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No Way Out for Auburn Football

By on October 15th, 2018 in Football 21 Comments »

What’s at stake for Auburn football over the next month is bigger than one man. Its outcome threatens to bring down the entire university. On the surface that sounds like a lot of hyperbole, but it’s very real.

A new school president staked his future on a football coach he barely knew last year. He brought on a new athletic director as his first major hire. Now, all three men are joined at the hip and must find a way forward or out.

Saturday’s contest in Oxford may be the biggest game in a generation; not because of the opponent, but what a loss to Ole Miss could mean to the future. A defeat all but guarantees a losing season and brings on Armageddon. A win does nothing but cement a winning season and a bottom-feeder bowl appearance. Birmingham anyone?

The optics for new school president Steven Leath could not be worse. Brought in from lowly Ames, Iowa, surrounded by controversy himself, he was quickly taken to the woodshed by super-agent Jimmy Sexton. Fast forward 10 months, and Gus Malzahn holds all the cards and a $32 million buyout, half of which is owed to him in the first 30 days following termination.

If Leath doesn’t realize it now, his fortunes are tied to Malzahn. If the school is fortunate enough to find enough boosters with more school spirit than sense to pay off Malzahn, you can bet they’ll demand Leath drive the moving truck out of town. All you’ll have left is an athletic director hired by the worst businessman in state history. Do you think Allen Greene will have a target on his back?

To put into prospective what $32 million looks like in real money consider this: Auburn Arena’s total construction cost was $90 million. The proposed football-only facility is expected to run close to $55 million. Boosters will be expected to essentially flush more than half that cost down the toilet before breaking ground. And let’s not forget, they’ll be required to buy out all of the remaining assistant coaches’ contracts plus hire a new head coach.

Now I’m a product of an Alabama public education, but I find it hard to imagine anyone with means willing to chip in to fund the Titanic. Auburn has few options in this saga. There is literally no way to win.

Should this team grab only one more win this season, it’s still very unlikely that Malzahn goes anywhere. The same cannot be said for Leath. Bad decisions have bad consequences. It’s why in the 21st Century it makes no sense to hire educators to run multi-million dollar universities.

Auburn needs a CEO in the worst way. The Jay Gogue era was a catastrophe. He was perhaps the worst school president for athletics in Auburn history and that includes, among others, the late William Walker. Plain and simple, Leath was not up to the task of negotiating such a deal with Sexton and Malzahn. A lot of that blame lies at the feet of the Board of Trustees, which let it happen.

This program is on the brink of falling significantly behind other conference schools because of its lack of facilities, including a football-only building. Paying off Malzahn and his team of coaches will almost certainly delay that construction. Keeping him around another few seasons is hard to imagine.

Either way, Auburn football loses.


  1. neonbets says:

    I’m tired of defending Malzahn. So, what follows is not a defense of Malzahn, but rather just a preference with respect to the dilemma laid out by Jay.

    Do NOT pay him off. My reasoning is that paying Malzahn off isn’t done in a vacuum. Believe it or not, there is no guarantee the next coach will fare better. Before scoffing, how’s Scott Frost and Chip Kelly doing? And Willie Taggart and Jumbo are not exactly setting the world on fire either.

    If Auburn was assured of getting a winning Head Coach, then by all means–dump Malzahn and eat the salary. But this is far from a guarantee. And, as Jay has pointed out–there is a real opportunity cost in relation to facilities.

    Grin and bear it. Live with the volatility. Improve the infrastructure of the program. Wait two years and then go get the new coach.

    • friedca friedca says:

      100% agree with neonbets. Doesn’t matter if we lose out the rest of the season. It makes no logical sense getting rid of him now. Improve infrastructure and set yourself up for future success. Saban isn’t going to be around forever. Emotional decisions will hurt us in the end. At the end of the day we have a mid level coach who sometimes pulls something amazing out of his ass.

    • fasttimes says:

      ill bet Frost and Kelly will be faring far better than malzahn in two years. in fact if i thought there was a way to get Frost to Auburn, thats who i would want. a hungry, innovative mind who can recruit and coach up players.

      again, it seems that context is left out of this thought experiment. gus is in year 6. frost and kelly and fisher are in their first years of a rebuild. ill give you taggart, but lets have a little perspective.

