(photo: Bill Feiga,The advocate)
Many smirked when new Head Coach Gus Malzahn said his goal for Auburn was to contend for championships, declaring after he was hired, “It’s A New Day.” People shrugged it off like it was just another ad slogan. You really couldn’t blame anyone, after all what were the odds that Gus could do much to quickly turn around an Auburn program that had sunk to historic lows?
But this coach meant what he said, and today in just a little over 72 hours he will lead his team into what many consider the most important Iron Bowl in history. A game that will decide which team plays for the SEC Championship. Yes it truly is a “New Day!”
Has there ever been a new college football coach make good on such a promise? The architect of one of the greatest come backs in college football history didn’t say it with arrogance. He just meant that he and his staff would be relentless in the pursuit of restoring Auburn to national relevance. And he has done just that … From 0-8 in SEC play to 10-1 and a No.4 ranking in the BCS, Gus has delivered and it short order.
Auburn’s winning ways began way before football season rolled around though. It began at his first press conference, it began eight months before the Tigers kicked off the season against Washington State. When a team slumps to the depths that Auburn had in 2012 he had to do more than just recruit and coach.
He had to change the culture, he had to change the staff, he had to change attitudes, and he had to quickly find out who wanted to get on board and who didn’t. Four promising players including the leading tackler on defense were released because they did not get with the program. Then he and his staff had to build trust and instill confidence in the players who were hurting and dragging from a disastrous 3-9 season.
Malzahn knew they had been through a disheartening and tumultuous time. He said the other day, “That anytime you go through adversity in a storm it makes you stronger. Everybody is seeing that right now because they are a team(that is) a strong, unified group and you learn from your experiences.”
When he first met with his players they knew there was a new sheriff in town. Senior Defensive End Dee Ford said Gus’ sanguine confidence made an impression in that first team meeting. “He came in and we just knew and believed that we were going to get this thing turned around, just by his demeanor and his energy. He said it was going to be a new day. I know people got tired of hearing that, but we really believed that and we worked like we believed it.”
Malzahn promised the players they were going to “have the biggest turnaround in college football” and he worked tirelessly to bring it about. What’s more he expected the same work ethic from his players and coaches. And today Gus Malzahn is responsible for reviving a program that less than a year ago was barely on life support.
In addition, he did it in what has to be the toughest division in the toughest football conference in the country. Auburn once again is a team of national relevance. No matter what happens the rest of the season, he has to be the undisputed Coach of the Year for 2013.
Still, most don’t give his Tigers much of a chance against the defending national champions, much less have a shot at winning a championship. But that’s okay, no one gave them any chance to win 10 games at the beginning of the season either.
Track ‘em Tigers Publisher Jay Coulter was right Monday when he wrote that Auburn has to fight for the title on and off the field. Yet it has always been that way. Every thing the nation’s ninth Winn-ingest program for the past 50 years has achieved, has been against the odds.
And the odds are heavy against the Tigers this Saturday. But odds have never fazed Gus Malzahn. His sanguine and bold outlook reminds me of former Coach Shug Jordan who once said, “Always remember, Goliath was a 40 point favorite over David” … War Eagle!
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