Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard a lot of different (and wild!) things in the past few weeks about the Auburn Tigers and Gus Malzahn. Sad, annoyed and frustrated are only some of the ways I’ve felt about all of it; but admittedly, some of the things I’ve heard / read are just too ridiculous to not be entertaining.
That’s the great thing about living in 2018. We can access all kinds of information from all kinds of sources regardless of its veracity. The veracity part also makes it a terrible thing; a lot of what people “read” or “hear” or “are told” is just not trustworthy. I’m not here to talk through who and what is believable, but I did have an opportunity to talk with a variety of Auburn folks this week to get their take on things. Those opinions are included below, but let’s first get caught up.
Several weeks ago, Auburn Athletics Director Allen Greene gave a firm public endorsement of Gus Malzahn, indicating that Malzahn would be the Tigers’ head coach again in 2019. On Monday of this week there were tweets floating around stating that Auburn “reps” had reached out to gauge interest from Bob Stoops. Then we read that by some miracle Auburn could fire Malzahn without having to pay his $32-million buyout, because of a “loophole” in some paperwork. The newest rumor is that Malzahn was offered an updated contract with a lower buyout, fewer years, other miscellaneous stipulations, and that he’s probably going to agree to it.
So what do Auburn people think about all this?
On Auburn University President, Steven Leath...
“There are a lot of folks that aren’t happy with him. He’s come in and changed a lot. Organizational structure is different, and not in a good way.”
“Leath needs to stay out of it. He’s trying to save his own face with boosters and other people to save his own job. That’s why he’s going back on his OWN contract. Gus shouldn’t back down.”
“There’s a 0% chance Leath survives his contract. He’s made too many enemies in a short amount of time.”
“He’s weak. No integrity. He needs to be fired for real.”
On the alleged culture of meddling in Auburn by representatives and boosters…
“Perception is reality.”
“It’s immensely frustrating. The idea that there are people who ‘love Auburn’ who seem to care more about the power that their money wields for them is beyond selfish. Won’t everyone be happy if Auburn is winning? Well, then let’s get on the same page as our head coach. The only two schools to win the SEC West in the last seven years are Auburn and Alabama; last time I checked, Gus Malzahn was the head coach at Auburn the past two times Auburn has played in the SECCG. Let’s give the man everything he needs to win at Auburn … which, I think, includes cutting out meddling on part of the egos. It’s worked out well in Tuscaloosa, has it not?”
“Just wait until Nick Saban leaves Tuscaloosa and see what power struggles and meddling really look like.”
“We could have hired Kirby Smart, but when he asked for complete control in writing, the interview process was stopped dead in its tracks. Whatever the phrase is about cutting off our own nose to spite our own face, it’s true for Auburn. Makes me mad as hell.”
On the prospect of hiring Bob Stoops…
“Sounded an awful lot like a leak just to get people united in making a coaching change.”
“Who really wants to go against Kirby Smart and Nick Saban every year? You think that guy is Bob Stoops? Give me a break. Auburn fans sound like drunks and two-year-olds right now … unreasonable. I’m deleting the Twitter app on my phone.”
“There are three active head coaches who are worth $7 million annually: Saban, Meyer and Swinney. None of those guys is coming to Auburn. As long as Saban is at Alabama and Smart is at Georgia, whoever coaches at Auburn isn’t going to win those games every year. So if those are the expectations, no one can live up to them. If all Gus can do is go 8-4 every year, then I’m fine with making a change and paying someone $3 or $4 million to do that. But I think Gus can do (and has proven he can do) better than that. Bob Stoops also seems super annoying. It would feel like a lateral hire, but the more I read, the more I think that was just smoke and mirrors.”
On Gus Malzahn and Auburn in 2019…
“Looks like Gus is going to be the coach, but the way things have unfolded is not a good look for anyone. I feel bad for Gus, because it’s gotta suck to feel like you’re not trusted to do the job but also that none of your bosses have the guts to fire you. It’s so jacked up.”
“Kelly Bryant is the answer. Bryant will choose Auburn over Mizzou, Chip Lindsey will be hired away to Tennesse, Auburn will hire Hugh Freeze as his replacement and will win the SEC with Kelly Bryant as QB1 in 2019. You heard it here first.”
“Gus Malzahn believe in Gus Malzahn more than anyone else does, and I believe he believes he can coach his way out of this mess. He has a tract record to back that up, but with that schedule next year, he has three losable games BEFORE a trip to Baton Rouge; not to mention Georgia and Alabama at home, both of whom should be better next year. I suspect he’ll be terminated before November, at which point Kevin Steele or maybe Travis Williams will take over in the interim.”
“I want Gus to be successful, because that would mean Auburn is successful. That being said, I just don’t see it happening. The odds are nearly insurmountable at this point; some people call it perseverance, others call it stubbornness. Whatever you call it, Gus has made it clear that he marches to the beat of his own drum. Next year’s schedule is a beast, and I’m not even sure Gus would make it through the entire season. At that point, I don’t know which direction Auburn would go. The options are A) shell out big money to hire a proven winner (Swinney, Harbaugh, etc.) or B) save some money and take a shot on an up-and-comer like Bill Clark.”
So there you have it. A collection of opinions. At this point who even knows what’s fact or fiction, what’s rumor or what’s reality. I’m not sure it even matters. I’m sure in the coming days, as the dust settles, we’ll know more about Malzahn and his contract and what Auburn Football may look like moving forward. At least by Tuesday we’ll know whether Kelly Bryant will be the Tigers’ quarterback in 2019.
As it all unfolds, try to maintain some perspective. Hug your friends and family. Give away some money. Love Auburn like your life depended on it. It will get better.