The 2012 Season Disaster: Chizik Retreats Part 1

We continue with this white paper in the profile of a prominent football coach who reached the pinnacle of success only to retreat at a record pace.

Chizik predicts season disaster
Two games into the 2012 season Gene Chizik saw the total collapse of his Auburn team coming. He described between the lines how the season would unfold with eerie precision. Unconsciously he recognizes his blind spots which will soon become more apparent to everyone.

He knew he had violated the laws of success last season but now he had really picked up the pace. His team had opened  0-2.

Auburn had lost the first game to Clemson in a close battle and his new quarterback Kiehl Frazier, struggling somewhat, had played a decent game. But the following week at Mississippi State the wheels came off in the second half and Frazier had as bad a day as a quarterback can have with three interceptions and two fumbles along with multiple sacks. Auburn’s offense was virtually non-existent and the defense wore down in the second half but was inadequate in a 27-10 defeat.  Chizik apologizes to the fans for his team’s pathetic performance.

Two days later he delivered his annual speech in Birmingham to the Monday Morning Quarterback Club. Three things stood out to me. He announced that he was the best speaker of the year so far since he was the first. He knew he wasn’t the worst speaker yet. The idea of going from “the best to the worst” speaker/coach was on his mind (most speakers are coaches).  He then noted how “wins and losses” tell you exactly what kind of team you have. And he reflected that Auburn was now in “uncharted waters” with two unexpected losses.

Once more his deeper brilliant quick-read unconscious mind has read him like a book. This super intelligence can secretly look into the future with amazing accuracy because it grasps our deepest motives. His key ideas reveal that hidden story — and continue to reflect that deep down Chizik is reading his disturbing personal reaction to his phenomenal success.

He has just announced between the lines that he will go from being the best coach to the worst coach of the year, and that by year end Auburn’s won-loss record will clearly define that reality. He will lead Auburn into “uncharted waters” of losing unlike anything in their long and glorious history.  And he nailed it as all these things came true — proving the unconscious super intelligence can be a phenomenal prophet.

From ‘best to worst’ on his mind
We have to be struck by Chizik’s prominent idea from “best to worst.” Once more he underscores his secret (unconscious) downhill journey from the best to the worst —reminding us that success for him as a head coach was truly “uncharted waters.” It fit perfectly his key idea from a year ago at the same quarterback club when he underscored the dangers of success — and then demonstrated that unknowingly he was a coach in retreat in the 2011 season due to this nagging terror.

Remember losing had not been “uncharted waters” for the 5-19 former Iowa State head coach.  Unbridled off-the-charts success in the Auburn dream season of 2010 had been the true “uncharted waters” for Chizik who was now in over his head.

And he had other precise immediate reasons to make that self-judgment of a success retreat. The week of the Mississippi State game he had demonstrated blatant denial when an academic advisor told him a starting player (who would later lose his job) hadn’t been going to class­—and Chizik refused to belief it. But deep down he knew the absolute rule: such denial violates the laws of success. Fail to discipline your team and you lose. This one denial over a player’s academics was symbolic of his numerous denials when it came to discipline.

The fact that his starting center and offensive line stalwart had been arrested the week before the game for public intoxication was also another reminder of how team discipline had slipped.

While Chizik was consciously in denial in the back of his mind he could see exactly what key alumni had warned about — his loss of control. He knew he was in trouble and his implied message was, “I am in retreat. I am going to continue a self-sabotage like you won’t believe. You saw it last year—this year it will be worse than anyone can believe.”

Loss in 2nd game points to bad decisions before 2012 season
Two immediate losses would take him back to his key self-sabotaging decisions and denials at the very beginning of planning the 2012 season. By now these decisions were already in place. Foremost was that his quarterback Frazier was communicating he was not yet an SEC quarterback—and had been thrust into the starting role too early.

We review Chizik’s mental mistakes — blind spots – which set the tone for a team which would have a propensity for mental mistakes the entire season.

