All In: What It Takes to Be the Best
All In: What It Takes to Be the Best
All In chronicles the remarkable journey of Gene Chizik, who in two short years went from being the much-maligned 5–19 coach of the Iowa State Cyclones to the undefeated AP SEC Coach of the Year of the 2010 national champion Auburn Tigers.
Coach Chizik shares never-before-told stories about his controversial head coaching career—from his highly contentious departure from Iowa State and his heavily criticized appointment at Auburn to his historic 2010 championship run and all the unexpected twists, turns, tragedies, and triumphs along the way. As he recounts his journey, he opens up about the pivotal role his faith has played in his life and career, and he shares his time-tested secrets to success, both on and off the field.
All In is an inspirational must-read for football fans everywhere.
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All InWHAT IT TAKES TO BE THE BEST
By GENE CHIZIK DAVID THOMAS
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2011 Gene Chizik
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE JOURNEY BEGINS
AS SOON AS the interview was over, I stepped outside to call Jonna.
"Baby, I think I got it."
It was 2006. Iowa State University was looking for a head coach, and I was looking for my first head coaching job.
The biggest question facing me was, if Iowa State did offer me the job, should I take it?
The biggest question that friends, colleagues, and members of the media would be asking me in the weeks ahead was, "Gene, why did you take that job?"
Back when I first interviewed with Iowa State, I was considered one of the hottest head coaching prospects in college football. I was one game away from finishing my second season as assistant head coach, co–defensive coordinator, and linebackers coach at the University of Texas, where we had just won a national championship the year before and were now poised to finish the 2006 regular season with a 9–3 record and to earn the program's ninth consecutive postseason bowl appearance.
Prior to that, I had spent three years as defensive coordinator at Auburn, where in my final season we compiled a perfect 13–0 record, won the Southeastern Conference Championship, and went on to defeat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. That same year I received the Broyles Award, presented annually to the nation's top assistant coach.
General consensus was that I was going to land my first head coaching job, and soon. General consensus also held that Iowa State was not the best place for that to happen.
In a way, the general consensus was right. As much as I wanted to become a head coach, I initially had some pretty strong reservations about the possibility of taking over the reins at Iowa State.
Aside from a brief streak of successful seasons under their most recent coach, Dan McCarney, Iowa State was not known for having a winning tradition in football. As the school's longest-tenured coach at twelve seasons, Dan was also Iowa State's all-time winningest coach. Heading into 2006, Coach McCarney had led his teams to at least seven wins and a bowl game in five of the previous six seasons. But before that the Cyclones had made only four bowl appearances, and the school had been playing football for more than one hundred years. When a team doesn't have a string of winning records behind it, the already-difficult job of recruiting top talent becomes that much harder.
Plus, the Big 12 Conference is a very tough conference, and it might have been at its strongest during that time period. In addition to Texas, Iowa State had to contend with traditional powerhouses such as Oklahoma and Nebraska, not to mention a number of programs that were on the rise, like Kansas, Missouri, and Texas Tech, to name a few. Whoever stepped into the Iowa State coaching job was going to have a tough road ahead of him if he wanted to build up the program to become consistently competitive in the Big 12.
From a personal standpoint, Jonna and I wrestled with the fact that we had never lived that far north—in fact, we'd never lived farther north than Tennessee. For that matter, neither of us had ever even been to Iowa. We had to look up Ames on a map, and when we learned that Canada was only a nine-hour drive from there, we realized how far from our home state of Florida we would be. Since our entire immediate and extended families lived down South, we knew we'd be completely on our own if we decided to make the move. Not to mention the fact that if I took the job, it would be the third time in five years that I would have to uproot my family. The kids would have to say good-bye to all their friends ... again, change schools ... again, and learn a whole new routine ... again. And because I would be working ridiculously long hours and constantly on the road recruiting, Jonna would be left to pack, unpack, and set up a new house in a strange city, with no friends, family, or support network to lean on. There were a lot of challenges, both personal and professional, to take into consideration.
Shortly after Coach McCarney announced in early November that he would be resigning at the end of the 2006 season (in which the Cyclones ended up finishing 4–8), I received a call from Dan Parker of the search firm Baker Parker and Associates, asking if I would be interested in a head coaching vacancy at a Bowl Championship Series–level school.
"Of course I would," I told him.
I had been steadily working my way up through the coaching ranks for years, and at age forty-four I felt like I had attained all the goals I had set for myself as an assistant coach. I firmly believed I was ready to become a head coach. Granted, I had envisioned that the opening would be at a school with an established winning program (or at least one that was on the verge of winning regularly), but I figured at the very least, interviewing with Iowa State would be a good learning experience for me. So with Texas coach Mack Brown's blessing, I accepted the invitation to interview with Iowa State's athletic director and associate athletic director.
