Chizik brings physical, aggressive style to Texas
Gene Chizik experienced a loss on Nov. 15, 2003. The Texas co-defensive coordinator has had 705 consecutive good days since then.
Nov. 15, 2003, was a bad day for Gene Chizik.
The defensive coordinator at Auburn endured an emphatic 26-7 loss to Georgia, dropping the massively underachieving Tigers to 6-5. The following week, as Auburn prepared for archrival Alabama, the coaching staff tried to work through the swirling rumors that they were all about to be fired.
He's had 705 consecutive good days since then.
Chizik's personal winning streak stands at 21, stretching across more than 23 months, at two schools in two leagues. The only guys in college football who have gone longer without a loss are at USC.
How did Chizik get here?
Auburn regrouped and won that Alabama game back in '03. And then, after the infamous PlaneGate scam was uncovered -- Auburn administrators flew off to negotiate with Louisville coach Bobby Petrino behind Tommy Tuberville's back -- the coaching staff kept their jobs and beat Wisconsin in the Music City Bowl.
What followed was the Tigers' 13-0 fairy tale last year. After that, Chizik was wooed away from The Plains by Mack Brown to Texas, where he's co-defensive coordinator on a 6-0 Longhorns team.
The natural question: Do you even remember what it feels like to lose?
"It's been a while," Chizik said with a chuckle. "I'd prefer not to remember.
"It's awesome. I don't know how to describe it. It's just been a great two years."
Understand, the guy hasn't just been along for the ride during this streak. He's had an awful lot to do with it.
Last year, Auburn led the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 11.3 points per game, and didn't allow a rushing touchdown until the eighth game of the year. This year, Texas has improved all its defensive numbers since Chizik joined Duane Akina as co-coordinators, replacing Greg Robinson when he left to become head coach at Syracuse.
Rushing defense: The Longhorns allowed 107.4 yards per game last year, 16th best nationally. This year they're ninth at 92.3.
Passing defense: Last year, the Horns were 31st nationally in pass efficiency allowed (a 114.2 rating) and 58th in yardage allowed (212.7). This year, they're fourth in pass efficiency allowed (88.1 rating) and sixth in yardage (147.7) -- with the caveat that the aerial circus that is Texas Tech arrives Saturday.
Total defense: Texas was 23rd last year, surrendering 320.1 yards per game. This year it is third at 240 per game.
Scoring defense: Last year Texas was 18th at 17.9 points per game. This year it's tied for seventh at 14.
Sacks: The Horns recorded 22 last season. They're on pace for 30 this season.
But the numbers behind the numbers tell even more. Of the 81 points Texas has surrendered this season, 46 percent have been certifiable garbage points -- scored after the Longhorns had taken a lead of 30 points or more. When the games have been on the line, Texas has given up just three touchdowns and eight field goals.
That continues the trend from Auburn 2004. The Tigers surrendered just 39 first-half points in 13 games -- a field goal per game. They rolled 26 shutout quarters in the first, second and third periods last year. In other words: Everyone was forced to play catch-up against Auburn.
Despite the ridiculous stats, Chizik said he did not come to Austin and reinvent the defense. He came in part for the money (a whopping $295,000 for a one-year contract), in part for the chance to coach an experienced and talented unit (nine returning starters) and in part because, hey, this is Texas football.
But he didn't walk into Bevo's backyard and tear up the defensive game plan.
"We mixed and matched some of the good things here with some of the things I like to do," he said. "We've tried to be very aggressive, very sound, be good tacklers and good at what we do -- and we want to be able to play physical."
The two words that consistently tumble out of Chizik's mouth are "physical" and "aggressive."
They contrast with the pejorative often pinned on the Longhorns in recent years -- especially after being pushed around the Cotton Bowl by archrival Oklahoma:
Robinson began working to eradicate that label on the defensive side, and Chizik has continued the toughness upgrade. This year the Texas defensive line is more likely to attack upfield, instead of a gap-control, read-and-react front. And the Horns have emphasized being punishers instead of punishees.
"Our first goal when we got here was to be as physical as we could be, from day one," Chizik said. "That's kind of the overlying issue with everything."
It will be the overlying issue Saturday, when Texas Tech brings its nonconformist throw-a-thon offense to Austin in a battle of unbeatens.
Tech's No. 1-ranked scoring offense will spread the line of scrimmage with huge splits between linemen, designed to keep the edge rushers further from quarterback Cody Hodges. He'll get rid of the ball quickly -- and often. The Red Raiders have just the faintest pretense of a running game and could throw it 60 times against the Horns.
But Chizik doesn't sound dazzled heading into his first look at Mike Leach's attack up-close. In fact, he sounds interested in demystifying it.
"It will be interesting, but it's football," he said. "It's the same old stuff. You've got to do the fundamental things right and be sound."
Defensive end Brian Robison isn't scared, either. As he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram this week, "They may score. They may not."
A shutout is too much to ask. But another knockout defensive performance in this game will enhance Chizik's stock as a future head coach. It's something he says he definitely wants to be, but he hasn't fast-tracked his way from job to job searching for a higher profile.
The former bench rider in his one year as a college football player at Florida, put in six years at Stephen F. Austin, then four at Central Florida, before going to Auburn. For a career assistant with 20 years in the game, his ré is fairly short.
"I don't want to be a guy who's moving around every year," he said. "I'm not a guy whose grass is always greener somewhere else. I'm not a believer in that. I'm not a guy who's always on the phone looking for something else.
"Work hard wherever you are."
Where Gene Chizik is right now is where every coach wants to be: riding a winning streak so long that he can barely remember what it feels like to lose.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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