The Sad Truth About Gus Malzahn and Auburn Football
By: Lary Burton
Auburn football has always toiled in the shadow of the University of Alabama’s shadow, even during their stellar years. Fans, sportswriters and even the Auburn team themselves have become accustomed to good season that are followed up by mediocre ones. Auburn’s highest highs have always been followed up by laughable lows.
Most recently they had a great season this past year, beating both the nation’s eventual contenders for the national championship, Georgia and Alabama in the regular season only to lose in the SEC Championship Game and then in the post season as well. Still, it was a great season that was once again followed by a season they were lucky to have not landed in the Birmingham Bowl or some other irrelevant bowl.
They followed up their second national championship a few years back with Cam Newton by being so pathetic they fired the coach that won them that championship. That is the history of Auburn football and one they seemed destined to repeat.
Few schools have had more money going to coaches they’ve fired than Auburn. They refuse to spend the money to actually go out and get a big name coach, but always end up paying someone they end up firing like he was one.
Since legendary coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan, Auburn has had to fire or let go of every coach for over the last 50 years. It’s been one bad decision followed by another. The only coach that didn’t leave the school in an awful shape or on NCAA investigations was Tommy Tubberville. He had the best record of beating Alabama of any of the recent coaches for the last 50 years, yet they ran him off and paid him millions not to be the coach at Auburn anymore.
Gus Malzahn was hired because he was thought to be the genius behind Auburn’s only national championship since 1957. The sad truth was that it wasn’t Malzahn at all, but simply Cam Newton carrying the team who was also loaded with good players at the right time. Malzahn’s “magic” only works when he has a top talent dual threat quarterback. Without that, he really doesn’t have many answers as to why the offense won’t work. He’s a one trick pony that can another trick or adapt as Saban and other coaches have.
Since Jordan, Doug Barfield won just over 50% of his games. Pat Dye did better in his 11 years, but was paying players left and right and left under an NCAA cloud. Terry Bowden was brought in and did the best job of anyone in his five years, but sadly they ran him off because he threatened to come forward about paying players if they didn’t stop. Even though he was Auburn’s best coach in the last 50 years, his winning percentage was still only just over 70% of all their games. Bowden’s claims of Auburn cheating are well documented and he was all but blackballed from any high profile coaching jobs since.
Bill Oliver finished Bowden’s last season with a losing record and then they got Tommy Tubberville who as we said earlier, did the best against Alabama had about the same winning margin as Pat Dye, but was run off by insiders who simply didn’t like him and wanted him gone.
Tubberville was replaced by Gene Chizik, who gave them a national title, got a big raise and contract extension only to be fired two seasons later. His termination cost Auburn over 11 million dollars in payouts. This from a man who came to Auburn with a losing record as a coach. It simply shows the pattern that Auburn seems to constantly follow.
Because now, there are folks wanting to pony up over 32 million dollars to get rid of Malzahn. Like other coaches, Malzahn has had a good year that got him a contract extension and raise only to falter quickly the next. He went from only losing one SEC contest last season going 7-1 in the SEC, to a miserable 3-5 mark this season once the Alabama game is over.
Auburn spends the money to have paid for some quality high caliber coaches, but signs middle of the road coaches they think will be great, not great ones with a great proven record.
Name a coach that left Auburn and went on to success somewhere else. There just isn’t one. The same could be said at many schools. Prior to Saban, no one left Alabama and went on to greater things. But unlike Auburn coaches, Bryant left of his own accord, so did Ray Perkins, Bill Curry, Gene Stallings and Dennis Franchione. Stallings retired from coaching after leaving and of course Saban will leave on his time frame. Every Auburn coach since Jordan has been fired and I can’t think of one that didn’t get payouts after being fired.
Until the Auburn administration decides to finally change their ways, history will continue to repeat itself on the plains. This weekend, Alabama marches on the college football playoffs with a win over Auburn and Auburn fans scratch their heads and wonder how a season that started out so promising went to pitiful so fast.
It’s hard to be Alabama’s “Little Brother”, but it seems harder to try and escape that shadow. Even Auburn’s biggest supporter Pat Dye said last season, “Everybody in Alabama tends to gauge a program by what’s going on in Tuscaloosa,” Dye said on the Paul Finebaum Show. “I was there. I don’t look at our situation at Auburn comparing it to Alabama because you can’t compare the two.
“We could play football for another 500 years and we couldn’t catch up with the tradition Alabama has got, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a good football program and a strong football program. It doesn’t mean we can’t have football teams that recruit good enough to beat Alabama on occasion.”
For Tiger fans, that could be the saddest truth about Auburn Football.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter