Auburn had 21.4 million reasons not to fire Gus Malzahn, with four years left over the seven-year, $ 49 million contract extension. Unfortunately, Malzahn gave the program a “solid” reason to unplug and start over.
Malzahn was fired on Sunday, athletic principal Allen Greene and school president Jay Gogue announced. After eight seasons, Malzahn will be fired at the end of an unusual and frustrating season when the Tigers finished 6-4 after Saturday’s final against Mississippi State. That record included three blowout losses from ranked teams – Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M – as well as an unexplained loss to South Carolina that drove head coach Will Muschamp before the end of the season.
Malzahn’s seven-year contract, which he accepted and signed in December 2017 after directing Auburn to the SEC’s Western address, included 75 percent of the total value of the deal. Its buyout this month is $ 21,450,000, 50% of which will be paid within 30 days of its termination, with the remainder paid in four equal annual installments.
“After evaluating the status of the Auburn football program, we decided it was time to change the leadership,” Greene said. “We appreciate everything Gus has done for the program over the past eight seasons. We would immediately start looking for a coach who can help you consistently compete in the Auburn program at the highest level. “
Following Malzahn’s departure, defense coordinator Kevin Steele will be Auburn’s interim head coach as the university begins its nationwide search for Malzahn’s successor.
Auburn started this particular season – playing against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic – at the top of the top-10 rankings, but the Tigers fell out of the rankings within a month of their first match. After a 27-6 defeat in Georgia, Auburn barely beat Arkansas at home the following week – receiving a controversial replay review in the game’s waning moments – before he was defeated in South Carolina a week later. This loss against the two winning Gamecocks team became one of the most shocking in Malzahn’s tenure.
Auburn then scored three straight wins and seemed to find his move before running into the Alabama buzzsaw. The Tigers were knocked out of Bryant-Denny Stadium by Tide 42-13 after Thanksgiving. It was the program’s fifth straight defeat in Tuscaloosa, and it meant the second worst loss of Malzahn’s career, just behind Auburn’s 2018 loss to Alabama in 2018.
The defeat at Tuscaloosa also cut Auburn’s record against Malzahn’s three biggest rivals – Alabama, Georgia and LSU – to 8-17, including 0-12 away. A week later, Texas A&M’s 31:20 defeat secured the seventh season of the program with at least four defeats. Auburn led Texas A&M into the fourth quarter, but the attack swayed late and the defense suffered a complete letdown against the Aggies.
After the game, Malzahn was asked to recalibrate the team’s goals after another loss, which he said the goal was to now close 4-4 years – the best the Tigers could have done at this point – adding that “if it were normal no conference schedule, it would be a good year. That statement didn’t work well for Auburn fans who were already disappointed with the product on the field, and Malzahn issued a clarification a day later.
“I just wanted to make sure this was very clear: our expectation is to win a championship here in Auburn,” Malzahn said. – This has been the case since I’ve been here. We are not happy with the six winning seasons. “
Auburn’s decision-makers weren’t either, as a nasty 24-10 win against the state of Mississippi wasn’t enough to save Malzahn’s job.
Malzahn finishes his auburn term with an overall score of 67-33, the National Coach of the Year award, two SEC West titles, an SEC tournament, a national runner-up and two New Year’s six seats. He only had a 2-5 record in the bowl games so far, winning against Memphis in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl and Purdue in the 2018 Music City Bowl. Malzahn inherits Auburn in fifth place among head coaches, behind Ralph “Shug” Jordan (176), Pat Dye (99), Mike Donahue (99) and Tommy Tuberville (85).
With a win against Nick Saban, he was only one of two active SEC head coaches, leaving Auburn with 3-5 scales against the state rival. Despite all of Malzahn’s accomplishments during his eight seasons, his teams were never able to return to the peak that the Tigers achieved in their first season at the helm.
After becoming 3-9 in 2012, Malzahn organized one of the biggest single-season rounds in NCAA history, leading Auburn to a record 13-2 overall, which included Jordan-Hare’s prayer and a Kick Six victory. Auburn followed this with an SEC championship win against Missouri and a jump in the BCS National Championship, where the team fell 13 seconds back from taking home the program’s first national championship since 2010 and was only sixth in school history.
In the seven seasons since the peak, Auburn has only won another division title while battling four, four defeated regular season records. Eventually, the return on investment wasn’t “solid” enough for Auburn, and now Malzahn is out when the program begins his search for the 28th head coach.
“Coach Malzahn led the Auburn football program with honor and integrity,” Gogue said. “We appreciate the service of Auburn Athletics, Auburn University and especially our athletic students. We wish him and Kristi all the best. “
Tom Green is an Auburn beat journalist at Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.