      • neonbets says:

        You’re missing the point.

        Year 6 vs Year 1 has nothing to do with it. The point here is that unless you can hire a coach with a very high certainty of success, you have no business eating $32 million and taking on $30-40 million more. Especially when there are other issues that need tending to.

        My references of Frost and Kelly are simply that they aren’t performing as well as expected. Not even close. It does not mean they won’t succeed–it means that even when you think you have a sure thing in a new coaching hire, you don’t. College Football is littered with the carcasses new coaching hires that were going ‘be the answer’. This is a $70-80 million gamble that just ain’t worth it.

        • fasttimes says:

          my point to your frost reference is not performing as expect in his case vs. malzahn is not even close to the same either.

          however, i get your point abotu the money. but i would argue there are plenty of other “cost” in play here. leaving a hapless coach in a position to rot a program could cost a lot more than the simply monetary expense of his contact. making a hugely terrible decision in malzahn’s contact extention should not condemn the program making another huge mistake by not doing anything about it.

          im not saying fire him before the season is over, but i don’t see how you can leave him in there for a couple more years when we all know he is done. recruiting, ticket sales, merch, etc will all suffer greatly because of it. how much will that cost?

    • Orange Talon Orange Talon says:

      First, nothing in life is assured, except we’re all going to die.

      Second there is no hedging your bet (investment) when it comes to hiring football coaches. It’s a business decision, plain and simple. Chizik goes 3-9, get’s hired by Auburn and wins the schools only football NC in modern day history – get’s fired. Tubberville before him, Bowden, Dye, etc.. All business decisions. By the way, know what they all have in common? They all had buy-out clauses and they all were paid by the business office of the University.

      Sheww.. I’m really glad you’re not making excuses for Gus. I almost got confused there for a second.

  2. zotus zotus says:

    What MORONS signed off on that extension last year???

    1) Steven Leath signed off.
    2) Jay Jacobs recommended & signed off.

    These are the well-paid public servants who wasted millions of dollars that regular hard-working people — like tax-payers, tuition-payers, et alia — will end up paying. And paying. And keep on paying.

    These are the 2 men who are responsible. These are the 2 men who should be held responsible.

    Anyone else who (allegedly) left fingerprints on this decision making process at Auburn University, in reality, just left fingerprints on a “rubber stamp.”

    On the subject of “asleep at the switch” apparatchiks, allow me to paraphrase Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of malfeasance is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”

    P.S. The ball is now in the court of Allen Greene and the Auburn Board of Trustees. No time to go wobbly now, ladies and gentlemen.

  3. meathead530 says:

    My wife is right. Malzahn doesn’t feel pressure or urgency to be successful. What a terrific job to have.

    I hate that the players are going through this.

  4. domaucan1 domaucan1 says:


    Here’s something i use when asked by outsiders about Auburn football:
    “Auburn University is emphasizing academics this year.”
    WAR EAGLE !!!
    GO BIG BLUE !!!

  5. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    Dealing with Jimmy Sexton is a lose-lose.

    As Forrest Gump once said: “that’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

  6. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    Apologies to the Twitter user who compiled this info, but no Auburn coach since Dye has made it more than a year into their “big” extension.

    Auburn keeps making the same mistakes, over and over.

  7. I’ve got a little out of the box solution to our current predicament. Hire someone to run the football program/team. Someone with a lot of football experience, maybe a former coach or NFL player. Someone like Tommy Tuberville comes to mind but not necessarily him. This person is given complete control of the football program but no on field coaching responsibilities. A sort of general manager. Malzahn is striped of all responsibilities except recruiting, because he is pretty decent at that and seems to enjoy it. Fire all the assistant coaches. Every. single. one. Hire young, hot shot, up and coming position coaches to be the coordinators and allow them to hire their own staffs and do their own things on their respective sides of the ball. Malzahn has no responsibilities on game day except walking the side line and looking constipated. I mean, don’t even give the man a head set. He would be head coach in name only.

