Coach: Team had no eligibility concerns
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Coach Gene Chizik says in his upcoming book that Auburn never would have let Cam Newton play if the Tigers had any concerns about the quarterback's eligibility and described a star player with high character and "incredible focus" who used football as an escape.
"We knew we had done nothing wrong during the recruiting process," Chizik wrote in "All In: What it Takes to Be the Best."
"If we'd had any level of concern regarding Cameron's eligibility, we would not have put him on the field and risked forfeiting games for playing an ineligible player," he wrote.
The Associated Press received an advance copy of the book, which is co-written by Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist David Thomas and is due out July 5.
Chizik devoted two of the 282 pages to the NCAA's investigation into Newton's recruitment and described his initial reluctance to sign a junior college quarterback despite the urging of assistant coach Curtis Luper and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn in December 2009.
He even joked that Newton would be known as "Cameron Malzahn" if the Tigers took that plunge.
The New Year's Eve signing worked out better than anybody could have predicted on the field, where Newton won the Heisman Trophy and led the Tigers to a national title before becoming the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Carolina Panthers.
Off the field, the ride was bumpy after reports surfaced in November of a pay-for-play scheme during his recruitment by another school. The NCAA later said that Newton's father, Cecil, solicited money from Mississippi State but did not accuse Auburn or Cam Newton of wrongdoing.
A steady stream of reports and accusations shadowed Newton even as he became a runaway Heisman winner and completed the 14-0 season -- and that rankled Chizik.
"My complaint comes when some individuals in the media engage in irresponsible journalism that destroys someone's reputation," the coach wrote. "It takes a long time to repair a reputation, and sometimes that damage is impossible to recover from. In this case there were a lot of assumptions being made and criticisms being spun out of those assumptions; it was harming Cameron's reputation."
He described Newton as a good role model who doesn't drink alcohol, loves kids and impressed him by asking to pray after Chizik's first meeting with the family.
Newton also made quite an impression with how he continued to perform amid the hovering cloud of scrutiny and negative publicity over the season's final two months, leading the Tigers to a win over Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.
"Yet through all the speculation and all the insinuations, Cameron showed an incredible focus that few mature adults -- let alone college students -- could have maintained," Chizik said in the book. "In addition to the recruiting controversy, he was also dealing with the frenzy of media attention that goes with being favored to win the Heisman.
"In the midst of everything, football became Cameron's place of refuge," he wrote.
Newton could focus on football not the Heisman or NCAA probe in meeting rooms with coaches and teammates "and just be an Auburn football player."
Chizik tried to defuse the situation early by repeating that Newton remained eligible, but then he and Auburn mostly adopted a no-comment stance the rest of the way. And Auburn made Newton off-limits to the media toward the end of the regular season.
Auburn ruled Newton ineligible five days before the Southeastern Conference championship game and immediately appealed to the NCAA, which restored his eligibility the next day.
Chizik defended his star player's character in the book.
"One of the most frustrating parts of the controversy for me was that most of the people who were criticizing Cameron had never met him," Chizik wrote. "I was around him every day, and I knew his character well. At Auburn Cameron had proven himself to be a great Christian kid. In interview after interview, he would take the opportunity to thank God for his abilities and the chance he had been given to play football.
"He was a fine role model for his teammates. He didn't drink alcohol. He worked hard. He was smart, and he had a big heart. In one of my first meetings with Cameron, I asked him what he wanted to do if football didn't work out for him. His answer: 'I want to open a day care center,'" he wrote.
Chizik said it was a month and a half into the season before he knew of Newton's weekly visits with kids at a local elementary school.
"None of us knew he was doing that," he said. "The media didn't know about it either. That's just how Cameron was -- quietly finding ways to use his position as an Auburn football player to make a positive impact. That's the Cameron Newton I had come to know in our program."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press