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Gus Malzahn Will Remain Polarizing in Auburn

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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To quiet the Malzahn doubters, the Tigers probably have to win eight or nine games this fall, including two from the list of contests where they will most likely be an underdog.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Gus Malzahn was the king of the town at Auburn.

In fact, it was just 18 months ago. Following the convincing win against Alabama in Nov. 2017, Auburn headed to the SEC Championship Game. Despite a loss against Georgia in that contest, Auburn signed Malzahn to a seven-year, $49 million contract.

Just one year into the deal, Malzahn is back to being a polarizing figure with the Tigers and will likely remain so through the end of 2019.

Proof of Malzahn dividing the Auburn faithful and the media has come in just the last 30 days.

Atlanta sports talk radio host Chuck Oliver said last week that there is no “realistic scenario” where Malzahn won’t be back to coach at Auburn in 2020.

“There is no realistic scenario (where Malzahn is fired),” Oliver said according to AL.com. “If they go 2-10, that’s different, but that’s not a realistic scenario for Auburn. I think the only ramification would be, year from now, we’re talking about Gus Malzahn. I don’t believe that in December we’ll be talking about ‘who is Auburn going to get to be their head coach.’

“I think 7-5 would be a disappointment. But the defense is too good, they’ll be able to run the football, and they have a pretty impressive collection of receivers.”

Oliver didn’t mention Malzahn’s buyout, but that certainly is a factor as well. The massive buyout that was included in the seven-year contract makes discussing Malzahn’s job security almost a moot point.

SBNation reported last year that if Auburn fires Malzahn without cause, they will own him 75 percent of the total remaining amount on his contract, half of which must be paid to him within 30 days.

The only coaches with bigger buyouts in college football are national championship winning guys -- Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher.

Last year wasn’t the first time Auburn lost five games under Malzahn. Since going to the National Championship Game in 2013, the Tigers have lost at least five games in four of the last five seasons. In 2015, Malzahn and Auburn posted a 7-6 record.

If those disappointing seasons weren’t enough to fire Malzahn, then it’s hard to imagine a 7-5 mark in 2019 being enough with his buyout situation.

Another thing working in Malzahn’s favor is expectations from Las Vegas. Golden Nugget in Las Vegas have rated Auburn as an underdog against Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M and Florida this fall. If Auburn isn’t expected to win any of those games, how one views a 7-5 finish for the Tigers is drastically different.

College football handicapper Danny Sheridan doesn’t agree, telling AL.com in May that Malzahn is “an underdog to be the Auburn coach after the season.” He argued that the Auburn coach taking over as offensive coordinator this year is “BS” because “he’s been the offensive coordinator for six years.” Sheridan also criticized Malzahn for not developing a quarterback and ruining Jarrett Stidham.

As is true with most cases, it’s hard to project prior to a season what needs to happen in order for a coach to be safe from a firing. There’s just too many variables to consider.

If Auburn’s offense is much better than it was a year ago, but the defense suffers a tremendous amount of injuries and that’s why they limp to a 7-5 mark, Malzahn probably won’t have to worry. A 7-5 finish with another mediocre offensive campaign then Malzahn’s seat is going to be a lot warmer.

Again, because of the buyout, barring an insane collapse, Malzahn will be Auburn’s coach in 2020. However, this idea that another five-loss season will stir the conversation of Malzahn’s exit in Auburn is a little off base. We’re already talking about it and have been since the middle of last season.

To quiet the Malzahn doubters, the Tigers probably have to win eight or nine games this fall, including two from the list of contests where they will most likely be an underdog.

If that doesn’t happen, Malzahn will still be in Auburn but will remain a polarizing coach among the fanbase and media.