Gut Check Time for Gus Malzahn
For 10 glorious minutes Saturday night, Auburn fans were living in a dream world. The offense was clicking on back-to-back possessions and the defense was nasty again. Then, like so many things this season, it just went away. Such is life under Gus Malzahn: a couple of nice peaks combined mostly with valleys that never seem to end.
There’s really no reason to point it all out, but it’s so shocking in print. Auburn has been outscored 123–3 in the second, third and fourth quarters against Georgia in Athens with Malzahn as the offensive coordinator or head coach since 2011. Saturday was Malzahn’s 14th-worst offensive output of his coaching career. Five of his worst 15 performances have come against Georgia. And on and on and on…
At most places that will cost you your job; at Auburn it locks you into a $32 million buyout and makes the program a really miserable place to be around. Now the death march begins. Two weeks and counting until Nick Saban decides how big a whipping to put on this Auburn team.
How bad have things gotten? Losing by “only” 17 points likely means there’ll be no serious talk of change at the top. After all, Allen Greene says Malzahn is Auburn’s coach of the future. Let that sink in and marinate.
Talk of wins will now turn to full-time speculation about who’ll be offensive coordinator next year—not that it matters. Those close to the program say Malzahn will never hand over the play calling. It could be exciting to see Hugh Freeze get the keys and run his scheme with Auburn’s talent, but it’s doubtful he’d be given complete control.
Instead of focusing on staff changes, it’s time to look in the mirror. What worked at Shiloh Christian Academy will not work consistently in the SEC. Defenses have caught up and moved on from Malzahn’s play calling. It’s time to evolve and change. It’s time to bring in fresh eyes and let them do their job unhindered.
The great coaches know how to adapt. We saw it with Nick Saban following the 2010 season. We’ve watched it with Dabo Sweeney at Clemson in his climb to the top. Malzahn’s strength is not delegation. That must change starting today. His stubbornness is legendary. Someone must get to him and force change. That person will likely be Greene.
History says next season will be better. Auburn’s best years have almost always come following four or more losses the previous year. The schedule turns favorable again in 2019 with Georgia and Alabama at home.
While all of these things give fans hope, the reality is Auburn must change fast. Its two rivals are already a lap ahead—make that two laps ahead for Bama. Another year like 2018, and it may be many years before Auburn gets back to the top of the SEC West.