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Chizik tries to stay focused in wake of mother's death

Auburn coach Gene Chizik is already in the midst of one of the worst seasons in school history, then he found out this weekend his mother Rita passed away.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik is already in the midst of one of the worst seasons in school history, then he found out this weekend his mother Rita passed away.

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn coach Gene Chizik is dealing with another blow during a miserable season. This time, it’s deeply personal.

His mother, Rita, passed away Monday morning.

“It’s been a tough 24 hours for me personally and my family with the passing of my mother,” Chizik said on Tuesday. “That’s never easy, no matter how old you get. It’s been quite challenging, but I do want to say on an encouraging note it was really good to hear from so many great Auburn people that were very supportive, and people outside the Auburn family as well. It was very encouraging to hear the different thoughts and prayers that went out for me personally and my personal family.”

Chizik said the family will have a private ceremony at some point, but not necessarily this week.

It has been a trying four-plus months for Chizik and the Tigers since two former players — Ed Christian and LaDarious Phillips — were killed at a pool party near campus in June.

On the field, Auburn is 1-6 for its worst start in 60 years and has dropped its first five Southeastern Conference games. The Tigers host No. 22 Texas A&M Saturday night in a game that will present a huge test on both sides of the ball for beleaguered Auburn.

Chizik deflects questions about the personal toll all that has taken.

“I’m the leader of the program,” he said. “I’m the leader of Auburn football. That’s my job. Your jobs aren’t easy sometimes. My job’s not easy sometimes, what I do, but I love my job and I love being a part of Auburn. And it’s all my responsibility. Have there been difficult times? Of course there have. Have there been some great times? Absolutely, too.

“We don’t look at the past and the woe is me. You’ve got to take it one day at a time and you’ve got to keep moving forward. That’s the name of the game for me, and I’ve got a lot of faith in these young guys and I’ve got a lot of faith in Auburn and I’ve got a lot of faith in our coaches. We’ve got to keep plugging along.”

Now, one of the most experienced offensive players, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, is set for surgery this week on a season-ending hip injury. Lutzenkirchen is the team’s No. 2 receiver.

Auburn is facing the prospect of going winless in SEC games this season with the Aggies, No. 12 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama left on the schedule. This comes after losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Arkansas — a collective 5-6 in SEC games, compared to 10-3 for the remaining league opponents

Quarterback Clint Moseley, who has started the past two games, said the team has to show its maturity.

“We’re just at a point where the leaders really have to emerge right now and make sure that nobody gets down,” said Moseley, who will likely start again on Saturday. “It’s just natural for you to want to take the easy way out. It’s a real test of our leadership and how many men, grown men we have on our team.”

Moseley said it makes it harder given that the Tigers were 14-0 two years ago and have fallen further, faster than any national champion since the AP poll started in 1936.

“There’s really nothing positive from this situation but that can be a positive in revealing your true character,” he said. “This is a time when true leaders lead so this is a time we need everybody on the team and myself to step up.”