Auburn coach clarifies NCAA talk, focuses on 2011 season

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

HOOVER, Ala. – Auburn is the reigning BCS champion, but you might not know it based on the questions fielded by coach Gene Chizik at SEC Media Days on Thursday.
The third-year coach was peppered with queries about his reported confrontation with the NCAA vice president for enforcement, Julie Roe Lach, during the SEC spring meetings earlier this summer. The New York Times reported last week that Chizik demanded to know why the NCAA hadn’t publicly announced an end to its investigation into the recruitment of quarterback Cam Newton.
To which Roe Lach reportedly replied, “You’ll know when we’re finished. And we’re not finished.”
Chizik said Thursday that the exchange was not an angry one and that he did not try to agitate Roe Lach. He said he was merely seeking clarification about the investigation, which is centered on Newton’s father, Cecil, shopping him to Mississippi State.
“To be honest with you, it was very informative,” Chizik said of Roe Lach’s answers. “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.”
Chizik said the ongoing investigation has done nothing to detract from the joy of winning the BCS title, nor has it been a source of great frustration.
“You know, I don’t operate on rumors and innuendos, anything of that nature,” he said. “… I sleep really good every night that my head hits the pillow. That’s what I can control. So I know we’re every day doing things the right way.”
His players echoed that sentiment. Receiver Emory Blake said he’s too busy to worry about any off-field issues.
“With class, workouts, meetings, practice – you don’t have time to think about what the head of the SEC or the head of the college football is thinking about,” Blake said. “You’re thinking about what you’re going to do the next day, how you’re going to pass that next test, what you have to do to study, and stuff like that.”
USA Today’s Danny Sheridan made comments on radio earlier in the week that sources had told him the NCAA had located a “bag man” who helped bring Newton to Auburn. That prompted a firm response from Chizik.
“I’ll make this real clear: The NCAA on more than one occasion has said that Auburn has done nothing wrong in the recruitment of Cam Newton. Nothing’s changed.”
Focus on improvement
The NCAA probe isn’t the only thing clouding Auburn’s accomplishments. As this season draws closer, the talk has increased of the Tigers having a drop-off. Many prognosticators have them finishing at or near the bottom of the SEC Western Division.
That doesn’t bother defensive tackle Nosa Equae. He said last year’s mantra was, “Eight ain’t enough,” referring to Auburn’s eight wins in 2009. This year’s mantra: “Getting better every day.”
He feels last season’s experience will benefit the Tigers.
“We get so caught up in the big things, the hurrahs, people don’t think we’re going to be good – we’ve got to use that to drive us,” Equae said. “But you’ve got to go back to getting better every day and doing the little things right, and that’s what we’re going back to.”
Chizik called Auburn’s 2011 spring practices “one of the funnest springs” he’s experienced, and his players don’t seem too concerned with trying to replace Newton or Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley.
Auburn is trying to move on, from both on-field successes and off-field questions.
“We had a great spring, had an awesome summer – definitely the best summer we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Blake, a junior. “And everyone’s been real hungry and working to get back to where we were.”
brad.locke@journalinc.com