It took four or five questions for the assembled media to get into the subject of Gene Chizik’s back-and-forth with the NCAA’s vice president of enforcement in Destin back in the spring, but when they finally did, the floodgates opened, and then . . . pretty much nothing happened, honestly.
Give Chizik credit for this: If he wasn’t already, winning a national championship has successfully turned him into a PR-approved party-line-regurgitator of the highest and most professional order. This isn’t a knock on Chizik (mostly): Given that the investigation into his Heisman-winning QB’s recruitment is still ongoing, he’s very much straightjacketed in terms of what he can actually say in public, and give him credit for recognizing that. (Paul Johnson, for example, might do well to take some notes.) But even the PR-smoothed likes of Bobby Petrino and Will Muschamp, whom we saw and were mostly bored by yesterday, would’ve had to stand up and applaud the alacrity with which Chizik calmly repeated the phrase “It was a question of process.”
Not every question revolved around NCAA investigations or contentious repartee with enforcement officials. Incredibly, Chizik bordered on actual frankness-like substance when asked about the challenges of replacing superstars Cam Newton and Nick Fairley (“I don’t know that you can replace them in terms of production right away”), not to mention the progress of running back Michael Dyer. A lot will be placed on Dyer’s shoulders this season, given that he’s one of only six starters from last year’s championship team returning to the Plains this season, but despite being considered one of few remaining bona fide superstars by fans and pundits, Chizik said straight out that Dyer’s prep work was far from finished: “He needs to be better in pass protection, needs to be a more physical runner.” But: “I think he’s really understanding the work ethic and the things it’s gonna take to be a better back.”
In the end, though, Chizik’s overall appearance can be summed up with an exchange concerning recent reports of a Cam Newton “bagman” coming forward. Despite the highly inflammatory nature of the accusations, Chizik’s answer was just as skim-milk as ever. “I’ll make this real clear: The NCAA has said multiple times that Auburn has done nothing wrong in the recruitment of Cam Newton,” he said. “I sleep real good every night when my head hits the pillow.”