Gus Malzahn is headed to UCF and it’s taken a nanosecond for some to call out Tennessee for missing out on the former Auburn coach.
It’s easy to look at Malzahn’s overall record at Auburn and the accomplishments of his Tiger program over the years and say Tennessee hired a less accomplished coach in Josh Heupel, which is factually accurate, but it’s not like programs that hire coaches earn those previous accolades by association.
If you take a step closer and review Malzahn’s final seasons at Auburn, it’s hard to sell Malzahn as an up-and-comer that could have rebuilt the Volunteer program. Hell, Malzahn probably would not have lasted as long as he did on The Plains if not for the outstanding job Kevin Steele and the defensive staff did recruiting and coaching the side of the ball Malzahn couldn’t derail.
For all the credit Malzahn gets for being an offensive guru, his Auburn program failed to develop a quarterback going back to Nick Marshall, who last played for Auburn in 2014.
Here’s a look at Auburn’s offensive efficiency numbers ranked nationally in recent seasons (according to The Fremeau Efficiency Index): 48th in 2020, 46th in 2019 and 35th in 2018.
By comparison, here are the numbers for Heupel’s UCF offense during that same time: 13th in 2020, 9th in 2019 and 4th in 2018.
Malzahn’s annual meddling in Auburn’s offense and play-calling duties, which including having the lone authority to offer scholarships to offensive players, also resulted in offensive lines that routinely had to rely on graduate transfers from the likes of Arkon, Harvard, Jacksonville State and UMass just for depth.
Auburn also lost offensive coordinators to UConn and Troy in recent seasons. How often do you see a Power 5 coordinator leave for a coordinator position at UConn or Troy?
On top of all of this, Auburn recently agreed to pay Malzahn $21.45 million to not coach the team.
None of this means Heupel will prove to be a successful hire at Tennessee, the Vols are going to be handicapped with likely NCAA sanctions coming in the near future, but if Malzahn didn’t work out at Auburn (an SEC program on firmer ground than the one in Knoxville), it’s confusing why so many are quick to believe he would have worked out at Tennessee.
The Vols needed to swing for an up-and-coming coach, not one that’s failed to keep another SEC fan base happy in recent seasons.