Quarterback blind spot–deja vu
Immediately after the 2011 season Chizik returns to his earlier quarterback blind spot when he removed starter Barrett Trotter in the seventh game that year (again with the team leading).  He goes into more denial after Trotter has just demonstrated with his outstanding play in the Chick- Fil-A bowl game on December 31, 2011 that he is now an experienced quarterback (6-2 record in games). On top of that Trotter had responded to Chizik’s efforts to undermine his confidence (benching him and not including him in the pre-bowl game plan with no reps in practice) by demonstrating an “in-your-face coach” competence .

Yet Chizik doesn’t encourage him to stay for his senior year (and also eligible for another medical hardship year). Trotter who was understandably miffed over being mistreated and ignored has graduated but surely could have been persuaded to stay. Was Chizik consciously too proud to admit he had made a mistake in benching Trotter earlier? He should have been on his hands and knees begging Trotter to reconsider.

Instead Chizik goes into the 2012 season with only two quarterbacks to go through spring training. Again the most important position on the team. He has a young sophomore Kiehl Frazier, a former spread quarterback who had a “deer in the headlights look” in 2011, and limited Clint Mosley who would shortly injure his elbow. (Forget an early entrance freshman with a history of behavior problems —  Zeke Pike — who was quickly dismissed after a series of misbehaviors including public intoxication.)

On top of this Chizik decided to change from a spread offense to a traditional power running game to keep up with the Jones (Alabama, LSU, Florida and his old school Texas). He brings in a new offensive coordinator (Scott Loeffler) but has left him handicapped with precious little experience at quarterback and none at running a traditional offense. Chizik has rolled the dice on offense big time.

He also changed defensive coordinators bringing in NFL stalwart Jeff VanGorder who has a major limitation in not being used to defending the spread—but clearly a capable coach who would be handicapped by Chizik’s lack of discipline.

Two key off season events
Two other off season events in 2012 stand out directly linked to the pressure of success.  The first occurred on May 21, 2012 at the annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet in Birmingham where Chizik describes a spring mission trip with several players to a poverty-stricken foreign country. He stresses how little these foreigners had in comparison to what he and the players had. He hints at guilt over having so much — read having such great attention-getting success.  His concern for the poor is admirable, but Chizik suggests also that he continues to deal with buried success guilt. How much success he had had while others didn’t.  ( We can deal with two issues at a time—immediate conscious issues and deeper buried matters.)

There are at least three components to success guilt — here we see the first. Success means we have what others lack – and want. (It’s reminiscent of parents telling kids, “Clean your plate, think of all the starving people in Africa.”) Later in his story Chizik will point to two other powerful deeper reasons for guilt.

A setup for sky-high guilt
A quick look back at Chizik’s 2011 book All In revealed enormous heart-wrenching guilt over recent events which surrounded his hiring only 2 short years before at Auburn. Unmistakably Chizik points to success guilt because the Auburn job was clearly a step up, a huge promotion and a tremendous personal success – his life-long dream fulfilled. The Iowa State administrators – AD Jamie Pollard and President Geoffrey – who had been totally supportive of him despite his 5-19 record  were now  furious at him, refusing even to meet with him after his decision to leave following two short years on the job. In a press conference Pollard called Chizik’s character into question for the secretive way he handled the Auburn interview process. The players were equally angry with him for leaving. He had abandoned players to whom he had promised (along with their parents) that he would coach for four years. Chizik felt like a father walking out on his kids for no good reason.

He compared having to inform the agitated people at Iowa State of his departure to feeling as though he had cheated on a spouse. To top it off his move meant the sudden loss of a job to most of his staff at Christmas time.  He had suddenly abandoned coaches and their families who depended on him for their livelihood — men whom he had convinced to join his staff far away in Iowa. Several of these were lifelong friends. Some still carry grudges. Overnight he was hated in the Ames, Iowa community that once idealized him.

Chizik described how these emotional issues packed into two days took two years off his life. He suggests a thought deep down that some people wanted to take his life from him – punish him severely — like “he had taken theirs.” We must appreciate the burden of guilt to understand his precipitous decline at Auburn.

On his flight out of Ames boarding the Auburn plane with the big AU on the side, two fans got in the ultimate parting shot holding up a sign that read “Roll Tide” —the slogan of Auburn’s arch-rival Alabama.  But Chizik surprisingly had more guilt waiting on him when he got to Auburn as we shall see.



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