Chizik eager to see snow, football success
By: Eric Petersen
By Andrew Rullestad/Associated Press
Iowa State head football coach Gene Chizik discusses his Cyclone experience so far Wednesday at the Jacobsen Athletic Building.
Iowa State fans, meet your new football coach Gene Chizik:
He loves the beach and the outdoors. Free time, as little as there is for people in the coaching profession, revolves around wife, Jonna, and three children. He enjoys the musical group ABBA and working out, probably not at the same time.
Snowball fights and ice skating are things the Clearwater, Fla., native is looking forward to in moving to middle America.
So is winning football games, something Chizik has done with great regularity throughout his 21-year coaching career.
Admittedly a poor sport growing up, the ultra-competitive coach has since learned to accept losing. Sort of.
"My sisters would beat me in something and I'd cry like a baby," Chizik said this week. "And my son is just like me. I despise losing. I haven't done much of it."
The ideas written on hotel notepads and cocktail napkins over the years stuffed in a folder have prepared the 44-year-old for this point in this career.
Since being a key part of back-to-back unbeaten teams at Auburn and Texas the last three years, Chizik's been told he is ready to be the leader of his own program.
He now believes it.
"It's been a 21-year progression for me. I feel very confident and very good about it," Chizik said.
Now almost two weeks into the job, his staff is half completed, and an all-out assault on recruits is underway with less than two months to put together his first class. The immediate task of putting a winner on the field next season is a daunting one.
ISU went 4-8 last year and nearly finished winless in the Big 12 Conference for the second time since 2003. The Cyclones have played in the postseason five of the last seven years, but hit bottom in the years they didn't.
The first-time head coach with a six-year, $6.75 million contract, comes to Ames from Austin, Texas, where the bar is set awfully high.
Success has been sporadic at ISU, but Chizik wants his new players to hurt when it isn't achieved.
"If you work 365 days a year so you can showcase what you have for 12, and you lose, it better hurt," he said. "The goal is a Big 12 North championship. They've been so close. You can't get any closer."
'A great place'
ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard was challenged to land Chizik, one of college football's hottest up-and-coming coaches.
He was going to have his pick of schools to interview with. ISU came calling while Texas was wrapping up a 9-3 regular season. Chizik agreed to a meeting.
"I don't think you ever turn a guy away from a table who has got some interest in you," he said. "I'm a very good listener. I wanted to be able to listen to what was out there.
"Obviously, I liked what I heard. I felt like this would be a great place and a great challenge to get this thing to take off."
Chizik's teams will be the catalyst for a massive multi-million dollar fund-raising project to improve facilities at Jack Trice Stadium and a few steps north at Hilton Coliseum.
Stadium suites and a bowled in south end zone, raising capacity to around 50,000, are the most visible changes planned.
A commitment to the program, and improving its place in the Big 12, is what Pollard promised during the interview process.
Chizik looks out his office window and sees a building in need of a facelift.
"When you compare this with what's around the Big 12, yes it does," he said. "Cosmetically there are some things that can be done to take it to a new level. Eighteen-year-olds want to see a nice stadium with a bowled in end zone, and chair-back seats and a nice press box. They are influenced by that. That's the great thing about Jamie is that he knows how important they are."
"Without those things it's hard to get the top-notch guys."
Leader and a follower
Chizik's father, Gene Sr., was a high school principal and football coach. He also was a Marine who fought in World War II.
Many of the traits his father, now deceased, had were passed on to Gene.
He grew up knowing his future profession would revolve around leadership.
"Whatever it was, I know that I wanted to have some influence on people," Chizik said. "I feel like I was blessed with the ability to lead."
He's displayed that ability during coaching stops at Stephen F. Austin, Central Florida, Auburn and Texas. Chizik is eager to heap praise on the men who tutored him over the years.
Texas coach Mack Brown was especially good to him, and could even lend advice about what to expect coming to ISU as a former assistant coach from 1979-81.
It was all football knowledge that Chizik gleaned from Brown.
Brown told him time spent on the job away from his family cost him his first marriage. Brown demanded his assistants make proper time for their loved ones.
That has always been important to Chizik.
"I want to make sure my children have a father and my wife has a husband," Chizik said. "It's not easy, but there's a misnomer out there that it can't be done. I've done it, and I've been blessed to be around coaches that will let me do that."
The environment at ISU and in Ames will help with that.
Chizik's drive to his Jacobson Athletic Building office barely allows him to get through a song or two on the radio.
He spent at least an hour each day in the car driving from his home to Texas' football offices. That was appealing about ISU, as was the schools system, low crime rate and small-town feel of Ames.
Do no wrong
His defenses at Texas and Auburn were talented - the last three defensive backs to win the Thorpe Award were coached by Chizik - but the teams' 52-12 record over five seasons was accomplished with more than that. Can he win in Ames with the same ideas and lesser talent?
Chizik says there is a misconception his success came as a result of a roster stacked top to bottom with NFL draft picks.
"It wasn't," he said. "It's a team chemistry thing. That's why we had championship teams. We had a couple of great players and the right guys in between."
Linebacker Alvin Bowen was the Cyclones' only first-team all-Big 12 player last season.
Several key veterans are gone from the offense, and the defense returns several young players who got a lot of experience in 2006. It will be a long evaluation from now through the spring, summer and early-season practices before a lineup is arrived at.
"To me it's a process of finding the right guy," Chizik said. "It doesn't mean they are going to the best guy, because those are two different things."
A phone call to former coach Dan McCarney has not been made yet, though it's coming.
Chizik is aware of the turnaround made at ISU during McCarney's 12 seasons and is eager to hear how it happened and how he migh be able to advance the program even further.
"I'm sure he'll have great wisdom about that," Chizik said.
"As a coach, you always want to go places and talk to people and find out how to be better."
He's done pretty well for himself so far.
Had he waited a few days longer to chew on the ISU job, Chizik would have been even more in demand from athletic directors with a head coaching vacancy.
History shows Chizik's choices have been awfully good over the years.
"Every job I've taken has been a better job, and every job I've taken has worked just like it should have," he said. "I really trust my instincts because I haven't been wrong. I know what I think is right, and I jump into it full steam ahead and I don't look back.
"You must try to generate happiness within yourself. If you aren't happy in one place, chances are you won't be happy anyplace." -- Ernie Banks
Re: Snowball fight!
It kills me how competitive some of these coaches are. I just read a column on Mark Turgeon at Wichita State and that said he didn't talk to his wife all evening after she beat him 3 out of 5 at backgammon...and it was on his honeymoon!
Re: Snowball fight!
I may be a little young and naive, but who plays backgammon on their honeymoon?
Originally Posted by EggMcClone