The interview was set for the following week. It was technically an off week for the Longhorns, but you'd never have guessed it. We were using every minute to prepare for our final game of the regular season against our archrival, Texas A&M.
Some coaches like to have their names floated out in the media as head coaching candidates, hoping the publicity will boost their careers. But I prefer not to have that kind of attention around me. I like to be able to focus on the job at hand. I didn't want the distraction of having to answer questions from the media and deal with speculation about my job prospects during such a critical point in our season. Our team was looking to win the Big 12's South Division title and earn a spot in the conference championship game, and the last thing I or the team needed was a lot of extraneous media attention disturbing our focus. Interview or not, winning that final game against the Aggies was my number one priority. I was bound and determined to keep it that way.
GOING TO IOWA ... VIA DALLAS
We arranged to hold the interview in Dallas to help keep things confidential. In addition to the possibility of a job candidate being sighted near a university other than his own, there is also the risk that a media member or a school alum will use public information to track airplane destinations. If Iowa State had flown me from Austin, Texas, to Ames for the interview, someone could have picked up on the flight itinerary and connected the dots to discover that I was a candidate for the job. Dallas makes a good place for such meetings because of its size and central location; plus, with Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, and the Dallas Cowboys all located in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area and other large college football programs not far from the Metroplex, there are plenty of rabbit trails around to throw off the hounds. I know all that secrecy seems crazy, but when it comes to monitoring head coaching job searches, the interest really is that intense.
To make sure the interview didn't interfere with our practice schedule, I arranged to drive to Dallas the night before the interview and leave as soon as it ended. I'd be back at work in Austin shortly after lunch.
I was prepared down to the last detail. I went in armed with my short-term plan, my long-term plan, my calendar for how my schedule would look as soon as I took the job (if they offered and I accepted), my mission statement, and all those things you think might impress during a job interview. For two hours the athletic director and his assistant quizzed me about everything you could think of regarding the running of a college football program.
They wanted to know my philosophy for recruiting players to their school. I told them my first emphasis would be on players from the state of Iowa. My research had told me that the rival University of Iowa was signing more high school players from the state than Iowa State was, and I made clear my intention to match them for in-state recruits. Outside of Iowa, I would use my connections in talent-rich Florida and Texas to bring speed players into the program.
The athletic officials also wanted to know what kind of coaching staff I would put together. I said I didn't want them to focus too much on the specific places I'd be hiring from. I wasn't concerned with trying to wow them by saying I'd bring on staff from, say, the Denver Broncos or the New York Giants. In fact, I said I'd probably be hiring some coaches whose names they hadn't heard. I was going to hire a great staff who I knew could coach football well, would work hard, and would make it a priority to recruit quality athletes and upstanding young men. My basic message to the athletic director and his assistant was, "Trust me. I'm going to hire the best guys for the job whether you've heard of them or not."
They also asked my immediate plan if I became their head coach. I laid out my first month's plan from the day I would step onto campus, including meeting with the team's players to introduce myself and communicate my expectations to them, and meeting with the current coaching staff and deciding who would stay on with me. I also presented my three-month plan and my one-year plan, casting a vision for where I saw the future of the program at those points into my tenure.
I had prepared every detail for every question I anticipated they might ask. I hadn't been a head coach before, but I wanted to show them I had thought through exactly how my first program would look. I knew I was ready to become a head coach.
After answering the interviewers' questions, I asked them questions for an hour. As that hour progressed, and as my questions about the school and the program were answered to my satisfaction, the possibility of coaching at Iowa State began to make more and more sense. Perhaps the largest potential stumbling block was how much the school was willing to put in the recruiting budget to bring in the athletes I believed the team would need, as well as the amount of money they were prepared to spend to hire the assistant coaches we would need. But after talking through some details that day, I felt satisfied that the commitment level I sought was there.
Another important issue to me that I discussed at the interview was my desire to create a team chaplain position. That idea was met with full approval, and as the interview went on, I was hearing everything I needed to hear—and honestly hadn't expected to hear—to convince me that not only was Iowa State a place I could be head coach, but it was also a place that wanted to build a winning football program and was serious about putting in the effort to get there.
I felt confident throughout the interview, and at the conclusion I was told I could expect to be contacted in four or five days. As soon as I left the building, I called Jonna.
"Baby, I think I got it," I said.
"Really?" she asked. "How do you know?"
"I just have a good feeling about it," I answered.
The next day Dan Parker called and told me that Iowa State wanted me to meet with the school's president for a second interview. In Dallas, of course. It was understood that the second interview would not take place until after our game with Texas A&M and that there would be no more conversations about the job until the interview. I didn't want anything to distract me from that final game.
