clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Gus Malzahn really might be coaching for his job, big buyout and all

Auburn looks likely to finish a top-10 season right around .500. Again.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

On Nov. 25, 2012, Auburn fired a head coach who’d recently contributed to a national championship. The school replaced Gene Chizik with Gus Malzahn, the OC of 2010’s BCS champ. Malzahn soon led a run within seconds of 2013’s national title as well.

In 2003, with Tommy Tuberville coming off a top-15 season (and a year before 13-0), the school met with Bobby Petrino about Tuberville’s job.

In 1998, a year after Terry Bowden had gone 10-3 and just a few after he’d gone 11-0, he was pushed to resign amid a losing streak.

At Auburn, tomorrow is never promised, no matter what you’ve done in the past and how much money it would take to get rid of you.

You’d think that $32 million buyout would insulate Malzahn for at least a year or two.

Well, you’d think a college football coach wouldn’t get to have a $32 million buyout to begin with, but here we are.

One lesson about this sport is that we shouldn’t ever underestimate how much money rich sports fans are willing to spend in order to make their teams slightly less likely to lose games. Auburn boosters can afford to help eat Malzahn’s contract, though that still won’t mean anyone will be delighted by its size.

University president Steven Leath is under fire as well, I’m told by a person who’d know, as Leath helped negotiate with Malzahn’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, for that fat contract. The Auburn AD at the time, Jay Jacobs, was heading into retirement.

Malzahn teams are supposed to be good at offense, if nothing else.

All this Auburn team has to offer is Kevin Steele’s excellent defense, furthering a trend.

Malzahn’s offense, his entire calling card, hasn’t ranked better than 31st in S&P+ since 2014. But that’s nothing, compared to its humiliating current spot: 92nd in the country through half of 2018. This play demonstrates how Auburn is making it easy for opposing defenses, as does this stat:

The Tigers can’t really throw or protect the passer, but far worse is their inability to run. They rank No. 104 in S&P+’s basic rushing efficiency stat.

Malzahn is supposed to be one of the best in the sport at coaching the ground game. The school of Bo Jackson is one of the best at it, regardless of who the coach is. A failing run game was one of the main reasons Auburn fired Bowden. Auburn isn’t just losing games — it’s also losing its identity.

If Auburn loses to Ole Miss on Saturday, Malzahn might lose his job during the following bye week, I’m told.

That’d be the extreme outcome.

Either way, some of Auburn’s best reporters have said a firing at some point this season is highly possible.

There’s also talk that Auburn could seek to whittle down that full buyout amount. Other schools have managed to do that amid breakups before.

And the road does not get any easier after Ole Miss.

Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama await, the latter two as nearly certain losses on the road. It looks like 7-5 is the best-case scenario.

This will likely be the second time in four years that Auburn finishes as the AP Poll’s most overrated preseason team. That 7-6 2015 season included the only bowl Malzahn’s won in his five-plus years as Auburn’s head coach: the Birmingham Bowl, one of the two least prestigious on the SEC’s list.

You can probably sum it all up with this: Tennessee’s future looks brighter right now. At least the Vols appear to know how they want to win games.