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SEC’s Coaching Carousel May Prove “Who Auburn Could Have Hired”

By on January 14th, 2020 in Football 10 Comments »

A few days ago, we discussed whether the current average losses per year under head coach Gus Malzahn were acceptable. Auburn has historically been an 8-win-per-season team with a sprinkling of a few great years. This has been the case under every great Auburn coach, and is one of the reasons that so many Auburn fans cling to Gus Malzahn.

To be fair, Gus has done what few Auburn coaches have done. He’s played for a National Championship. He’s had two ten-win seasons. He’s never had a losing season.  He has beaten Nick Saban and the Tide three times, something that no one in college football has done and, while many may say that the 2013 win was “flukey” or a “miracle,” the last two wins were anything but. Auburn dominated the Tide in 2017, and the 2019 Iron Bowl was one of the most masterful jobs on both sides of the ball that Malzahn has ever displayed.

The knock on Malzahn, however, has been the filler along the way. Start with the Iron Bowl wins, which have always preceded a bowl game loss. The National Championship in 2013 is hard to look as total failure. But what has been a total failure is Auburn’s inability to look motivated or prepared in bowl games. Malzahn-led teams are now 2–5 after a loss to Minnesota while the rest of the SEC (not, you Mississippi State) was absolutely stellar this postseason.

Yet, the coaching carousel turned as it always does While many Auburn fans kept saying, “Who would we get that is better than what we already have,” that didn’t stop other SEC teams from making changes. Let’s be clear: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Missouri aren’t Auburn. Only Missouri can say it’s been to Atlanta, but in its consecutive years there, the Tigers were bum rushed by Auburn and Alabama. 

The point is, these teams were not willing to be defined by their traditional places in the conference, and while firing coaches in just their second year may turn out disastrously, the future can’t be much worse; at best, it gives them a chance to buck their own historical trends. My point is that some of the names mentioned by Auburn people as candidates to be “better than Gus” ended up in the same conference, some even in the same division. In looking at them, it becomes pretty obvious that Auburn might have, once again, waited too late to pull the trigger and thus is right where it was, asking “who could be better” when it comes to available coaches. Also, the nature of some of those hires, most of them proven winners, cast doubts as to Gus’ place in the coaching hierarchy, further polarizing him based on his salary. 

Let’s take a look at the schools that made changes, and the impact they have or may have on those programs as well as on competing against Auburn.

LSU

While LSU made its coaching change two years ago, it’s still relevant to this discussion. Gus Malzahn has a dreadful record against the Bengals, including an 0–2 record against Ed Orgeron, who has somehow completely reinvented himself. When he was elevated to head coach he seemed to be the pundit’s punching bag. Orgeron was a colossal failure in his first stint as head coach at Ole Miss and was skipped over at USC. Yet, LSU gave him a shot, and he responded with back-to-back ten-win seasons and last night’s National Championship win over Clemson.

So, Coach O has done the unthinkable, especially in the context of his past. Could he fall into Gus’ mold of having a player that makes his career? I suppose we will see. At $4 million per year, LSU is paying him about $325,000 per win. 

Ole Miss

The Rebels made the splash hire of the year when they hired Lane Kiffin. Obviously, Kiffin has baggage, but the things that most people hold against him, such as the Tennesee/USC job switch, were over a decade ago. Since transforming Alabama’s archaic offense, Alabama has fielded one of the most potent offenses in the country. Kiffin then took over Florida Atlantic, winning two conference championships in three years.

He takes over a program at Ole Miss that may suit his strengths as a high-powered offensive coach. While Kiffin can recruit, can he pull in the talent to be competitive in the SEC West? Most importantly, how does he compare to Gus Malzahn? The edge has to go to Kiffin, whose offenses have never been stale and continue to evolve. Of course, Auburn didn’t want his baggage, but in terms of X’s and O’s, one must appreciate his ability to develop players and score points. He will reportedly make almost $4 million a year, well under Malzahn. 

Arkansas

The Razorbacks booted now-Auburn OC Chad Morris after just two years. That alone is astounding as Arkansas has been an afterthought since Bobby Petrino left town. The hook came early for Morris, and Sam Pittman now steps in to take over the struggling program. It was easily the boring-est hire of the lot, coming from Georgia as its offensive line coach. This has all the makings of Brett Bielema V2.0 as Pittman has only coached offensive line. He hasn’t put a coaching staff in place, so it remains to be seen what he will do for Arkansas to become relevant on offense.

It is interesting that what Pittman does well, developing offensive lines, is one of the things that Auburn has been unable to accomplish. Auburn’s offensive lines have been sieve like for most of Gus’ career. Pittman can at least show what a good coach can do with the big Hogs up front. 

