2013...12-2 2014...8-5 2015...Worse?
This column should be praising the resurgence of Alabama. However, I don't consider them ever being down. This Alabama team is the most physical in years. It is no surprise to me that they are headed toward the Final Four. On the other hand, the demise of Auburn is a national Shakespearian Tragedy!
Every pre-season poll had the Tigers ranked in the top ten and some in the top four including your's truly. And, why not? After all Coach Gus Malzahn had hired the "best defensive mind in college football" to resurrect what used to be a proud and trusted defense under Tommy Tuberville, Pat Dye, Ralph "Shug" Jordan, Jack Meagher, Mike Donahue, and John Heisman. Coach Will Muschamp arrived on the Plains with much fanfare. His dismissal from the head coaching job at Florida was not so bad after all. Auburn is paying the new defensive coordinator 1.6 million this year. That is more than what 60% of head coaches in Division-I make. In fact, Malzahn and Muschamp combined are making more per year than all of the above named Auburn coaches made. That is not necessarily bad. All successful coaches are being paid exorbitant salaries and service contracts to teach young men how to play football on it's highest level. Now, if the money expended results in "fannies" in the seats, sold out season tickets, millions in sales of merchandise, invitations to major bowl games, conference championships and opportunities to play for national championships, it may be well spent!
The hiring of Gus Malzahn in 2012 was not unanimous among the Auburn faithful. some wanted a big name coach with a good track record. Some didn't know what they wanted. Since the fall of Pat Dye, Auburn has been a melting pot for coaches with sketchy track records... Terry Bowden from Samford, Tommy Tuberville from Ole Miss, Gene Chizik from Iowa State. However, opinion on Gus Malzahn in 2012 was mostly positive. I was aware of his great success as a high school coach in Texas. I was aware of his success at Arkansas, Tulsa, and Auburn where he was the offensive coordinator. In his one year as head coach at Arkansas State, he was 9-3 and won the Sun-Belt Conference.
Some people considered Auburn as having hired a high school coach. Malzahn was not a high school coach. He had been coaching at the Division I college level for seven years. He had highly successful tenures as offensive coordinator at three different schools, two of them SEC schools. His one year as a head coach showed that he would probably do well as a head coach in the SEC. Why not Auburn? He handed delivered a national championship to Coach Gene Chizik there in 2010. I personally talked with Gus Malzahn in December of 2012 within a week of his hiring. He was impressive, taller than expected, but confident and knowledgeable. I expected him to be a success at Auburn. Taking the Tigers to the national championship game in 2013 was not expected of course.
Malzahn got some lucky bounces along the way to the national championship game with Florida State. So what, any team has to have luck in order to reach those heights.
Gus Malzahn rode into Auburn in 2009 and found a (horse) named "Cam". The name of course comes from Cam Newton, the Heisman winning quarterback that Malzahn coached to the national championship in 2010 as Gene Chizik's offensive coordinator. Two years later a Sun Belt Conference Championship at Arkansas State and a very sad ending to Coach Gene Chizik's tenure, catapulted "Malzahn the Magician" to the head coaching job at Auburn. I conferred this name on him after his miraculous 2013 season that came within one defensive stand and 13 seconds of winning the national championship. He did this with what I would describe as inferior talent. However, "Malzahn the Magician" lost his "Mo-Jo" in the fourth quarter of the 2014 Texas A&M game when Auburn had second down and goal on the one yard line with a perfect chance to win the game. Malzahn calls for the zone read to left of the formation which means quarterback Nick Marshal slides the football into the belly of running back Cameron Payne, then reads the offensive lineman before deciding to leave it with Payne or pull it and carry it himself. Since Coach Malzahn had been pushing Marshall for the Heisman Trophy, Marshall sees a chance to endure himself to the voters by pulling the football. Payne had a clear path to the end zone so he is sure Marshall would leave it with him and win the game. Not so, Marshall began tugging on the ball so that he could make the winning score. The result was a fumble and Texas A&M recovered – game over. Following this game Malzahn continued to make questionable decisions that resulted in Auburn losing four out of it's last five games.
Coach Malzahn has led Auburn to multiple SEC losses again. The 2015 team was ranked as high as number two in the pre-season polls. All polls had Auburn in the top ten. Why? Because the highly optimistic utterances from the football office at Auburn was that Auburn would be better in 2015 because of a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback named Jeremy Johnson, an All-Everything wide receiver in Duke Williams and a defense headed up by the "greatest defensive mind in America", Coach Will Muschamp. The national media drank the Kool-Aid®, the SEC writers drank the Kool-Aid®, and I drank the Kool-Aid®. What have the Auburn coaches been looking at during practice since January 2015?
Quarterback Sean White must have practiced by himself in a garage during spring training. Otherwise Gus Malzahn and Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee would have seen what America has now seen. What would have been the results if Sean White had been named starting quarterback at the end of spring practice?
Being a head coach is not too far distant from being a coordinator. The main difference is that the decisions are much bigger. The first decision that really bothered me occurred in the 2012 championship game. Auburn went back ahead of the Seminoles with little time left on the clock. Jameis Winston, the Florida State freshman quarterback who went on to win the Heisman Trophy, was an excellent passer. He had excellent receivers, some playing in the NFL today. Auburn had been harassing this freshman since the game started. That is why Auburn was winning the game. Coach Malzahn and his defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, decided to play pass defense and not put pressure on Winston. Auburn had just handed Jameis the Heisman Trophy. He picked Auburn apart, having all day to stand in the pocket and pick a receiver. With 13 seconds left on the clock, Florida State snaps the ball and Winston found his 6-5 wide receiver on 5-11 Chris Davis. Game Over! That decision is a head coach decision.
When Auburn tip toed out on the field in Atlanta to play Louisville, they had on orange fruitboots, orange and navy Argyle socks. I was devastated that Coach Gus Malzahn had stooped so low as to become one of those "gimmick" coaches that hardly ever win big.
Maybe Gus Malzahn and Jay Jacobs have become footwear salesmen for UnderArmour®. What else would cause normally logical football men to dress Auburn like "faires in the forest."
Auburn is a proud institution. They have a proud history. Auburn's football team has a strong tradition. That tradition does not include wearing orange fruitboots and Argyle socks. By the way Coach, what did those booties and socks do for you? Athletic Director Jay Jacobs should be reprimanded by the Auburn Board of Trustees for allowing one of his coaches to denigrate the football team with such ridiculous gimmicks. At one time the Auburn football uniform was voted the best looking football uniform in the nation. Maybe Coach Malzahn and Jay Jacobs are too young or too indifferent of this fact. Auburn burned the 2015 season at the first game.
Gus Malzahn is the best offensive coordinator I have seen in some time. He can not handle the offense and the head coaching job at the same time. He must give up the offense if he wants to remain a head coach. He is absolutely too busy on the sidelines to be in position to make the right calls as a head coach. After three years as head coach at Auburn, there are no SEC linebackers, defensive ends, defensive tackles...and oh yes, the quarterback shuffle! Auburn is going backwards...12-2 to 8-5 to worse. The head coach is responsible for everything no matter the circumstances!
After seven games, Coach Malzahn had his offense clicking, his defense hanging on and hope for the future. November will determine Auburn's fate in the bowl scramble.
WAR EAGLE anyway Coach!