What does Auburn's offensive coordinator hire of Kenny Dillingham say? A lot
Gus Malzahn got his guy.
With all due respect to new Auburn offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kenny Dillingham, I say that tongue in cheek.
A week after Chip Lindsey left Malzahn to go join forces with Les Miles at Kansas, Auburn announced on Sunday night at 10 p.m. ET that it hired a 28-year-old assistant from Memphis to take the position. As recently as 2016, Dillingham was a grad assistant at Memphis.
I don’t want to poke holes at Dillingham’s résumé or insist that he isn’t one of the “rising stars in the profession” as Malzahn laid out in the official release, but I think it’s at least worth mentioning that this is a real paragraph in his bio on Memphis’ website:
Before joining the collegiate football ranks, Dillingham served as a coach in the Athletes in Training program from 2008-10. He also worked for the City of Scottsdale (Ariz.) as a football camp manager from 2009-13. Over that same period of time, Dillingham served in several capacities – from freshman coach to offensive coordinator – with the Chaparral High School.
In other words, when Malzahn was leading Auburn to a national title berth in 2013, Dillingham was working his way up as a football camp manager for the City of Scottsdale.
In other shocking news, Dillingham won’t be calling plays for Auburn. Malzahn will go back to filling that role, which he did in his first 3 seasons.
Call me crazy, but this says a ton about the current state of the program.
Again, I really don’t want this to come off as my way of saying Dillingham can’t succeed at Auburn. Of course he can. Young offensive minds are all the rage in football these days. We just watched 35-year-old Lincoln Riley lead his second Heisman Trophy quarterback in as many seasons. Maybe Dillingham was indeed the secret sauce behind Mike Norvell’s high-powered offenses at Memphis.
But to me, this hire is all about Malzahn trying to get control back. By bringing in someone nearly half his age, Malzahn has a coordinator who’s young enough to be his son. I’m not saying that he’ll get treated like that, but the fact that it came out that Malzahn will be handling play-calling duties now doesn’t exactly go against the belief that he hired a “yes man.”
That’s what you’d expect someone entering a make-or-break year to do. Malzahn is. He knows it. Everyone at Auburn knows it. That’s why he’s putting all of his chips on himself to try and find the magic that he had early in his Auburn tenure.
In a different way, that’s why it made sense that Malzahn reportedly wanted to hire Hugh Freeze, AKA the other guy who beat Nick Saban twice. Considering how Freeze left Ole Miss and how desperate he is to rebuild his tarnished reputation, Freeze would’ve done anything that Malzahn asked of him. Malzahn could have taken on play-calling duties while Freeze was probably just giddy to get back into the SEC in an on-field role.
But that, in fitting Auburn fashion, didn’t get the nod of approval from the folks upstairs:
Freeze is reportedly seeking a multi-year deal from future employers. Sources said Malzahn has asked AU to wave the recent restriction on multi-year contracts in order to hire Freeze. AU response: Nah. /2
— Josh Moon (@Josh_Moon) December 5, 2018
It’s worth noting that according to Auburn Undercover, Dillingham agreed to a 2-year deal to become the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator.
So Auburn reportedly waved its multi-year contract restriction to hire Dillingham. Why? It was either desperate to fill the position with the Early Signing Period just a week and a half away, or it realized that Dillingham’s contract is probably half of what it would have paid Freeze.
Again, that’s just speculation. It’s also technically speculation to say that Dillingham wasn’t Auburn’s first choice.
And believe it or not, Auburn’s release had Dillingham’s experience as a football camp manager for the City of Scottsdale tweaked to “from 2007-12 Dillingham served in several coaching capacities with the Chaparral High School football program in Scottsdale, Ariz.”
Dillingham is a hustler. No doubt. That’s why the guy was coaching junior varsity football … while he was a high school senior. He’s basically been grinding as a coach since before he could legally vote. The fact that he’s risen to such heights so quickly is a testament to just how hard he’s worked.
But let’s be clear. Auburn doesn’t make a move like this if everything is business as usual. Malzahn will enter 2019 with a seat hotter than anyone in America, and nobody is going to blame the 28-year-old offensive coordinator if the Tigers’ offense repeats its 2018 offensive dud.
Malzahn wanted to get back to what he had with Rhett Lashlee, who was only 29 when he was hired as Auburn’s offensive coordinator in 2013. He was just over a decade removed from being Malzahn’s quarterback at Shiloh Christian High School (Ark.). And despite how things ended, that plan benefitted Auburn greatly in the short-term. There’s no doubt that Malzahn is trying to recreate that dynamic with the 28-year-old Dillingham.
It wasn’t a coincidence that in the release that Auburn sent out at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday night, it made no mention of Dillingham’s age, or that he’s one of the youngest FBS coordinators in the country. That’s fine. They didn’t have to. The internet took care of that.
There’s another sentence that wasn’t in the team’s release that certainly could’ve been.
“Auburn is desperate, and everything that’s happened on The Plains the last few months suggests that 2019 will be filled with angst.”