    Sure, there would be a revolving door of coaches. Never the same group from year to year. But I bet young coaches who are years away from even sniffing a coordinator gig would line up for the chance to prove themselves. With a little mentoring from the general manager and maybe even Malzahn, you never know. A little magic might happen.

    Or AU could fall flat on its face. But regardless, it would be an interesting ride.

  8. audad says:

    Malzahn’s post-game conferences of late could be done with a cardboard statue of him and pre-recorded comments. Pretty much the same every week. This is three games we’ve lost all when favored, this one of course being the worst and most embarrassing. Vegas had to take a beating. All kinds of money had to come in on TN to take the opening line of 17 down to 14 by Saturday. And we’ve actually opened as a 3 pt favorite against Ole Miss.

    Let’s face it, JS is just an average QB this year. That doesn’t make him a bad guy, but the pre-season chatter about him as a possible Heisman candidate is now laughable. Seems like a good kid, but just isn’t getting it done. For a lot of reasons, some being that he often has quick pressure from defenders that come through untouched. And the defense that looked so good early on has tremendously regressed. I’m glad some defensive team leaders called a closed door team meeting early last week for players only. Apparently they got “things straightened out.” Well, those defenders just must have forgotten that teams punt on 4th down and not 3rd down. The 3rd and long conversions were frequent and painful. And a big difference in the game. I don’t think we can count on this D to win some tough games for us anymore as was previously thought. Unless something dramatically changes.

    In the coaches poll today we now get the same number of votes as Army. Pretty significant slip from that lofty # 8 spot just 2 weeks ago. Here’s something to think about: might this be the only college team ever to be ranked #7 after two weeks and not qualify for a bowl game? That’s hard to comprehend. On the financial side of things, I stumbled across an article just this morning on Forbes titled the 25 “most valuable teams” currently in CFB. Auburn comes in at #8 with annual revenues estimated at $112 million and annual profits of $61 million. Media rights alone are $28 million, which is 4th best in the nation. The school can afford to pay Gus what he’s making. But at what cost to the future of the program? Wish I had the answers to that. We’ll really see if he has “lost this team” during these next two games. If you read Joseph Goodman’s article from Saturday about Apocalypse Auburn having begun, he paints about as negative a picture as I’ve heard about the current predicament the AU football program is facing.

  9. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    OK, OK.
    Let us look onward as to how do we beat UM.

    • Orange Talon Orange Talon says:

      Pray. A lot.

      Not sure the players are bought in anymore easyedwin, but who knows for sure. I surely don’t. Assuming they are however, I think you absolutely have to bench Stidham and play whichever QB that best resembles the RUNNING ABILITIES of Cam and/or Nick. Also, #5 needs touches. Shut Whitlow down for the rest of the year and play Shivers.

      2010 – Cam / Dyer / Adams
      2013 – Nick / Tre / Coates

      I also think more 7-10 yard passing routes (shallow crosses, slants, etc.) would help take the pressure off of the o-line. There’s just not a lot of time back there for Stidham, he not fleet afoot (see above) and unable to escape at will. So he’s forced into bad decisions and taking bad sacks because his receivers are running 15+ yard scheme routes that take time to develop.

      That’s my take easy, did I mention pray?

      • I don’t think even Cam could do a whole lot with the state of the O-line as it is right now. The line he had in front of him in 2010 was leaps and bounds better than the one we have right now.

        I agree that some quick outlet passes might allow Stidham a chance to get rid of the ball, but, his decision making just doesn’t seem to happen quick enough. Also, WR development in route running just doesn’t appear to be something that Auburn has done well for quite a few years.

        I could start on this coaching staffs inability to make in-game adjustments, but, that would just be pouring on at this point.

  10. WDE7385 WDE7385 says:

    The K.I.S.S. Principle –
    Two factors determine the success or failure of a college football team:
    Talented players and good coaching.
    Talented players, check. Auburn has its share.
    Good coaching, oops.

  11. auburnelvis says:

    Let Coach Pearl try a half.

  12. […] for changes. The answer to where the program goes next is not an easy one either as Jay Coulter pointed out in his Monday […]

  13. Tiger4Life says:

    Maybe Gus and Kevin trade positions (and salaries)

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