- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 16, 2010

AUBURN, ALA. (AP) - Gene Chizik said Auburn hired him partly because of his hard-earned reputation for integrity, and he’s standing by that.

“I will say this: I got hired for this job not for my head coaching record,” Chizik told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I got hired for this job because of a reputation that I’ve built over 20-something years, wherever I’ve been. My word is what it is. Integrity is a huge part of what I believe in and who I am. I’m very confident in that.”

That confidence doesn’t seem to have been fazed amid the recruiting allegations swirling around star quarterback Cam Newton.

“You can’t control outside opinions,” Chizik said. “But I can assure you our methods of operations haven’t changed” since taking over the program nearly two years ago.

The second-ranked Tigers and Newton have taken a series of public relations hits during the NCAA investigation into the Heisman hopeful’s recruitment. No details have emerged implicating Auburn in any wrongdoing, but Mississippi State boosters have said Newton’s father, Cecil, sought money in exchange for the quarterback’s commitment to that school.

None of those potential distractions have slowed either Chizik, Newton or the Tigers, who have secured a spot in the SEC championship game.

Chizik continues to quietly go about his business, declining to comment on the allegations and focusing on the regular-season finale Nov. 26 at No. 10 Alabama.

After the Iron Bowl showdown with the Crimson Tide, Auburn will face No. 17 South Carolina in the SEC title game with a shot at the national championship potentially on the line for the Tigers.

It’s an impressive rise, considering his hire two years ago was not a popular move.

Chizik was hired after two years _ and five wins _ as head coach at Iowa State. Former Auburn basketball standout and NBA analyst Charles Barkley publicly criticized the university for not hiring Turner Gill, now at Kansas. Athletic director Jay Jacobs was heckled when he arrived at the Auburn airport after the hiring.

But Chizik had built his reputation as a longtime assistant, including successful stints as the defensive coordinator at both Texas and Auburn. And two years later, he has led the Tigers to a 19-5 record, a reversal of his Iowa State mark _ including 11-0 this year.

Gene’s a great character guy,” former Auburn coach Pat Dye said. “He’s got a trail, and I think you’ll find the same thing at every spot.”

If Chizik is concerned that his reputation could take a significant hit if the NCAA rules that Auburn has been playing an ineligible player, he’s not showing it.

He said he has “no idea” if there could be a resolution to the Newton recruiting questions before the Iron Bowl. Either way, it’s business as usual for Chizik.

“The man has not changed one bit since he’s gotten here,” offensive tackle Lee Ziemba Ziemba said. “If we were 3-8 right now, I don’t think he’d change at all. He’s a rock. He’s a rock that we can lean on and trust and that’s where the chemistry like he talks about starts.

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