The Gustav Arthur Malzahn III Interactive Auburn Experience
After a little over a week of wild speculation, multiple “confirmations” and several front-runners, Auburn found its new coach in an old friend – Gus Malzahn. For this Auburn fan, Coaching Search 2012 was a wild, emotional ride. From convincing myself that I could live with Petrino, to struggling with accepting a Saban disciple as Auburn’s next leader, it is at least comforting to know that Auburn fans will have to deal with neither scenario.
Admittedly, I was a little bit underwhelmed when I first heard the news. Gus seemed like a “safe” hire. He didn’t seem to embody the total regime change that I thought Auburn needed to get out of its 3-9 funk. These things might be true, but at the same time there are a lot of things to like about Malzahn now that he’s back on the plains. These items are listed below in bullet form for your enjoyment. Of course, we won’t really be able to judge how good of a hire Malzahn is until a few years down the road. That’s what makes hiring coaches such a tricky business.
- In the end, it came down to a decision of philosophy for the Auburn search committee. Should Auburn try to emulate Alabama and LSU and play ball control, “pro-style” football? Or should it go back to its recent roots (and the scheme that won a national championship) as a true hurry-up no-huddle offense? In essence – to Sabanize or not to Sabanize? Personally, I think Auburn made a wise choice. You’re not going to beat Saban at his own game – not right now. Saban has made it known that he despises the HUNH. That’s got to be a pretty good reason to bring it back if you’re his rival. Further, Gus’ scheme offers a recruiting distinction for Auburn. Let’s face it – going into a recruit’s house and selling him on the fact that you can do a better job than Saban while running a traditional scheme is just not going to work. Gus can offer something different.
- Many folks were calling (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) for Malzahn to be named “Head Coach in Waiting” after the 2010 season. While some Auburn fans opinions of Malzahn soured after the 2011 season, I think it’s clearly evident at this point that Malzahn was severely handcuffed by Chizik during that season. Gus’ offense has to be run his way to be successful. There will be no one to handcuff him now.
- Gus is taking positive steps (and quickly) to hire a veteran defensive coordinator. Reports today have indicated Malzahn has already offered the job to Ellis Johnson, former South Carolina defensive coordinator. While Johnson was a terrible head coach, going 0-12 at Southern Miss this season, his 4-2-5 attacking defense would complement Malzahn’s offensive scheme quite well. A “bend, but don’t break” defense (See Chizik, Gene 2009-2012) just won’t work with Malzahn’s offense. Might as well go for broke and try to create some turnovers, since inevitably the other teams are going to score some points on Auburn.
- Malzahn has “fired” the entire Auburn coaching staff. While some may still return, Gus has avoided one of the critical mistakes that Chizik made – not allowing his coordinators to hire their own assistant coaches. Chizik had his reasoning – he decided recruiting was of paramount importance, and that retaining assistants with top notch recruiting skills was a priority. However, all the 4 and 5 star recruits in the world can’t win if nobody is there to coach them up. The key for Malzahn, as for all coaches, will be striking a balance between recruiters and solid on-the-field coaches.
- Unlike Chizik, Malzahn still has a “trade”, if you will. It was obvious that, while a passable CEO, Chizik had lost his touch as an X and O coach. Thus, he was completely dependent on coordinators for his success. This is a challenge for longevity, as Auburn fans so painfully learned as the offense languished under Scot Loeffler this season.
A couple of other thoughts on coaching hires (and the lack thereof) around the country:
- I find it puzzling that media members are lauding Arkansas’ hire of former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema. While true that Bielema was able to find success at a place where recruiting is traditionally difficult (as is also the case at Arkansas), his style simply does not mesh well with the talent Arkansas has on hand, or the type of players it can realistically get in the future. To borrow a phrase from my earlier thoughts, Arkansas is trying to Sabanize. There are simply not enough dominant linemen to go around for Arkansas to be able to play that style of football successfully in the SEC. I just don’t see Arkansas being able to make that transition effectively in any kind of reasonable time-frame (if-ever).
- I also find it laughable that people suggested Tennessee was a better job than Auburn. Now that Tennessee has been turned down by no less than 3 of its prime targets, it’s easy to see that perhaps things aren’t as rosy in Knoxville as everyone thought. To be sure, the annual SEC slate at Tennessee would be much easier than at Auburn. That said, there must be other issues in play if so many coaches have decided that the big orange isn’t worth their time.
Until next time…