Missouri

Perhaps no new coach in the SEC will polarize Gus Malzahn more than Eliah Drinkwitz. He coached with Malzahn in Arkansas at the high school level and then under him at both Arkansas State and Auburn. He takes over a floundering Missouri program. Drinkwitz coached one year at Appalachian State, taking it to a 12–1 record, after serving as the 2018 offensive coordinator at NC State. Drinkwitz turned Ryan Finley from a 3500–17–7 QB to 3900–25–11, (Finley is now with the Cincinnati Bengals.)

His contract details aren’t hammered out.While Missouri and Auburn may never play with these two head coaches, it will be interesting to see how the Missouri offense transforms under him. The SEC East doesn’t have the defenses of the SEC West, but they are good enough to provide a litmus test as to who is the better offensive mind. 

Mississippi State

At the end of the day, Mike Leach’s move from Washington State to Mississippi State will be the defining moment in judging Gus Malzahn’s ability to coach an offense, despite the differences in their styles. A Hal Mumme disciple, Leach has no need for a run game, preferring to air it out every down. His offenses have been record-setting at every stop he’s made.

There are two important differences at Mississippi State. First, he will have access to better quality players than he’s likely ever had. Not that his players at Texas Tech or Washington State weren’t good; they were, and he has put a lot of talent in the NFL. However, there’s just more physically gifted players in the SEC, period. Secondly, he has never faced the defenses he will have to face every week in the SEC. While no one has consistently stopped his offenses, he’s never regularly played against SEC-level opponents.The real discussion, here, is that a lot of Auburn fans used Leach as one of the obtainable coaches that could realistically come to Auburn and make a difference. Instead, they get to see him every year on the opposite sideline.

Gus Malzahn’s run-first, tempo attack is almost completely opposite of what Leach will bring. Yet, Leach has consistently performed for 20 years, and Malzahn has continued to put up “career worsts.” It may not happen in Leach’s first year, but his success, or lack thereof, will paint a pretty clear picture of what Auburn could have done when everyone else was making moves.

It is fascinating how in just a few years the entire SEC coaching landscape can change. For the most part, the new crop is offensive minded and highly respected, just as Gus Malzahn has been. The difference is, none of the new guys have been figured out yet, which is incredible for Kiffin and Leach, who have been around the block. And, some of the coaches who have been around for a while such as TAMU’s Jimbo Fisher, are more complete as offensive coaches. The coming seasons may just reveal “who could Auburn get that’s better.” 

10 Comments

  1. WDE7385 WDE7385 says:

    C’mon, Zach, be honest with us.
    Is it that you don’t like Malzahn’s coaching or do you not like Coach Malzahn?
    Enquiring minds want to know.

  2. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    I don’t like his nepotism. I dont like that he cant keep QBs on the roster(I’m well aware everyone has this issue, but we have more than anyone, hence cord sandberg being our backup). I dont like his inability to develope essentially any part of his offensive personell. I dont like his preperation for bowl games. I dont like that at least one game a year we are TOTALLY unprepared (ole miss this year).

    And then I could start on playcalling, which I DO admit that it’s easy to question calls when I’m not a coach. BUT no one can deny that 80% of drives are run, bubble screen, throw to the sideline. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. When CBS has a graphic prepared that shows that he ignores the middle of the field, that’s a problem.

    Great dude. Keeps kids out of struggle. Keeps them in line. Love that he supports all our sports. Dislike him on the field.

    Fair?

  3. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    At the end of the day, the most glaring thing that sums it all up is this: Auburn is consistently the only school in the country that recruits at a top ten level but simply cannot finish inside the top ten. No one else can say that.

  4. Ole Zach seems to want to suck all the fun out of Auburn football, just like he’s sucking all the fun from Trackem Tigers. It’s interesting that the number of comments seem to have spiraled downward in recent years. As an Auburn grad, I’ve enjoyed this site since the last days of Ole Tubs and the final, dumpster fire days of Ole Chizik, but the current negativity infecting TET is becoming unbearable. Ole Zach and some of these other Ole boys that have been dominating the narrative recently seem to have forgotten that being a college football fan is supposed to be fun, just like Trackem Tigers is supposed to be fun and don’t give me any B.S. about Coach Malzhan’s contract. In all honesty this is only my second comment on TET and my first was in defense of Chizik, so there’s that.
    WAR EAGLE!!!!

    • Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

      Let’s try and keep an open mind and try and have a conversation on the points you raise.

      First, about sucking the fun out of football. I understand that it’s not all about winning and losing. I go to games. I tailgate with the best. I donate. I have a lot of fun.

      But losing isn’t fun and it is ESPECIALLY not fun when you lose to teams you shouldn’t lose to and it’s also not fun to essentially be irrelevant each and every year. What’s ESPECIALLY not fun is to see the CAPABILITY of a team to be relevant (2017, beating Bama this year for example) just to end the season with a thud. Sorry. That isn’t fun for ANYONE and to try and say that I am a funsuck for pointing this out is pointing the finger at the wrong person.

