What does the future hold for Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers after Saturday’s 23-9 loss at Mississippi State? The love-hate relationship with Malzahn continues on its roller-coaster ride as the Tigers fell to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in SEC games.
That’s just not going to cut it. Not for one of the highest-paid coaches in the country. His seven-year, $49 million contract, which runs through 2024, comes with high expectations. Especially from a coach who in his first year took the Tigers to the national championship game.
The problem with that is that everything is downhill after that for any coach not named Nick Saban. And there’s only one of him. Malzahn is not Saban, no matter how much money is thrown his way. It’s a conundrum not limited to the Auburn program. Every SEC member is looking for the next hot commodity. Six of the 14 SEC programs started this season with new head coaches.
Auburn won’t be searching for a new coach anytime soon. Not unless it wants to fork 0ver an enormous buyout of Malzahn’s contract. Some estimates exceed the $30 million mark for this season, and that number gradually decreases each year. No GoFundMe is going to raise that kind of money.
So strap in War Eagle Nation: Your ride on the Gus Bus is a long way from over, it would appear.
There will be no trading in your Bus ticket for the Lane (Kiffin) Train, or any other mode of transportation, despite Saturday’s latest plunge that left the stomachs of most Auburn fans more than a little queasy.
Gone are any hopes of repeating what the Tigers did last year, which was to rebound from a loss at LSU to win the SEC West and play for an SEC championship. That’s out the window. Last year’s loss in Baton Rouge was Auburn’s lone conference setback. The Tigers are already saddled with two losses in SEC play this year.
There will be no trip to Atlanta the first Saturday in December. Not unless something really crazy happens, like Alabama trips up and loses a game while Auburn wins out, making the Iron Bowl a must-watch event once again.
Stranger things have happened, and Saturday proved how strange the SEC season is unfolding with No. 5 LSU stumbling in the Swamp and No. 13 Kentucky going down at Texas A&M.
That’s the attitude Malzahn and the leaders of the Auburn football program are taking. What other choice do they have, really?
“Our kids played hard and fought their butt off, and I’m proud of them,” Malzahn said after the game. “We’ve got to do a better job, and that starts with me.
“Our back’s against the wall like it was last year at this time. We’ve got to do the same thing we did last year. We have to play better. We have to coach them better. We’ll turn the page. We have to solve some of our issues.”
The most glaring, of course, is fixing a sputtering offense that failed to reach the end zone on Saturday. But quarterback Jarrett Stidham remains confident that the Tigers can turn it around.
“The one thing I do know about this team is that we’re really resilient,” Stidham said. “I think last year was a good testament to that. This year, we’ve got a lot of great guys on this team and a lot of guys that love just to fight. They’re going to scratch and claw their way out. We’re going to find a way to get better.”
The Tigers get their first opportunity to do just that when they return to Jordan-Hare Stadium for an 11 a.m. CT showdown with Tennessee.