The End of an Era
The Sun Has Set On Head Coach Gus Malzahn
(Photo by Acid Reign)
War Eagle, everybody. A sad regular season has come to an end with the firing of Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn. I shall remember Gus as the coach that took us to the brink of greatness early on and then battled to get back there the rest of his tenure. I have to worry about the wisdom of cutting a head coach loose in these turbulent times, especially a head coach with a $21-million buyout, half due immediately. I’m hoping against hope that the administration has made this move with a good plan in mind and not as a knee-jerk reaction to various message board posts.
I suppose the question becomes, “Who’s next?” I read with dread a post where Dennis Dodd of CBS fame claims that the top replacement candidate is Hugh Freeze, the current Liberty head coach. According to Dodd, Freeze has already been vetted for a return to the SEC by the powers that be, done during the South Carolina head coaching search last month. Here’s hoping the administration is not that morally bankrupt! Freeze set the Ole Miss program back by at least a decade for a few Malzahn-like years in the mid 2010’s.
Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal is another top candidate. I would counter that argument with exhibit A: last season’s kickoff classic in Texas. Gus Malzahn was giving a true freshman quarterback (Bo Nix) his first start while Cristobal had future NFL rookie of the year Justin Hebert at quarterback. It seems eons ago, but Auburn actually won that game against the eventual PAC-12 champions. I can’t see Cristobal as anything more than a lateral move, if that. There’s no guarantee that Cristobal would be able to face down the Saban juggernaut across the state. Oregon was considered a contender this season but has back-to-back disappointing losses to Oregon State and Cal in its most recent games.
As frustrating as it has been to watch the last 5 years, I’ll miss the Malzahn offense. When it’s not working, it can be quite a clown show. Then there will be games like the 56–3 beatdown of Arkansas in 2016, or the 40–17 bashing of Georgia in 2017. Who among us didn’t enjoy the 48–11 thrashing of LSU this season? Gus Malzahn will leave Auburn with the second biggest win over Alabama in my lifetime, the 26–14 win in 2017. The only one bigger was 1969, 49–26. The 2017 Georgia game ties the record in my lifetime along with the 1990 game against a 4–7 Ray Goff Georgia team, 33–10.
What I will not miss is the Malzahn press conferences. I had gotten to the point where I dreaded reading them or listening. One was never going to get a straight story. “Our offense is a mess, and we are going to keep throwing wide receiver screens on 3rd down.” Nope, you’d never hear Gus say that, but it would happen without fail.
So here we sit on Sunday afternoon, with the internet in an uproar on the news, wondering what is next. Auburn’s immediate future is probably a Citrus Bowl bid with interim head coach Kevin Steele in charge. I would imagine that the coaching search will be lots of speculation till a head-scratching finalist is named. That’s sort of the Auburn way. Pat Dye was a surprise choice when everyone was expecting Vince Dooley. Terry Bowden certainly came out of left field. Folks were shocked when Tommy Tuberville left Ole Miss and not in a pine box. Gene Chizik was a shocker, after going 5–19 at Iowa State. Will we get another shocker? Or will Auburn tread down the safe passageway once again and promote Kevin Steele?
The roster of ex-SEC coaches of the last 15 years is pretty amazing. It includes Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt, Phillip Fulmer, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Tommy Tuberville, Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn. All won SEC titles, but none stood the test of time. We live in interesting times.