Posted by Adam Jacobi
It's not usually the case that the reigning national champion's head coach can be "besieged" at the next season's Media Days news conference, but there's no better way to describe Auburn head coach Gene Chizik's appearance Thursday.
Chizik spent most of the morning on the defensive, especially when fielding multiple questions about a now-infamous exchange between himself and Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA VP of Enforcement. Thursday, Chizik took an opportunity to reframe the exchange as mostly positive instead of contentious in this instance:
It was a real simple question of process to Julie, who happens to be the head of NCAA Enforcement, so I thought there would be nobody better to ask. To be honest with you, it was very informative. There were some clarifications that were made that had to do with process. So I was very appreciative that we got some things cleared up and that I was able to be educated a little bit further in the questions that I had.
Also, this instance:
Again, without going into the details of any of the exchange in the meeting, I was just trying to get clarification at the time. Again, she was very willing to clarify for me, and I appreciated that.
Also, this instance:
I didn't see that was at all an angry or agitating exchange at all from my opinion. Again, it was a clarification of process. That's how simple I can make it.
Chizik did mention, however, that despite the reports stemming from that exchange, Auburn's recruiting for the 2012 class is "really, really going well," and that he expects the program's third straight top-five national recruiting class.
Chizik was given plenty of opportunities to focus on his players, however, and he did so with aplomb. He lauded returning tailback Michael Dyer -- the BCS Championship Game MVP and one of only three returning starters on offense -- and praised his staff for bringing Dyer into the mix slowly:
Michael Dyer [...] rushed for a thousand plus yards last year. I think one of the things we did with Michael that I think really helped him is we just didn't throw him in there too early. There's a lot of things that happen with runningbacks besides just carrying the ball. Pass protections, things of that nature. I think we brought him along just at the right time. [...] But Michael has a lot of work to do. I'm really proud of him because I think he's really understanding the work ethic and the things that it's going to take for him to be a better back than he was last year. Make no mistake about it, that is our expectation of him.
As for whether the Tigers could replace Cam Newton and Nick Fairley's production, Chizik took a rather reserved approach to the problem:
I don't know who will be the next Cam Newton or Nick Fairley. What I want is a bunch of guys in there that love football, they love academics, they love Auburn, and guys that lay it on the line like those guys do to give them an opportunity to be productive like them. [They're] hard to replace. We all know that. If I stood up here and said anything different, that wouldn't be the truth.
All in all, it was mostly boilerplate stuff, and anybody familiar with Chizik's work at these conferences knows that's not out of the ordinary for him. That did lead to one bit of unintended humor when, nearing the end of the session, someone asked him if the ongoing NCAA investigation has taken any joy out of the BCS Championship. His response, without even a hint of a smile and with all the defensive undertones of his other NCAA-related answers:
I've had a blast. I've had a blast. Our players have had a blast. Again, I think one of the things that we do a great job of at Auburn is keeping everything within the family. What an incredible journey we had in winning the national championship. Hasn't taken the joy out of anything. Hasn't changed anything for our players or our coaches or administration. We've had a ball.
Well, if that's having a blast, one would hate to see Chizik when he's annoyed.