Poor Gene Chizik.
He was already going to have a tough time convincing folks, especially Charles Barkley, that he was the right man to succeed Tommy Tuberville as Auburn’s head football coach this season, following Chizik's two disastrous years (5-19) at the helm of Iowa State, including a 10-game losing streak before Auburn came calling.
You might recall that Barkley was highly critical of the hiring because he wanted his former school to hire an African-American, particularly Buffalo head coach Turner Gill.
Now eight days before Chizik’s debut against Louisiana Tech he has witnessed the decimation of his receiving corps. The latest blow came Thursday when the NCAA suspended senior Montez Billings for the first four games of the season. Apparently, Billings, the team’s leading returning receiver, hadn’t done what he needed academically, although he received his degree in public administration after the spring semester.
Chizik took the news in stride (what else could he do?) “We’re going to respect the decision and move on,” he said. “We’ll be happy to get Montez back in Tennessee (on Oct. 3).”
The Tigers already were without oft-injured receiver Tim Hawthorne (broken foot) during preseason practice and Darvin Adams, another returning receiver, has been slowed by an undisclosed injury.
Perhaps, the go-to receiver in the opener will be Kodi Burns, who just moved to receiver after losing the battle for starting quarterback to Chris Todd. Burns finished last season as the Tigers' starting quarterback after Todd was shelved with shoulder problems. He threw for only two touchdowns however, so switching to receiver was probably a wise move.
"Not having been a receiver my whole life, it's a little bit different," Burns said. "But at the same time playing quarterback, I already know what the guys are supposed to do. I've just got to go out and execute it."
If the Tigers are forced to rely on Burns too much at his new position early in the season, they are in trouble. But how bad can it be? Auburn had one of the worse passing games in the Southeastern Conference in 2008. They ranked 10th in the league in passing, only 165.4 yards per game, and threw the fewest touchdown passes (7).
New offensive coordinator Gus Malzhan was brought in to give the Tigers some semblance of an aerial attack. But now they are scrambling for receivers and appear to be grounded once again.
At least their first four games are at home, so perhaps they can get airborne before going to Tennessee. If not, then …
Poor Gene Chizik.