The Gus Malzahn Saga got weirder and weirder today.
If you were on the Internet over the past 36 hours, chances are you heard the rumors that Gus Malzahn was going to get fired and replaced by a “high level” coach sometime before the end of this week.
Chances are you also saw very opposite stories coming from different writers around the country. Some of them were, in fact, Auburn beat writers, while others were, in fact, reporters of a different nature.
They all had sources. They all had a highly-placed bug in the athletic department, or board of trustees, or powerful booster. Maybe they just happened to be at adjacent urinals with someone on a conference call (a major faux pas in civilized society, but that’s neither here nor there) and overheard something.
However you want to slice it, just a couple weeks after Auburn athletic director Allen Greene publicly said that Gus Malzahn was going to be the head coach in 2019, we were hearing these rumors.
First, there was a plan in place for the buyout to happen, but on a smaller scale because Gus’ agency was going to be working in concert with Auburn to have a job ready for him after the dismissal on the Plains. Then, he was just going to get fired and we didn’t care because we had a “high level” coach like BOB STOOPS coming to town to take over the program.
Forget the fact that Bob Stoops retired and seemed perfectly at peace with his decision before the 2017 season. Forget that his dad literally had a heart attack on a football field and died en route to the hospital. No, he wanted to come back and take on the stress of the SEC West against Nick Saban.
Then there were leaks that somehow Auburn was going to get out of paying Gus Malzahn’s buyout because of some loophole with Tigers Unlimited. Something hadn’t been signed, someone hadn’t been officially consulted, etc., and that meant that the buyout wasn’t real. Null and void. Sorry, Gus, no cash.
Of course that was from one of the same sources above that peddled the whole thing in the first pace.
One thing that may be true are the allegations that there was no solid ground in the first place, no plan for an ace head coach to take over at Auburn for Gus, and only a plan of subterfuge and backroom propaganda. Maybe boosters and people in the athletic department did leak some info that discussions were going on to essentially take a straw poll without having to call people up at dinnertime. In this day and age you can do that and take the temperature of the electorate without much trouble.
And now it seems as if Gus has bet on himself, so to speak. There are more rumors that he’s agreed to a lower buyout in exchange for certain stipulations that include relinquishing control over some assistant coach decisions. One of the big talking points is finding an offensive coordinator for next year, or a new offensive line coach, or something to make the talent we have on that side of the ball work better than it did this year. However, the fans don’t even know if Chip Lindsey was calling plays, or if Gus had control, or if it was some sort of hodge podge of playcalls. Maybe losing Chip would be a bad thing, maybe not. Maybe Gus should go back to calling the plays himself like he did when our offenses were at their most potent state. Whatever the decision there, we’ll likely never know about it until the results on the field speak for themselves.
I didn’t want to approach this whole topic while rumor and speculation were more rampant than any shred of truth, so let’s deal with the facts.
If Gus leaves, it’s because Auburn fired him. No coach has left Auburn for another job since before the modern era of football actually began. That means that the athletic department is paying out $32 million if they can’t get some lower number agreed upon. It’s a bad look for everyone, and you’ll start to see the people talking about what that kind of money can buy in a university setting.
It also does not incentivize a coach to come to Auburn unless they’re just in it for the money, which wouldn’t be the type of coach that we’d fire Gus for. Without the security of a large buyout in this current division, there’s nothing to make a coach want to come here. You get the toughest conference slate every year, bar none, and a little struggle means you’re going to be gone before you can even get a chance to right the ship?
Most importantly, who in the world would Auburn hire if Gus Malzahn left? Everyone is trying to find the next Saban. It’s true, but it’s not going to happen for anyone else. Once Saban retires, it’ll be a long time before a run like this occurs (if ever). Maybe Dabo can come close to accomplishing it, but he’s still a step below.
Right now, Gus is the coach that’s shown the most ability to frustrate the Alabama machine, and he’s the only guy with multiple wins over Nick Saban as well aside from Urban Meyer. Unless you did somehow persuade Dabo, or Lincoln Riley, or Urban, or Kirby Smart to come to Auburn, it’s a total gamble and a likely downgrade. You can’t pay $32 million to bet on the future of Auburn football. Gus has shown that he can win, and he’s shown that he can regroup. There’s a reason that he got this contract. Those wins over Georgia and Alabama last year weren’t flukes. If not for a rough tackle on Kerryon Johnson late in that Iron Bowl, Auburn probably gets its first Playoff bid in 2017. This comes after Gus faced immense pressure in 2015 an 2016. He turned it around and made it work. That we were disappointed in not going to the Playoff and winning a championship shows how far as a program we’ve come. Would we ever have moaned and groaned this much over this kind of success ten years ago?
Yes, I’m frustrated with the way this season played out. You should be too. That’s yet another big offseason that turned into a dud of an actual season. It’s the third time that Auburn will have started in the top ten under Gus and finished unranked. That’s a trend, and it’s not good. Still, sprinkled in there we’ve got 2013 and 2017. Man, I would love more, but this may be the best we’ve got right now.
In the end, the Auburn athletics department hasn’t had the greatest success in these situations from a public relations point of view. Remember the Bowden firing and subsequent buying out of the season opener against Florida State? How about Jetgate? “We want a leader, not a loser!”? Now this?
I like Gus. I know he’s capable of doing the job, and maybe a Gus that fully feels the hottest of seats and who’s bet on himself is the kind of Gus that can reach and sustain the success that we want to see. I’m sure more will happen, but for now Gus Malzahn is the head coach at Auburn. If you don’t want to support him, then support the team itself. It’s a win-win. Either Auburn does well, and you feel good, or they don’t, and Gus gets fired, and you feel good.
We’ll see what else happens.