Unfortunately, in spite of all our preparation, we lost our final game of the regular season 12–7 to Texas A&M on the day after Thanksgiving. It's always a bitter defeat when Texas loses to the Aggies, and missing out on a chance to play for the conference title made that loss even more painful. Even so, our 9–3 record gave us the opporunity to play in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.
By the time the bowl game rolls around, I wondered, where will I be? I wouldn't have guessed it then, but as it turned out, I'd be living in a hotel in Ames. And I'd be head coach of the Iowa State Cyclones.
Jonna went with me for the second interview. It was a Saturday, the day after the A&M game, when we met with Jamie Pollard, Iowa State's athletic director, and Gregory Geoffroy, the school's president. It wasn't until later, when Jamie and I were reflecting on the interviews, that I learned they had worked out a signal for the president to indicate whether he liked me and approved of hiring me. I can't remember for sure, but it was something like President Geoffroy's scratching the lapel on his suit jacket or rubbing the Iowa State pin he was wearing. Jamie laughed when he told me that, shortly into the interview, the president gave his signal of approval.
After we chatted briefly, they offered me the job and a contract for six years with more than $1 million in annual salary. I was caught slightly off guard by being offered the job on the spot. And although Jonna and I have always kept our priorities in line when it comes to money, hearing million attached to dollars certainly caught our attention.
The athletic director and the president wanted to give us time to make our decision, so the interview ended there. Of course, Jonna and I had much to discuss. Based on the answers to my questions during the first interview, and having those answers affirmed in the meeting with the school president, we both believed that a winning program could be built at Iowa State. As an assistant and a coordinator, I had been part of too many successful traditions to think otherwise. And during the interviews, it became clear that the school officials were 100 percent committed to creating a strong, championship-caliber program. Going to Iowa State made sense to us—from a football standpoint, at least.
It would still mean a big move—and uprooting Jonna and the kids—but we'd done it before. And while it wouldn't be easy, we knew that if we needed to, we could do it again.
But these two pieces were only part of the equation.
As deeply spiritual people, Jonna and I agreed that we would not make the move unless we felt confident that it was what God wanted us to do. Since fielding the first phone call from Dan Parker, we had prayed on a regular basis about the Iowa State opening. The time between the two interviews allowed us plenty of time to pray and discuss the situation together. At each step of the process, we continued to ask God to give us confirmation—that "gut feeling"—whether we should accept the job if it was offered. Iowa State hadn't made a lot of sense to us at first, but ever since the first interview, the job was becoming increasingly attractive to us.
I have always loved being a coach, but to me, coaching is about so much more than X's and O's. Don't get me wrong. I am extremely competitive, and I love to win. (Just ask my three children about our family game nights.) But I also see my job as a ministry and an opportunity to have a deep and lasting impact on kids' lives—whether those kids are in Austin, Auburn, or as it turned out, Ames.
After praying it over and talking to Coach Brown, Jonna and I were confident that God was calling us to Iowa State. Coach Brown agreed that it would be best to leave the team before the Alamo Bowl so I could get started at my new job.
I know there were plenty of people—other coaches and media, particularly—who were scratching their heads over our decision. To them, Iowa State didn't appear to be the logical next stop on my career track. They would have advised me that the annual merry-go-round of coaching vacancies would soon kick into high gear as teams finished their regular seasons, and among those would be programs with histories of winning that Iowa State did not offer. And in case one of those jobs didn't come up, I could have stayed at Texas, where each year the team has an opportunity to win eleven, twelve, thirteen games and be in contention for a national championship. Either way, sooner or not much later, I would have been able to practically handpick the school for my first head coaching job. But we were completely convinced that this job was an opportunity God was providing for us, and we believed wholeheartedly there was a reason he wanted us at Iowa State.
It might not have made a lot of sense to people on the outside, but from the inside looking out, it made all the sense in the world.
Excerpted from All In by GENE CHIZIK DAVID THOMAS Copyright © 2011 by Gene Chizik. Excerpted by permission of TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Mack Brown ix
Chapter 01 The Journey Begins 1
Chapter 02 Hello, 'Clones! 17
Chapter 03 Lessons in Losses 41
Chapter 04 A "God Thing" 57
Chapter 05 A Bitter Ending 77
Chapter 06 Welcome Home 93
Chapter 07 Beginning the Turnaround 111
Chapter 08 A Solid Foundation 125
Chapter 09 Our Football Family 141
Chapter 10 Extending the Family 155
Chapter 11 Trust Test 169
Chapter 12 Our Miracle 183
Chapter 13 All In 199
Chapter 14 No Distractions 219
Chapter 15 The Best 237