Why I don't blame Joey Gatewood one bit for the way he handled his situation
There are a lot of people who are going to call Joey Gatewood a “quitter” for entering the transfer portal entering the final month of the 2019 regular season.
I’m not one of them.
If you’d rather read about how Gatewood is a selfish millennial, go search his name on Twitter instead of reading this column. I won’t be offended.
And if you do continue to read this, well, prepare to be offended.
Dare I say, I don’t blame Gatewood for his decision to enter the transfer portal. I realize that stance is different coming from a media member than a fan or a teammate, who are probably frustrated with the new reality. That is, Bo Nix is the one and only starting quarterback on the roster with any sort of experience. That’s with matchups against Georgia and Alabama still on the schedule.
Daunting, indeed. It’s especially daunting considering that in his second game against a top 10 team on the road, Nix struggled. Mightily. And while Nix couldn’t get Auburn out of its double-digit hole in the second half, Gatewood was relegated to the sidelines.
Gatewood did get that one carry — which went for 2 yards — to give him a stat line in 7 games this year. With his redshirt already out of the way last year, the 4-game threshold was never going to be a factor in his decision.
A couple of months ago, Gatewood had to make a decision. Whether he admitted it or not, Auburn announcing Nix as “QB1” a couple weeks ahead of the opener meant Gatewood had a decision to make. Transfer then and try not to waste a year of eligibility — nobody really knows what the NCAA deems waiver-worthy for immediate eligibility — or stick around and hope that his time comes. He stayed, which was admirable in itself considering Nix was younger and even more hyped.
Gus Malzahn repeatedly said throughout the year that there would be packages for Gatewood. He didn’t lie about that. Whether they were packages that Gatewood would like might have been a different discussion. His usage came mainly in the red zone and with the exception of the 7 total passes he threw, Gatewood was essentially a Wildcat quarterback.
See “2018 Justin Fields.”
Whether Malzahn used Gatewood so that he’d stay at Auburn or because he actually believed he’d help with the offense is a different discussion. Maybe it was a little of both. What we do know was that Malzahn was committed to Nix. It didn’t matter that there was growing fan frustration following his 15-for-35 performance against LSU.
On Sunday, Malzahn was asked about sticking with Nix. Here’s how that interaction went down:
Reporter: Are you committed to Bo (Nix) being the starter from here on out?
Malzahn: “We’re going to do whatever is best for our team, but right now, a lot of the things — Bo has been put in some pretty tough situations. There were some things he wanted back, but there (were) also some things he did well. So, he’ll continue to improve, and that’s how we’re looking at it.”
If I’m Gatewood and I show up for practice Monday and it’s business as usual, that’s a pretty telling sign that no changes are going to be made. Combined with those comments Sunday, that’s a pretty clear indication that Nix isn’t losing his job unless he gets hurt.
Maybe it was this interaction when he was held back by Malzahn as he was set to enter the game in one of his traditional red zone packages:
I think this was the final straw for Joey gatewood tbh. Smh..
— . (@ysltres) October 30, 2019
And for those saying Gatewood should have tried to stay and just work extremely hard in practice to win the job, I hear you. I don’t agree with you, though. There was nothing Gatewood could have done in a late-October practice for Malzahn to stop and say “you know what? I’m gonna bail on my 5-star freshman who I’ve bet all my chips on because Gatewood has been looking much better in practice lately.”
What about outperforming him in the games, you ask? The guy averaged 4.5 touches from scrimmage per game. It’s not exactly easy to change your coach’s mind with that limited of a workload.
To be clear, I’m not necessarily blaming Malzahn for how he handled this. I praised the way Malzahn was decisive in fall camp about naming Nix the starter, and I applauded his post-spring decision to announce Nix and Gatewood as the finalists in the quarterback battle, despite the fact that it resulted in the transfer of Malik Willis. I actually argued that I didn’t want to see packages for Gatewood in the opener because I didn’t want Nix to worry about looking over his shoulder.
This, however, is the risk with what Malzahn did. He’s now entering an extremely critical month for the future of his job, and he’ll do so with a true freshman quarterback who still looks inexperienced as a passer. Malzahn did and will continue to do what he believes is best for his team and his future. The same can be true of Gatewood.
There will absolutely be a market for someone with his skills, even though he does still need to develop more as a thrower. Gatewood or anyone paying attention to college football in 2019 can see that transfer quarterbacks are all the rage. Three of the top 4 Heisman Trophy candidates (in terms of current odds) are transfer quarterbacks, including the one who beat Auburn over the weekend. The past 2 Heisman winners were transfer quarterbacks.
Gatewood has a long way to go to develop into that type of player, but trying to follow that path would be a lot more appealing than sticking it out at Auburn and praying that a sudden change of heart or an injury opens the door.
(I’m not saying Gatewood would actively root for Nix to get hurt. The second-year quarterback was extremely complimentary of Nix as a leader. But the reality of Gatewood’s situation was that a healthy Nix was going to continue to block his path to becoming a starting quarterback.)
Whether you agree with Gatewood or not, he left because he wanted to become a starting quarterback. You know, like everybody in his position would. It wasn’t long ago that he was at the Elite 11 and Auburn fans were comparing him to Cam Newton.
Newton himself didn’t find playing time until he transferred. Maybe the same will be true of Gatewood. Like Florida fans who wondered what could have been with Newton, perhaps Auburn fans will one day wonder what would have happened had Malzahn given Gatewood a shot. We’ll never know.
One thing I do know? Gatewood doesn’t deserve blame for how he handled all of this.