The 2012 Season Disaster: Chizik Retreats Part 2

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.

More success guilt at Auburn
Turning to Auburn he now was taking over a job by his former boss Tommy Tuberville who had hired him originally – never an easy task. His boss’s misfortunate had turned out for his gain.

As soon as he got to Auburn once again he had to fire almost all the coaches. These were men that he had previously worked with as defensive coordinator whose families depended upon their job. Several coaches were bitter and one coach he had known for 20 years on the staff still remains angry at him. Wherever he turned Chizik was taking things away from people he cared about — their most basic emotional needs: a surrogate father, a boss, jobs and a head coach in whom the school had greatly invested. It was as though he had stolen from them what they depended on and truly needed – and done so by breaking promises.

And it was all because of what he had wanted, his seeming sudden desire to be a head coach someplace else. He was seen as unappreciative because he had not achieved enough Iowa State gratitude to have in the bank when he chose to leave for a better job.

In fact Chiziik was so guilty he had taken his name out of consideration after his Auburn interview. He was certain he wasn’t going to be chosen by Auburn AD Jay Jacobs and he was feeling guilty for all the heat he was taking at ISU — when word got out about the secret job interview. Understand a fear can be a secret unconscious wish motivated by guilt:  “I fear I won’t get the job” can reflect “I shouldn’t get the job because of my broken promises.”

Chizik’s situation was extremely unusual. He had received a quick unexpected job offer after he had barely settled in to his new job – and had a poor record. Now he was returning to his old school which he had left not long ago (5 years prior) and suddenly having to fire former colleagues and friends. It was a set-up for unbelievable guilt.

An added unexpected burden: early success
Now add to this burden sudden success beyond belief at his new job with phenomenal prestige and financial reward. From an inadequate 5-19 job performance he suddenly has built a 22-5 record earning him “The National Coach of the Year.” Surely all the wounded Iowa State people Chizik left behind experienced colossal rage over his success. We can almost read their thoughts, “Anybody but Chizik deserves that award.  A curse on his future.”

Early success itself in a career can be a massive burden to handle. Many prominent people have testified to this reality. (Song writer Randy Newman once said he had that he had never seen anyone in the music business have early success without it “shaking them to their core.”) But add enormous personal resentment to the equation and the burden of early success triples. Such guilt which Chizik experienced can linger deep in our unconscious — that huge emotional closet where we naturally tend to bury such traumas.

Now as we continue forward observing Chizik’s behavior into the 2012 season he reminds us of an Indian tribe where the bravest of the brave were traditionally awarded medals after a big victory. Then after enjoying the recognition for a few weeks, the honored braves returned the medals to the tribe. Chizik is in the process of giving his medals back.

Two murders confirm danger of success
First we must appreciate another pre-season pressure which only expedited that process and confirmed Gene Chiziik’s deepest fear regarding the consequences of success – again a fear hidden in his unconscious emotional closet. Another surreal moment occurs on June 9, 2012, when two Auburn players are shot and killed at an afternoon pool party and a third one is wounded. The gunman was an outsider visiting from Montgomery and the tragedy would have confirmed the message that success brings destruction – that people hunt down the biggest and most successful.

The wounded player, Eric Mack, a starting guard was so disturbed with a PTSD syndrome that he was psychologically unable to play that season. Believe that the entire team and the coach were deeply affected by this – again unconsciously – while consciously they mostly buried the matter. Finally in the 11th game of the year wide receiver Trovon Reed wears the number of one of the deceased players – subtly announcing the toll the murder took on the team.  Don’t underestimate the drag on the season of this powerful emotional event.

Continuing  violation of rules of discipline
Everybody knows the rules of success deep down. Chizik continued to let discipline slide: classroom attendance, coaching accountability, uneven discipline with certain players excused from workouts, and again strength coach Kevin Yohall is undermined. Practices were not physical enough. The message louder by the moment remains, “I do not want my team to be strong – especially mentally disciplined. “

Offensive coordinator Scott Loefller reportedly has conflicts with certain offensive coaches who didn’t support his plan. Chizik allows the lack of unity to further undermine the team — and continues to micromanage the offense at times.

At one point Chizik suspended trouble-maker DeAngelo Benton for drug use and then allowed him to return to the team – which players saw as disruptive. Benton had been drinking with the players prior to the robbery a year ago and had reportedly antagonized the shooter who killed the Auburn players by threatening his life.

Consciously Chizik would make daily efforts to coach and talk about discipline but was undermining himself continually.

Discipline means setting strong boundaries
Discipline entails establishing levels of individual responsibility. Setting boundaries in relationships is an important way to achieve discipline. It communicates to the player who he is as an individual — and who the coach is.  A coach must build strong individuals – holding each player accountable – and then mold them into a team of strong individuals each of whom chooses to put the team first.  It is an exquisite balance.  Regarding DeAngelo Benton for example, it appears he was never held fully accountable as an individual and had trouble minding his own business, often encouraging others to join him out of bounds.

Chizik had similar boundary problems of his own. While he strived to create a strong sense of team – of family, as he called it — he failed to set clear boundaries of individual responsibility, a failure which undermined his other efforts. His tendency became worse with success. We can view many of Chizik’s problems with success as boundary problems. (Later we will look at his background described in his book All In to see how these problems developed.)

The dressing-room blind spot
One change in Chizik epitomizes his sudden blind spots around setting boundaries. In the successful 2010 season he brought order to a chaotic dressing room with items scattered everywhere. Each player was given a large plastic garbage bag in which to place their extra items and keep in their lockers. Every player having his own storage bag for his own items communicated strong boundaries and individuality. It was a perfect example of creating strong individuals and simultaneously a strong team where everybody cooperated, and everybody was treated the same. Strong individuals make up a strong team.

By 2012, the locker room had returned to its former chaotic state – suggesting success had created tremendous conflict and chaos inside Gene Chizik.

Chizik continued his micromanaging as another sign of his lack of discipline. He sent administrative coach Wayne Bolt into defensive coordinator Jeff  VanGorder’s meetings to report back to him. At one point VanGorder kicked Bolt out of his meeting for good, sending Chizik a message that he was violating the rules of strong management.

Next we will examine another micromanaging decision which contributed to Chizik’s downfall in 2012.

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