Joseph Goodman: For Cadillac, hope and a prayer at the Iron Bowl

The chaplain of the Auburn football team is Rev. Chette Williams.

Win or lose, Williams is always there for Auburn. Brother Chette they call him, and few are the people with more insight into Auburn football. He has seen some things.

Brother Chette was a linebacker at Auburn from 1982 to 1984, and he has been team chaplain since 1999. He has led too many prayers to count for the Auburn football team, but Brother Chette never started one in the way he did on Saturday night after the 49-27 victory for rival Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

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Brother Chette has seen some things, but before he bowed his head on this season inside the visiting locker room of Bryant-Denny Stadium he wanted everyone to know that he had never seen anything like what Auburn experienced over the last four weeks with interim coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams.

Brother Chette had to bear witness.

“This is the most incredible ride I’ve had since I’ve been at Auburn,” he said.

Here’s what I want to know, and I think it’s on a lot of people’s minds. Why does this ride with Cadillac have to end?

For Auburn, this Iron Bowl was played under the backdrop of extreme speculation and in the shadow of one rumor after another. First it was Lane Kiffin, and then the attention shifted to Hugh Freeze on Saturday. Who’s going to be the next permanent head coach?

There will be another name and then another, no doubt, because that’s how this stuff works, but the Iron Bowl is over, and so now it’s time to get down to business. No more rumours. No more tweets. No more games.

Nothing against anyone else that Auburn might think about hiring, but there is only one Coach Cadillac. It’s time for Auburn to consider the special thing that it has with this young coach, and consider if losing that is worth hiring someone else. It’s as simple as this: Cadillac might be the best person for the job, and he has proven that based on merit.

I was in the locker room with Auburn before the game, at halftime and then after the loss. It was a special assignment to cover the coach who was making history. After seeing inside Coach Cadillac’s Auburn, I can tell you that this is no Disney fairytale. It’s just a good coach becoming a great one faster than anyone thought possible. Auburn entered the Iron Bowl 5-6, but that team was at attention for Cadillac like it was playing for the SEC championship game.

Williams said a lot of stuff before kickoff, but one thing stood out: “We are going to run the football,” he said. “Why not?”

The only thing Auburn could run at the beginning of this season was a fever. The previous coach, on his way out, said Auburn just didn’t have the players it needed to get the job done. In the Iron Bowl, Auburn’s running game left track marks on Alabama’s defense. Alabama knew what was coming, and Alabama could not stop it. Auburn rushed for 318 yards, which is the most by an FBS team against Alabama since Nick Saban has been the coach.

“Somehow, somehow,” Williams said before the game. “We’re going to find a way.”

Alabama won the game because it had Bryce Young at quarterback. Everything else was even and the coaching might have favored Auburn.

The outcome turned on two fluke plays in the first half, both resulting in turnovers by Auburn. Take those away, and the Iron Bowl is a different game in the second half. With Cadillac as the coach, Auburn went 2-2 in November, but was one overtime against Mississippi State away from earning bowl eligibility. Oh, and that win against Texas A&M? Looks a lot better now after the Aggies upset SEC West champ LSU 38-23 on Saturday night.

Can’t make mistakes against Alabama and expect to win, though. The fumble in the first quarter by running back Jarquez Hunter put Auburn in a quick hole, and then a muffed punt by Auburn’s Keionte Scott led to a 21-7 lead for Alabama at the beginning of the second quarter. Alabama led 35-14 at halftime. In the Auburn halftime locker room, there was no blaming or scolding by anyone. No, instead Cadillac put it all on himself. He began his halftime speech fighting back tears.

“I have failed you,” he said. “I didn’t do a good enough job.”

The team responded.

“Change the mindset,” he kept saying throughout the day, pointing to his head for emphasis.

That message shouldn’t just be for the players. It should be for anyone who wants Auburn to continue building upon this sudden brilliance created by the first Black head coach to lead a team in an Iron Bowl. If Auburn wants to be different, then why change?

There isn’t a coach in America who will be more popular and unifying at Auburn than Cadillac Williams. Think about the power in those words. Think about the message that sends.

When they elevated Cadillac to head coach of the Auburn football team, there was no way that anyone could have predicted how this thing was going to play out. It turned into one of the most beautiful stories in sports this year, or any year, and it’s worth taking a chance to see what happens next. No one is going to fault new Auburn athletics director John Cohen if he hires a coach who has transformed the football team almost overnight.

The mistake might actually be letting this moment fade. Or, worse, killing all this momentum with another controversy that won’t soon go away.

Before Brother Chette bowed his head to pray, Cadillac gave a post-game speech to his team that lasted 15 minutes. It was raw, and passionate, and everything that is right about college football. Cadillac is loved because he is real, and there is purity of spirit in his message. He is everything Auburn could hope to have in a coach.

“I know I was scared as a puppy that first week,” Cadillac said to his players. “Thank God for you guys.

“Give love to the Auburn family, man, the people. Our fans have shown up and shown out. This place is special, but in order for anything in life to be special, and even Auburn University to be special, you got to be vulnerable. You’ve got to open up your heart, and not make it about you.

“Serve. serve Serve,” he said three times for everyone to hear. “If you don’t get anything else from this, serve. serve

“Even when things aren’t going your way, serve.

“Even when you don’t get anything in your bank account, serve.

“Even when you’re hungry, serve.

“There is a lot of power in serving. With that said, Brother Chette, if you would, in closing.”

And then the team that changed how people think about Auburn prayed together one last time.

Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group, and author of “We Want Bama: A season of hope and the making of Nick Saban’s ‘ultimate team'”. You can find him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.

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