Auburn: Who Are We?
The 2018 regular season closed this past Saturday with the annual Iron Bowl. In the wake of the blowout, Auburn fans find themselves not only at a crossroads but pointing fingers at one other over justifying a head coach.
With the book closed, the conversations and arguments have shifted from numbers and games to boil down to this:
“Auburn is historically an 8–5 team that occasionally over-achieves.” That’s typically followed by “Whom would we hire that’s better?” Lastly, “A new coaching staff would set Auburn back a decade.”
Some want Malzahn gone. Some are OK with the historical status quo. And many are pointing fingers at who are the good fans and who are the bad fans.
Auburn fans, who are we?
Let’s start with my favorite of the lines that I hear: “Auburn is historically an 8–5 team that occasionally over-achieves.” Since you are an Auburn fan, at some point there was a generation who said to their son or daughter “I want you to have what I never had.” Thus began the cycle of new expectations. That likely began with your family’s first college graduate, possibly from Auburn University.
Not accepting the status quo is the reason you are an Auburn fan to begin with. Accepting the status quo stands in the way of progress, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, there is only one school that should be okay with maintaining the status-quo. Let me tell you, the coach from across the state will not accept the status quo, which is why Alabama is in the midst of the most powerful dynasty college football has ever seen. For Auburn to have that rival and to be okay with 8–5 is simply shocking. It should be a wake-up call.
Maintaining the status quo wasn’t good enough for LSU or Georgia, both of which are part of Auburn’s schedule every single year. It wasn’t good enough for Utah State or Boise State, whose football programs have risen from absolute obscurity to yearly relevance. The two programs had a Top 25 showdown Saturday night in the Mountain West Conference. It wasn’t good enough for Bill Clark and the UAB Blazers, who have put together two incredible seasons, back to back, after the program was canceled.
Somehow, 8–5 is good enough for Auburn? And we are supposed to accept that?
“Whom would Auburn hire that’s better?” Let me just stop you right there and point out that Auburn hired its last two head coaches with a combined three years of head-coaching experience. Am I thankful for the 2010 and 2013 seasons? Absolutely. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything but …
let’s not pretend that Jay Jacobs went out and got the very best man for the job to begin with. To make the assumption that there is no one better than Gus Malzahn out there isn’t just near sighted, it’s foolish. Is it without risk? Absolutely not. Nothing ever is. Will it be cheap? Of course not.
Does that mean that we Auburn fans should accept that there weren’t or aren’t better coaches out there? Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State, and Georgia didn’t think so. Those four teams made coaching changes in the last 24 months, and two of those teams fired proven 10-win-a-year coaches. All four teams have beaten Auburn at least once in that period with Georgia aiming to go back to the College Football Playoff for the second straight year.
In the meantime, Malzahn has produced three seasons of mediocrity, which brings us to the next point many Auburn fans use: “A new coaching staff would set Auburn back a decade.” A decade from what? If Auburn is historically an 8–5 team that has had very few losing seasons in its storied history, what is there to fear? Those fans that say on one hand, “Auburn is historically an 8–5 team,” can’t use the line, “A new coaching staff would set Auburn back a decade.” There is simply no basis for that assumption.
Auburn is not an 8–5 program, and it isn’t fair or right to compare the current state of Auburn athletics to records from the last 100 years.
Fact: Auburn is one of the most profitable football programs in America. It was ranked No. 8 this past year by Forbes. It netted 56 million dollars last year.
Fact: Auburn is one of the top recruiting schools in the country. According to the 247Sports.com rankings, under Malzahn it has never finished below 12th in the country. Auburn has never had trouble with elite recruits. Auburn has two Heisman winners, NFL Hall of Famers, and an entire backfield drafted in the first round in 2005—before Malzahn. Gus isn’t the reason Auburn is recruiting well. Auburn recruits well because it’s Auburn.
The Auburn football program is a Top 10 program in terms of two of three things that matter: monetary support and recruits. It has finished in the Top 10 in final rankings just twice under Malzahn, both of those seasons ending in embarrassing losses. So, what’s the missing piece?
It’s simple: a big money buyout to pay off Malzahn. Without an athletic director, newly minted President Leath was worked over by Super Agent Jimmy Sexton to the tune of 49 million dollars following the wins against Alabama and Georgia last season. The buyout is a cool $32.1 million, which ranks fifth in all of college football. The four in front of him? Coaches who have actually won National Championships.
Gus is making $4.7 million a year. It’s an insane amount of money to pay a coach on a yearly basis. It’s an even more insane amount for a buyout. To get a new coach, Auburn has to pay Gus or at least supplement an amount based upon what he’s paid by the next school to hire him, pay off assistants, and hire a new coaching staff. So, the talk about who to hire to replace him is moot and academic, really. If AD Allen Green wants to get rid of Malzahn, he can. And, if he wants to hire a big name coach, he can.
Despite the two sides pointing fingers, neither side can do a single thing because of the decisions made above our pay grades. Being on either side doesn’t make you a bad fan. Calling other Auburn fans “bad fans” is what makes you a bad fan.