Paul Finebaum has questioned the direction of Auburn’s program much of the season as the Tigers have struggled to keep pace in the SEC West and challenge Alabama.
After Auburn appeared to put up a fight in the first half, Finebaum said he was surprised about Auburn’s conservative game management after halftime in the 52-21 loss in the Iron Bowl.
“When it comes to game management, really nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to Gus Malzahn,” Finebaum, the ESPN and SEC Network analyst said on his weekly visit with Birmingham-based WJOX 94.5 FM program, “The Roundtable”. “That was once his forte and it seems like it’s gone with the wind, or at least it’s courtesy of that new $49 million contract. I mean you have to play to win. You don’t have many opportunities against a team like Alabama. They were arguably in as good a position as anyone all year — and don’t give me The Citadel game, it’s easy and it’s lazy and it’s inaccurate — that was never going to be a game in the second half, but this could have been. I think he threw it all away, much like he’s close to throwing away most of his credibility at Auburn.”
Finebaum mentioned the Washington and LSU games for Auburn, which could have easily gone in either direction.
“Going 7-5 is woefully disappointing for Auburn, considering they started in the top 10,” Finebaum said. “I certainly understand the circumstances there are not conducive to a change, because of the monetary reasons, but I pose this question to you guys, ‘If the buyout was not an issue — if there were no buyout right now and you could dismiss Gus Malzahn for a reasonable amount of money, would Auburn do it?”
The WJOX co-hosts agreed, and said that Malzahn would be gone if the buyout was anything under $10 million.
“In essence, he looks like a lame duck coach,” Finebaum said. “That’s going to hurt, and that’s going to affect the program. I was in Alabama twice this week, and I’m struggling to find any Auburn fans who really want him as the coach any longer. That’s a real problem.”
The deeper issue is staff changes, such as a coordinator, won’t make much of a difference, according to Finebaum. Finebaum mentioned that Hugh Freeze could be a possibility at offensive coordinator, but he wondered if that would be enough.
“At the end of six years, I don’t really consider staff changes to be significant. Everyone makes mistakes in the first year. … Maybe you stick with someone too long, but that’s not really the case with Malzahn. I think it stops with him. Let’s say they end up with Kelly Bryant, will that be enough to stem the tide? Two years ago, it was all about Jarrett Stidham. He had some success and he had some failures. …
“Changing coordinators is not the answer. Sweeping the deck chairs off the Titanic doesn’t solve the problem. You’re still going to hit the iceberg, and I think Auburn is heading for an iceberg.”