Category Archives: Auburn’s Cast of Thousands

Gus’ Grand Illusion

He doesn’t want much.

Gus Malzahn’s No. 1 goal this upcoming season is to field a top-10 defense. Yes, you heard that correctly.

“It’s not offense. It’s not ‘this or that.’ It’s for us to play top 10 defense,” Malzahn said this spring, according to Auburn’s official website.

To give you an idea of how off the charts this is, here’s Auburn’s national ranking in total defense over the last six seasons:

  • 2015 — 71st
  • 2014 — 66th
  • 2013 — 87th
  • 2012 — 81st
  • 2011 — 80th
  • 2010 — 60th

I’m sensing a pattern here, and it ain’t top ten.  And that’s with defensive stalwarts like Boom, Ellis Johnson, VanGorder and Chizik having their fingers in the mix.

Good luck with all that, Kevin Steele.

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Endorsement of the day

Art Briles is a big fan of Gus Malzahn.

Over the weekend, Kam Martin announced via Twitter that he had committed to play his college football for Gus Malzahn at Auburn.  The running back chose Auburn over another contender in TCU.

Malzahn and Briles are good friends who, prior to Briles’ dismissal in the wake of the sexual assault scandal in the football program, brainstormed together this offseason.  When Martin received a release from his BU National Letter of Intent, he turned to Briles for advice, with his former coach advising him that Auburn would be “a great fit.”

“He helped me — I still have a great relationship with him,” Martin told 247Sports.com. “He just told me Auburn is a great fit for me with Coach Gus Malzahn and his coaching staff. He said if I was going to Baylor and he was there, it would be the same type of vibe (as at Auburn).  [Emphasis added.]

Interesting choice of words there, especially since they’re second chance sister institutions.

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Is Jay Jacobs the new Mike Hamilton?

Boy, this is incoherent.

Posting one of the worst all-around years in the major men’s sports — football, basketball and baseball — didn’t do much in terms of shaking the confidence of athletics director Jay Jacobs. Less than a month after saying “Auburn athletics is strong” in wake of a historically bad year for those three sports, Jacobs isn’t dwelling on the past.

Who could blame him?

Football went 7-6, narrowly avoiding its second losing season in four years with a win against Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl, including a 2-6 record in SEC play. All of that came just two seasons after winning the SEC title and coming within 13 seconds of a national championship.

Despite that, Jacobs extended head coach Gus Malzahn’s contract through the 2020 season, confident that Malzahn is the right man for the job moving forward.

All in, baby.

Much like with Malzahn, Jacobs expressed confidence that things will turn around for the football team this fall, noting that the keys will be a revamped defense led by new coordinator Kevin Steele — the third coach to hold that title at Auburn in as many years — and the play at quarterback, which will fall to either incumbents Jeremy Johnson or Sean White, or junior college transfer John Franklin III.

“Gus feels good about the couple options we have,” Jacobs said. “Absolutely we have to do better but I can tell you this: We’re not sparing any resources to give each of those coaches — those three and the other 12 — an opportunity to be successful. Whatever it is they need, certainly within reason, but having been in this business and played, I know what’s within reason.”

Absolutely.  Because Auburn has always been the face of responsible athletics spending. Besides, Gus is just one second chance away from turning everything around, right?

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Seems like a “long, long time”

Jay Jacobs sounds like he’s all in on Gus Malzahn.

During last week’s SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Florida, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said Malzahn would be the Tigers coach for a “long, long time” and said he was the “the right guy for Auburn” moving forward.

“He’s a brilliant offensive mind,” Jacobs said last week. “Took us to two national championships; once as a coordinator, once as a head coach. There’s a bunch of schools in this league that would love to be in our position with a guy like him.

“It’s tough league, this league is tough every day. It doesn’t matter what year it is, year in, year out, how many years you’ve been here, whatever it may be, but there’s no doubt about that he is the right guy for Auburn.”

All that, and all it got Gus was a one-year contract extension.  Which means all of the above turns out to be worth…

Terms of Malzahn’s buyout, both if he were to leave Auburn or if Auburn were to part ways with him, have not changed, with the exception of the additional year of money he would be owed if Auburn were to terminate the deal.

Malzahn would be owed $2,237,500 per year remaining on his contract if Auburn were to part ways with him.

Why, Jay, that seems cheap at twice the price.

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Like a rock

Lemme see if I’ve got this straight:  one of Gus Malzahn’s keys to the hire of his new defensive coordinator was “stability“, so he’s brought on a guy who’s on his fifth job in six years.  (It would have been six for six, but he was out of a job in 2012.)

I guess when you’re on your third DC in three years, anything looks more stable.

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One man’s bold predictions…

As those sorts of columns go, this one’s actually kind of thought-provoking.

Start with this:

1. Tennessee will beat Alabama for the first time in a decade

It’s no surprise to regular readers I’ve been high on this year’s Volunteers for some time. Tennessee returns 18 starters, including a potentially dynamic quarterback in Joshua Dobbs, from a team that lost four games by a total of 16 points last year. The Vols will no doubt have Oct. 15 vs. the Crimson Tide circled on their calendar, and this is the year they finally get over the hump. It’s been a while. The last time Tennessee beat Alabama (2006), Mike Shula and Phillip Fulmer were the two head coaches. But unless the still-unresolved off-field controversy engulfs Butch Jones at some point (and there’s no evidence thus far that it will), this will be a memorable year in Knoxville.

Eh, maybe.  I still want to see Booch’s team climb the mountain first.  Yeah, they lost some close ones last year, but the point is they lost them.  And if he’s right that Alabama’s defense will be better than it was last season, that’s quite the mountain to climb.

But my real question is how hard will the Vols sell out for this game?  If they really give it everything they’ve got and lose, what kind of shape will they be in for their next game, which, although it’s against a team they’ve handled of late, will be their fifth conference game in a row?

Tennessee’s November is what Tennessee’s November usually looks like, so if Georgia is going to win the East, the Vols had best get dinged up before then.

And then there’s this:

5. Auburn will post its second straight losing SEC record

The Tigers improved toward the end of the year last season; that’s pretty much indisputable. And to their credit, they did not quit after a disastrous early-season slide. Trouble is, Auburn still has no answer at quarterback and did not upgrade after changes on the defensive coaching staff. Picking up Vanderbilt on the SEC schedule helps, though Texas A&M and Mississippi State are the only other likely wins on the Tigers’ conference slate. LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama are almost certain losses. Arkansas might be the swing game. A loss in that one would put the Tigers at 3-5 in the league. With a loss to Clemson in the opener (a virtual certainty), Auburn would finish 6-6. Though I’m not 100 percent certain it will happen, I’ll be consistent in what I’ve said in the past. If Gus Malzahn doesn’t win at least eight games this year, he’s done.

Would Auburn really do that?  If Chizik can get fired two seasons after winning a national championship, nothing’s really out of the question on the Plains.

The thing is, the Tigers usually do their best when nothing is expected out of them.  And that’s certainly the case in 2016.  Then again, I look at this schedule and only see seven wins right now.  To notch that eighth one, Gus is going to have to upset somebody.  Even if he doesn’t, is 7-5 bad enough to cost him his job?

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange

Auburn with a lake vs. Auburn

It suddenly dawned on me that the Auburn/Clemson game could be a lot of fun to watch.

Meanwhile, Auburn has more questions than answers at many of its positions.

For one, a newcomer could be Auburn’s starting quarterback when Clemson comes to the Plains. Auburn’s identity could also change at several position groups, including the entire defense with the addition of five new staff members, including former Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

Steele was fired at Clemson after West Virginia knocked off the Tigers 70-33 in the 2012 Orange Bowl.

Deshaun Watson facing the Auburn defense does not promise to generate a low-scoring result.

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