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Enlightened Expectations

By on February 1st, 2014 in Football 6 Comments »

Graphic courtesy of Gartner Research Process

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”

Estella, in Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

2013 was only possible because of the depths of what Auburn experienced in 2012. Part of the charm of last season was that the level of expectation was so far below the level of achievement. By mid season most fans were in a continuous state of euphoria after every game. We were then treated not just one but two fantastic once in a generation endings to rivalry games that sent fan excitement into the stratosphere.

But what about next year? What can we expect out of this coaching staff and players after the success of 2013? Is it fair to set the expectation of the 2014 SEC championship and inaugural College Football Playoff on the shoulders of this team or are we courting disappointment by giving in to unbridled optimism?

Using My Cafe Malzahn analysis, I’ve gone back in time to see what this coaching staff is capable of  by comparing what they have achieved in  previous situations when they coached a second year with the same team.


One should always be cautious in predicting the future with evidence from the past

I took a look at Gus Malzahn’s previous performances in the second year at each of his previous stops in his collegiate career and saw some interesting improvements from year to year.

While Gus Malzahn was employed in 2006 as offensive coordinator at Arkansas in 2006, he transferred to the University of Tulsa under Head Coach Todd Graham. In 2007, Tulsa led the nation in yards per game. But what is intriguing is what happened the second year, 2008


That equates to about a 12% average improvement across all four indicators. This was after a full recruiting season and a year to implement his system on the existing offensive personnel.

Coach Malzahn’s next ‘second year’ team was Auburn in 2010, and we all know what happened in that instance.


This shows a 16.7% increase across all measured aspects. Quite an achievement. Even averaging the totals shows a 19% improvement in scoring, a 14% improvement in yards per play for an overall average improvement of 14.4%.

What would one expect from this coaching staff in 2014? Taking all the number into account, I came up with this:


This would match all four criteria from Cafe Malzahn for a championship level team.

But wait a minute, you say, Gus Malzahn isn’t coordinating this offense, Rhett Lashlee is?

I thought about that too, so I looked at the only time Rhett Lashlee was an offensive coordinator WITHOUT being on Gus Malzahn’s staff. In 2011, Rhett took a job as offensive coordinator for Samford University in Birmingham.

How did he do? Well, let’s look at the improvement over the previous year,…


That was a 28.6% improvement over all four categories, resulting in the first winning season for Samford in five years and only the second winning season since 2000. After Rhett left, the head coach at Samford was so impressed with the offensive style, he kept it virtually the same and has improved his win total every year since Rhett was his OC, reaching the FCS playoffs in 2013.

That head coach was also instrumental in offering Gus Malzahn the head coaching job at Auburn, along with fellow Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson. He is after all, the epitome of an Auburn man.

“I wanted to go in the direction of a fast-paced offense,” Sullivan said. “With Rhett’s background of working with Coach Malzahn and with the type of offense they run, I thought this was a good fit. He has a tremendous knowledge of this offense, and he is a fine, Christian person. He and his wife recently had twin boys and we are excited to welcome them to our Samford family.”

Pat Sullivan – 2010

War Eagle Pat, and thanks for doing your best for Auburn University once again.





  1. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    Good stuff. The 2014 football season can’t get here fast enough!

  2. Tigerz Tigerz says:

    One nerd to another: your sample size is a wee bit on the short side.

    What we can say however, is there is a near 100% confidence level Malzahn and crew are going to produce a football team we can be very proud of!

    • KungFuPanda9 KungFuPanda9 says:

      “One nerd to another: your sample size is a wee bit on the short side.”

      However, it is a pure one to one comparison. If the hypothesis was, “How much improvement can be expected the second year of a coach’s tenure,” the sample size would matter more. But this example deals directly with

      Mr. Sullivan even took the one variable of Rhett Lashley into account, just in case it was significant.

      But we thank our Sullivan. “He’s a good man, and very thorough.”

      When it comes to these math things…
      “It’s complicated, you know. Lots of ins and outs, lots of what have yous.”

    • sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

      I agree, the sample size is small, but then again, how many seasons has the man been in the business at the collegiate level? This was the data I had to go on. That being said, the consistency across both his second seasons at Tulsa and Auburn are fairly impressive.

      The one anomaly I can find in his entire collegiate coaching career is the 2011 season on the plains, for which I’m currently researching to see if I can see any statistical rationale why. If I find anything interesting, I’ll likely post it in the form of another article.

      Thanks for reading and your comments.

      • DBAU81 says:

        No need to research the “anomaly” of 2011. In 2010 the quarterback was Cam Newton. In 2011 it wasn’t. And we still managed 8 wins and a victory in a decent bowl game. I can’t wait to see what Gus can do with a returning QB. More than that, though, I really think the defense should continue its improvement in 2014. This is going to be a long eight months.

  3. Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

    Good post. Really enjoy reading your analysis.