On Monday, Gus Malzahn inked a seven-year, $49 million deal with the Auburn Tigers, officially putting any “Malzahn to Arkansas” rumors to bed and keeping the fifth-year head coach in Auburn through 2024.
In statement on Monday, Auburn president Steven Leath expressed his confidence in, and commitment to, Malzahn:
“Strength and stability go hand-in-hand, and we have both in coach Malzahn. We’re excited for the future of Auburn football. This means a lot to the Auburn family.”
This deal was a win for both parties.
For Auburn, it means retaining the only active SEC coach with a win over Nick Saban to his name. He’s also the only coach in Auburn history to defeat two teams ranked number one in the same season.
For Malzahn, it means the opportunity to continue working on a program that he’s built up to the point of toppling two top-ranked teams (who happen to also be the school’s two biggest rivals) in the same month.
In this age of coaching musical chairs as teams try desperately to stay competitive with the juggernaut in Tuscaloosa and the budding juggernaut in Athens, program stability is at a premium.
Auburn made the smartest move available in locking down Malzahn. His success with the Tigers goes deeper than just wins and losses.
Auburn has had a 1,000-yard rusher every year he’s been on campus as a head coach or offensive coordinator. Four of Auburn’s highest producing offenses ever (2010, 2013, 2014, 2017) have all come under Malzahn’s watch.
His 2017 team alone did a lot of special things. Ryan Davis broke the Tigers’ single-season record for receptions. Jarrett Stidham has already tallied the third-highest number of passing yards (2,827) in a single season at Auburn, and still has a game to play. Kerryon Johnson led the SEC in rushing yards per game, total yards per game, and total touchdowns, despite missing two games.
The Auburn defense never gave up more than 28 points in a game, and ranked in the top 25 nationally in almost every statistical category.
To put it simply, Auburn is a really good football team.
And yet, it’s those wins and losses that had so many Auburn fans calling for his head a mere two months ago. However, what often gets overlooked is how competitive the Tigers have been the past five seasons.
In every season since 2013, Auburn has been ranked in the top ten at some point. The Tigers have compiled a 45-21 record over five seasons, including a trip to the national championship game and two SEC title games.
For all the complaints about quarterback inconsistencies and an inability to win big games, Malzahn fields competitive teams. His players play hard for him and keep fighting.
And that was never more evident than in this past season.
After blowing a 20-point lead to LSU and falling to 5-2, the Tigers could’ve thrown in the towel and accepted that their playoff hopes were finished.
Instead, they rallied around Malzahn and each other, and made it within a quarter and a half of beating Georgia a second time and making their first playoff berth.
All of this happened in the face of mounting injuries on both sides of the ball, constant shuffling on the offensive line, and the outside pressure of angry fans gunning for Malzahn’s job.
When the team should’ve folded, they didn’t.
That sort of fortitude is exactly what Malzahn fosters in Auburn’s players — exactly the reason why he should be Auburn’s head coach.
It hasn’t always looked pretty, but the players never gave up on Malzahn, and Malzahn never gave up on Auburn.
Auburn shouldn’t give up on him.