The last week served as perfect reminder for something that’s often forgotten this time of year.
Stability ain’t such a bad thing.
Programs across the country are searching for their next stable leader. They’d love to have a guy who was willing to stay at a program for 10 years, rack up a handful of conference titles, compete for national titles and, oh yeah, beat the rival a few times. Those guys have high floors. And if you don’t think winning 7-8 games is a high floor, take a look at Tennessee.
Gus Malzahn has done all of those things during his 5 seasons at Auburn. Has he become the second coming of Nick Saban in Alabama? Not exactly, but the guy is 9 days removed from flexing all over the best coach in America.
So when reports surfaced that Malzahn was flirting with the idea of returning to his Arkansas roots, I winced for Auburn.
Well, there are very few people on the planet who can compete for SEC titles, national titles and even beat Saban multiple times. Malzahn is one of those few people. The thinking that Auburn would let him walk after losing in the SEC Championship on Saturday didn’t sit right.
Sure, Malzahn was reportedly seeking a deal from Arkansas worth close to $50 million over 7 years. Of course he was. That was stability to him. Somewhat surprisingly, Auburn reportedly gave Malzahn the hefty extension he was seeking. In turn, he gave Auburn the stability it should’ve been seeking.
Take away your opinions of Saturday night’s result, one which was clearly impacted by the health of Kerryon Johnson. Let’s throw out a little scenario. Say Auburn didn’t match or even approach the money that Arkansas offered Malzahn. He then leaves and the Tigers have a new coach to hire.
They would conduct a search on the open market — an extremely late one — in hopes of finding a guy they believed could do the following things:
- Compete for SEC Championships
- Compete for national championships
- Compete with Saban
Auburn, obviously, wouldn’t have definitive answers as to whether its next coach could accomplish all three bullet points. They could claim they have someone capable of those things, but they wouldn’t really know. It’s Auburn, so the new coach is getting at least $5 million per year, if not more.
Wait, so Auburn was going to risk starting over just to save a couple million dollars per year on a coach? Of course not. Malzahn had all the leverage in the world, and his party knew that.
After all, it was he who nearly kept Alabama out of the Playoff for the first time. It was Malzahn who was the only SEC coach with any track record of beating Saban. It was Malzahn who pulled off perhaps two of the most impressive regular season victories we’ve seen from anyone in recent memory.
You better believe Auburn shelled out big cash to keep Malzahn around.
His offensive model was a proven success in 2017. The quarterback development, the out-scheming, the big-time performances in big games … it was all there. Regardless of what happens in the Peach Bowl, Malzahn showed that his offense can beat arguably the top two defensive minds in college football right now (Saban and Kirby Smart).
This was an entirely different cast and crew than the 2013 squad, which some might’ve perceived as “better lucky than good.” He won with a whole lot of Gene Chizik talent that year. This year, it was all Malzahn’s guys.
Speaking of Chizik, he embodied what it’s like to coach at that program the past decade. The peaks and valleys are always so extreme. How many places can a coach win a national title and be out of a job 2 years later? Obviously Chizik didn’t help himself with that 3-9 season in his fourth year, but that still says a lot.
It’s true that since Saban got the Tide rolling down the road in Tuscaloosa, the pressure of being the head coach at Auburn certainly saw a spike. Tommy Tuberville’s first bad season with Saban in the state resulted in his departure. Chizik’s first season with less than 8 wins with Saban around resulted in his firing.
It wasn’t long ago that Malzahn entered that LSU game in 2016 with his seat hotter than ever after a 1-2 start. Never mind the fact that he was 28-15 overall with an SEC title and a national championship appearance under his belt. Had the clock not run out on LSU that night, who knows if Malzahn coaches another game at Auburn.
Shoot, who knows if Malzahn even coaches in the 2017 Iron Bowl if his team got blown out by Georgia?
That’s the last scenario any coach wants to experience. It’s one that coaches with Malzahn’s level of success shouldn’t have to experience. With this new deal, Auburn no longer looks like the place that chews coaches up and spits them out at the first sign of weakness (at least during the Saban era at Alabama).
Auburn made a strong statement Sunday. Making that kind of commitment to Malzahn might be criticized by some who don’t understand the financial gains just from being nationally relevant on a consistent basis. There’s nothing wrong with what Auburn did to keep Malzahn, nor was there anything wrong with Malzahn’s reported handling of those negotiations.
Finally, Auburn has some stability. As we learned the last week in the SEC, stability at the head coaching position is king.
And if you beat Saban by double digits, you’ll get paid like a king, too.