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New Auburn football coach all about family at Eagle Ranch

POSTED: June 10, 2009 11:23 p.m.
Scott Rogers | The Times/

Auburn University football coach Gene Chizik signs a football at Eagle Ranch on Wednesday evening during a Regional Auburn Club dinner at the Eagle Ranch gymnasium.

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From the orange and navy clad decorations and clothing, to the spotaneous outbursts of “War Eagle” spoken and then echoed; Auburn alumni and fans alike were in full force at Eagle Ranch on Wednesday.

Not only was it a joint meeting of the Lanierland and Georgia Mountains Auburn alumni clubs, but first-year Tigers head football coach Gene Chizik was on hand to speak.

“It’s awesome to come to all these different events,” Chizik said. “It’s extremely impressive how far Auburn branches out.”
In an area known for its affiliations with a red and black SEC school and an Atlanta-based ACC school, Auburn University has a strong alumni base.

Roughly 20,000 registered alumni live in the metro Atlanta area, including the founder and executive director of Eagle Ranch, Eddie Staub, who was a standout for the Tigers’ baseball team.

“We consider the state of Georgia an extension of the state of Alabama,” Chizik said. “And it’s huge for us to get into this region and make ourselves known.”

A 23-year coaching veteran, Chizik was Auburn’s defensive coordinator from 2002-04, where he helped guide the Tigers to a 13-0 season in 2004 while earning the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach. He also served as the assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator at Texas from 2005-06 where he helped the Longhorns to a perfect season and national championship in 2005.

During his tenure at Auburn, Chizik’s 2004 defense led the nation in scoring defense (11.3 ppg) and was fifth nationally in total defense, allowing just 277.6 yards a contest. In three years at Auburn, Chizik helped the Tigers to a 30-9 mark including an 18-6 Southeastern Conference record. In 2003, Auburn’s defense was fifth nationally in total defense.

“When you are in the midst of your career you talk about where you want to end up,” Chizik said. “I always said I wanted to end up at Auburn.”

And while recruiting has been a main focus of his first five and a half months at the helm of the Auburn program, public relations stops like the one at Eagle Ranch have also been important.

“Things like this are good for him and they’re good for us,” said 1974 Auburn graduate Chandler Howell, who lives in Woodstock.
“I think it’s great that he takes the time to come to things like this,” said Eely Jackson, who graduated from Auburn in 1961 and currently lives in Big Canoe. “It shows he cares enough to keep us involved and interested in our alma mater.”

For those in attendance whose roots are more closely tied to the Hall County area, Chizik’s visit was a clear sign that recruiting in this area is of interest to the first-year coach.

“Even though he’s new and blue, he recognizes the talent in Northeast Georgia,” said 1985 Auburn alumnus Stan Appleton.

“He picked 12 clubs to come to and speak,” said Lanierland Auburn Club President, and 1991 Auburn grad Ward McCamy, “and he chose ours to be one of those 12.

“I think that speaks of the regard he holds this area in.”

But for one night, Wednesday night at Eagle Ranch, neither football nor the recruiting of the sport’s players, was the message.

“I’m going to try and address family,” Chizik said. “There’s so much tradition, pride and passion for (Auburn) — and you can’t really explain it unless you’ve been in it — but we want to address family and bringing the Auburn family back together.”


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