04, a lot of these guys were recruited because of that season. Then two years ago with Tommy leaving, you coming in, and especially for a guy like Kodi Burns who has been through it all and then catches a touchdown pass last night. Talk about the senior class and what they have meant to this program to build it back to where you guys said you were laying that foundation again.
COACH CHIZIK: That's a great question. I have a very high level of respect for our seniors, and it is not because they won the national championship last night.
You come to a university and you expect things to be one way, then all of a sudden halfway through your tenure everything changes. These new guys come in and they say, hey, look, this is what we're going to do. We came here with championships, and this is what we're going to do, and this is how we want you to do it. We're changing everything that you thought. We're changing the way you think. We are changing everything about what you do, and you need to be all in. If I did that to everybody in this room right now when you went to work tomorrow morning, you would look at me like I got ten heads.
So that's hard. And I have got a high level of respect for our guys that have been able to adapt and adjust to something totally new, something totally unexpected. I mean, we started two years ago. I told them -- I said, I don't expect you to trust me and I don't want you to trust me until I have earned it; I certainly don't trust you until you've earned my trust.
It all just worked out. And I have got a very, very high level of respect for the guys like Kodi Burns and 20 others, 20-plus others that have gone through the same thing. I have got guys that are 325 pounds crying in the corner last night after the game was over because they understand that there is no more time left to play at Auburn. And that's a good thing. And we tell them all the time, the only mistake we'll make, if you don't have a grand desire to come back after you leave, then we haven't done our job.
So I think most of them feel the same way.
Q. What kind of potential does Michael Dyer have?
COACH CHIZIK: I think he's got a chance to be a really, really good tailback in the SEC. I mean, I think he's just kind of coming on the verge -- he is kind of coming into his own. I think that running backs typically need to get into a groove to become really effective.
Sometimes we play guys earlier in the game and sometimes we play them later in the game. But there is some means to the madness in how we use our tailbacks and how we -- how the game unfolds.
So I think when he gets into a groove, he is really effective. I think certainly late in the game he is a very powerful back that really protects the ball well.
We saw that early in the year against Mississippi State when we had to grind the clock out and win the game with eight minutes and time off the clock. We gave him the ball early in his freshman year because we trusted him and we trusted him to protect the football. We trusted him to grind out some tough yards.
But I think since that game, he's grown tremendously and I think he has got a chance to be a really good tailback in our league if he'll keep working at it. He certainly has not arrived yet because he got the MVP of the national championship game. But I think he has got the potential to do whatever he wants to do if he will work at it.
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