      Addressing your comment about the lack of comments since I’ve started railing against Malzahn. Let me play my own Devil’s Advocate. Considering we get more hits on this site than every, but less comments, could it be….possibly….that there isn’t a counter argument other than name calling?

      “Don’t give me any BS about Gus’s contract?” The very REASON Gus is STILL Auburn’s coach is BECAUSE of that lame duck contract. You take that away and Auburn has a new coach and, truly, possibly got one after LAST season. It is relevant simply because Auburn cannot get rid of him.

      Now, the talk about his contract versus wins is one that I don’t see is refutable. There isn’t a coach out there that is being paid more per win than Gus Malzahn. Seriously. Don’t believe me? Go do your own math. Even Jim Harbough, who is the punching bag of being overrated, is STILL getting to 10 wins.

      Lastly, I really DONT like being compared to other writers because most of them are being paid and, in the past, a lot of them (Marcello, for example) produced what a lot of us believed was simply clickbait.

      Of course, as the years go on, more and more beat writers have fallen into the mold. Is it because clickbait sells? Sure. But Ole Gus is giving them more and more ammo every single year. So, yeah, compare me to ALL of them if you want, but ALL of them are producing more and more negative-skewed work (which is slightly left of subjective in reality, but still fairly objective) because, well, what they see is BAD.

  5. KCAtiger57 says:

    First, I want to say that I respect anyone’s right to post their viewpoints and comments here on TET, I think that we all can say that we love Auburn, and all that it stands for and represents in the community And hopefully we all want what’s best for our athletic programs. I’ve always been a huge supporter of the TET web site and it’s staff. Zach, I’ve certainly enjoyed your articles, whether they may seem positive or negative. You seem to always put things out there that are blunt and to the point. No secret that I’m not a huge Gus fan. I never got excited about his hire when it was first announced several years ago. And my suspicions have come to pass. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love Auburn and it’s football program. I just don’t agree with how Gus has done with what he’s been expected to accomplish As it’s been stated here many times over and over, just look at his record in bowl games, away games at Georgia, at Alabama, at LSU. Inconsistency during all his seasons on the Plains. Not willing to adapt or make adjustments after the first half of games. I could go on and on forever. I will say that I admire Gus for having no major off the field issues, or at least none that I’m aware of. He does an excellent job of recruiting players. But the talent seems to not always develop I hope that Bo Nix will develop into an excellent QB, but I’m having some doubts. I don’t hate Gus, I just don’t think he’s a championship caliber coach needed to be in the SEC West. I don’t profess to know who we could hire, but right now I’m just not sold out to Gus Malzahn. Zach, keep up the good work I appreciate all the TET staff for your hard work. And War Eagle!!

    • uglyjoe says:

      I was going to chime in, but I can’t do any better than this …. War Eagle!

  6. audad says:

    As I watched LSU put 42 pts on a good Clemson defense the other night, I couldn’t help but think about one of the phrases that became popular this past season after AU’s losses to FL and then LSU. The Auburn defense by far did the best job of holding Burrow and the LSU offense in check this year. In the 7 games they won against top 10 teams, I read that Burrow threw 27 TD passes. He had one against us, which means he had 26 against the 6 others, an average of almost 4.5 per game. That phrase I’m referring to was that it was a shame Auburn would have one of its best defenses ever in the 2019 season and end up with not really too much to show for it. Or something to that effect. And that’s the way it played out. And you can slice it any way you want, but that really falls on old Gus.

    So going into next year Auburn will probably be pre-season ranked somewhere between 10th and 15th, or maybe a bit lower due to the departures on defense. And in all likelihood, that’s probably just about where they will finish the season.

  7. KCAtiger57 says:

    I also have to add a few more thoughts. It’s not just us as Auburn fans that I feel for, my heart goes out to those that stayed with Auburn instead of going pro. Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown, and others that I can’t think of by name at the moment. Their desire was to complete the task at hand, and win a championship for their University that they so loved and devoted their self to My apologies and thanks go out to them for giving of themselves to us as fans. They deserved so much better than what they got. We are the only team that held LSU at bay, and could have possibly won that game with better coaching, and a little offense. That seemed to be the case all year. War Eagle!!

  8. zotus zotus says:

    “We’re settlers, son. We settle for things.

    “We settle for a total beat-down at the hands of — GASP!!! — the “Mighty Minnesota Golden Gophers” in the bloody Outback Bowl … while, we celebrate a High School Coach with a High School Mindset — who picks his nose on the sidelines and watches as his team lives & dies on Trick Plays & Field Goals — as a Football Genius and as One of the Best Offensive Minds in the Nation.”

    “What have you been doing, Allen Greene, while Rome burns all around you?”

    “Working the land. Maintaining a low profile. Hoping for a fertile Spring.” replies Mr. Greene.

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