ATLANTA — In order to make Auburn coach Gene Chizik sweat these days, garden variety distractions won't do it. It has to be the all-consuming, Cam Newton-sized commotion to make Chizik flinch, or at least that appears to be the psychology behind his damage control methods.
That's Chizik's world, where bowl success is still an expectation from the Auburn (7-5) faithful, even though Tigers are looking for new offensive and defensive coordinators and enter Saturday's Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia without top running back Michael Dyer.
As for U.Va. coach Mike London, life is good, distractions are minimal and it all got even better Friday with the resolution of what was likely one of his bigger personal anxieties. U.Va. (8-4) gave him a two-year contract extension and a raise to $2.1 million per season in total compensation.
"More than anything, this says that everyone involved with the Virginia football program has done an outstanding job – from the assistant coaches, the support staff and most importantly our student-athletes," said London, a Bethel High graduate, in a statement released by U.Va.'s athletic department. "They all believed from day one that we can accomplish great things here and I think this is just the start of a very bright future for Virginia football."
In addition to the extension, which pushes London's contract through the 2016 season, he was a longevity bonus that kicks in if he remains at U.Va. through Jan. 15, 2015. His assistant coaches will also be provided additional compensation.
London, who earned $1,794,679 this year in total compensation according to a USA Today database of coaching salaries, can obviously breathe a little easier with the contract negotiations in the past.
Now, as his team prepares to play in its first bowl since the conclusion of the '07 season, his most significant immediate distraction may be the status of first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference cornerback Chase Minnifield.
Minnifield, who has three interceptions this season, has practiced sparingly this week in Atlanta. On Friday, London wouldn't reveal any injury Minnifield may be suffering, but London said Minnifield's status for the bowl will be a game-time decision.
Other than Minnifield's situation, U.Va. doesn't really have any noticeable troublesome scenarios that have cropped up in the last few weeks. U.Va. had no disciplinary issues to deal with during bowl week or leading up to bowl week.
Perhaps the most daunting lingering matter is between the ears, where U.Va. certainly still bears some scars after having a four-game losing streak snapped Nov. 26 in a 38-0 home loss to Virginia Tech in the Cavaliers' regular season finale. U.Va. had just 30 yards rushing in the game.
"I know right after the game a bunch of the guys were saying, 'I wish we could get out there and do it again. It would be a completely different outcome'" U.Va. quarterback Michael Rocco said. "You can't do that. We moved on. We watched the film, learned from our mistakes, moved on. I know a bunch of the guys wish the (Chick-fil-A Bowl) was the week after (the loss to Tech), but it wasn't. It's four weeks after. So, we just have to prepare."
Auburn's problems have been far more acute and ongoing. They may not rival the mess created last season by the scandal surrounding former Auburn quarterback Newton's eligibility on the way to a national championship, but the distractions that have hit Chizik's program in the last month have still been significant.
Dyer, who is second in the Southeastern Conference with 1,242 rushing yards, was suspended for a violation of team rules. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will work his last game Saturday for Auburn before leaving to take the head coach job at Arkansas State.
Chizik will call defensive plays from the sideline to fill in for departed defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who left this month to become Central Florida's defensive coordinator. If nothing else, Chizik indicated the Newton troubles last season may have equipped his team to better handle this season's bumps.
"There have been some distractions," Chizik said. "There have been some things that have been tough. One thing I have to say about our young guys is they're very resilient. A lot of our young guys were around last year when we had to deal with a lot of adversity and different distractions as well on a championship run.
"Definitely, the distractions are there. Our guys know that. In terms of how they handled that, how our coaches have imparted to them the importance of staying on track, I think it's been really, really good."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun