Is the party over at Auburn?
The Tigers’ drop from unbeaten BCS champions to 7-5 (4-4 in the SEC) this season wasn’t a great surprise, given the loss of Cam Newton. The recent departure of defensive coordinator Ted Roof to Central Florida for the same job was a little surprising. But with Gus Malzahn’s reported decision to leave his $1.3 million job as Auburn’s offensive coordinator to become head coach of a Sun Belt Conference team, Arkansas State, for $850,000, you have to begin to wonder what’s going on down on The Plains.
Here’s the non-conspiratorial explanation of Malzahn’s decision: After turning down the Vanderbilt head coaching job last season, he realized his stock had dropped this season. He was desperate to get a head coaching position, thought he had the Kansas job locked up until Charlie Weis sold himself to the Jayhawks and suddenly was ready to take almost anything.
Also, while Jonesboro, Arkansas, might seem like Kabul to you and me, it’s close to home for Malzahn. And for $850,00 a year, he can live like the Clampetts.
But this is SEC country. Nothing like this happens without a good conspiracy theory or 20. Here are a few:
• RIFT CONSPIRACY: Chizik, believing Auburn’s spread offense worked in 2010 primarily because of Newton, started to put the clamps down on the Malzahn this season. He wants to change to something more conventional with more of a power running attack to compete against Alabama and LSU in SEC West. This is completely plausible from both standpoints — that Chizik felt a change was needed and Malzahn felt his power was being usurped. We’ll learn more when we see what offense the Tigers run next season. As for the Chizik-Malzahn relationship, Chizik said a few days ago (before Malzahn took the Arkansas State job): “Gus and I have a great relationship, and we’ve had several discussions about moving forward in his career and where his goals are. At the end of the day, his decisions are going to be up to him and I’m sure he’s going to make the best decision for him and his family.”
• DECLINING MARKET CONSPIRACY: Malzahn now regrets not taking the Vanderbilt job last season and he has become convinced that the Tigers will not be very good again next season, thereby further eroding his marketability for a head coaching job. So he figured he would take the Arkansas State job, which is almost certain to have a good season next year, believing that’s a better launching pad back to a BCS program than a declining Auburn.That also could explain why Roof would leave Auburn for Central Florida for the same job (although Roof also was under immense pressure for the Tigers’ poor defense this season).
• NCAA IS COMING CONSPIRACY: There’s really nothing to support this right now. But probably until we get at least a decade removed from the national title and the Newton era, SEC fans are going to drop hints on message boards that the NCAA is about to drop the hammer. Suffice to say, probation would hurt the program and likely diminish perceptions of the entire coaching staff.
• KRISTI MALZAHN CONSPIRACY: Yes, I watched Kristi Malzahn’s ramblings on YouTube from her recent talk at a Christian Leadership Summit. It was, well, excessive. But as for all this talk about her embarrassing the program and killing recruiting, I find that WAY overstated. I mean, come on. Seriously? Do you really think a recruit is sitting out there saying, “Well, I was going to sign with Auburn but it turns out the wife of the offensive coordinator is kinda crazy. So I think I’ll go to Florida instead.” Bottom line: I doubt very much that prompted Malzahn to flee Auburn.
So what are your thoughts on this? Did Malzahn make a mistake taking the Arkansas State job, or do you believe there’s substance to one of the juicy conspiracy theories?
By Jeff Schultz