Will Auburn fans ever fully embrace Gus Malzahn?
Gus Malzahn is going into his 8th season as Auburn’s head coach. Only 4 men have won more games on The Plains than he has.
Yes, there have been ups and downs along the way, to a point where many Auburn fans still aren’t sure what to make of him. Is he the right man for the job? Can he get the program to a point of sustainable success?
It would be unfair to hold any coach to the same standard as Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney, but Auburn has a great program with a good foundation. In other words, there’s room for sustainable success.
But before some of you hop off the Gus Bus for good, let’s give Malzahn credit where it is due.
As mentioned, he ranks 5th all-time in career wins with 62. He has never finished under .500. He’s only flirted with it once, in 2015, when Auburn needed a bowl win to finish 7-6. Aside from that, his Auburn teams have won at least 8 games every year.
In comparison, Auburn’s previous 2 head coaches had seasons under .500. During his 10-year tenure from 1999-2008, Tommy Tuberville had plenty of success. But he started and ended his tenure with losing seasons.
Gene Chizik won a national title in 2010 — Auburn’s first since 1957 (Malzahn was his offensive coordinator, by the way). But he was fired after a 3-9 season in 2012.
The next year, Malzahn took that team to the national championship game. The problem? He didn’t have one of the greatest college football players of all time like Cam Newton to help solidify a victory late.
The Tigers were one defensive stop from winning the national title. Instead, FSU’s Jameis Winston drove the Seminoles 80 yards, throwing the title-winning TD pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left. So Jimbo Fisher has a national title on his résumé and Gus Malzahn does not.
Malzahn came thatclose to joining a list of 6 active coaches who have won it all:
- Nick Saban, Alabama
- Dabo Swinney, Clemson
- Mack Brown, Texas (now at North Carolina)
- Les Miles, LSU (now at Kansas)
- Jimbo Fisher, FSU (now at Texas A&M)
- Ed Orgeron, LSU
One drive. One play. One stop. That’s all it would have taken for Malzahn to be viewed completely differently by the masses.
Instead, he’s an annual option for which college coach has the hottest seat in America.
Is it fair?
Sure, he has been frustrating to watch at times. Teams that were supposed to be competitive weren’t — at least not from a national championship perspective. Three times, he had a team open in the preseason top 10 but finish the season outside of the top 20.
But he’s also done something few on Earth have. He’s largely held his own against Saban.
Malzahn is 2-1 against Saban and Alabama in the past 3 meetings. That’s the same record against the Crimson Tide as Dabo Swinney and Clemson — at least in the past 3 meetings.
Malzahn is 3-4 overall against Saban. Les Miles is the only other active coach in America who has 3 wins over Saban’s Alabama teams.
This isn’t to say that Malzahn is elite. But overall, he has been better than perceived, and he has achieved things that not many others have.
Of course, the lack of finishing on the recruiting trail has been frustrating at times. And losing at least 4 games every season like Auburn has over the past 6 seasons has aggravated and frustrated the fan base. His greatest teams are never quite good enough. But given the body of work with regard to the level of competition, it might be time for fans to start appreciating what they have in Gus Malzahn.
At least until the Tigers suffer another strange loss.