Does Malzahn to Arkansas State mean Auburn imploding?

Gus Malzahn's departure to Arkansas State has led to speculation of a rift with Gene Chizik. (AP photo)

Gus Malzahn's departure to Arkansas State feeds speculation of rift with Gene Chizik. (AP photo)

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

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

496 comments Add your comment

Twilb Dawg

December 14th, 2011
11:03 am

A combo of his stock is falling and the ship at AU is sinking!

bigdawg792

December 14th, 2011
11:05 am

jeff, i would say all of the above……

next year they will lose to the dawgs by 50. GATA!

dean

December 14th, 2011
11:06 am

I thought the NCAA closed the case on Auburn and Cam Newton. Wouldn’t the possibility of sanctions be near impossible now?
First???

FDawg

December 14th, 2011
11:10 am

It does make one wonder…..hhhmmmmmmm!

Bruce Mac

December 14th, 2011
11:10 am

As long as we kick there teeth in again (and the Gators) they can get any coach they want. 2012 is going to be a great year between the hedges. GO DAWGS.

Robinwood

December 14th, 2011
11:10 am

The wheels on the bus fall off and off, off and off, off and off…

SC Ace

December 14th, 2011
11:12 am

You know… it could be this simple: Maybe he and his family wanted to be closer to home, closer to aging parents or something, and this was a good opportunity to do so. Maybe he and his family would be happier & more fulfilled in the low pressure, low stakes world of the Sun Belt where they could enjoy life and enjoy coaching young men outside of the fishbowl that is the SEC.

harold

December 14th, 2011
11:12 am

AS BAD AS I HATE AUBURN I MUST ADMIT THAT GENE CHIZK ALONG WITH TROOPER TAYLOR ( TROOPER IS ONE OF THE BEST RECRUITERS IN THE SEC) HAVE A GREAT FOOTBALL PROGRAM.

AUBURN WAS REBUILDING THIS YEAR AND THEY HAVE SOME GREAT ATHLETES THERE AND MORE COMING IN. UNFORTUNATELY AUBURN WILL PARTY AGAIN! LONG BEFORE UGA DOES!

Paul From Milton

December 14th, 2011
11:13 am

I don’t think anyone thought that Malzahn would be at Auburn that long anyway. He was already targeted as a future head coach when he took the OC job. While it’s surprising he left for ASU, the timing really shouldn’t be. It just seems like a natural progression and if he does well at ASU for 2 or 3 years the big names will come calling.

Columbus Dawg

December 14th, 2011
11:13 am

I have heard in recent days from an Auburn Alum/booster that Mike Dyer will never wear an Auburn uniform again. Plenty of theories about his suspension, but since I have no knowledge, I will not go there. Bottom line is if this is true, then becoming a power I team all of a sudden may be difficult.

JRW7

December 14th, 2011
11:13 am

Looks like nobody wants to be at a sinking AUBURN!!!!!! The parties over!!!! Everybody jumps off a sinking ship!!!

Hankie Aron

December 14th, 2011
11:14 am

Jeff- first of all great post, very interesting. I say a combination of rift and declining theories. Either way, not good for Barners. Suddenly Mark Richt ain’t looking so bad is he Dawg fans?

Columbus Dawg

December 14th, 2011
11:14 am

We will see about that harold, now go wipe your mouth.

Gregg

December 14th, 2011
11:15 am

Not sure of all the reasons for departures. Bottomline, it CAN’T help recruiting.

Finebaum

December 14th, 2011
11:16 am

I’m sure Finebaum (went to Tennessee & a pretty storieded history for any proud alum to follow) who dines at the feet of Nick Saban will take credit for anything going south for Auburn.

I listened to his show for an half an hour, turned it off, and wondered…This guy has a time slot on satellite radio?

Hankie Aron

December 14th, 2011
11:16 am

And HAROLD- lay off the CAPS man. Lord!

dawgcrzy

December 14th, 2011
11:16 am

sounds like Chizik may be an ass and nobody wants to work for him

Errrrrr

December 14th, 2011
11:16 am

This could only get better with this headline: Bobo is new Auburn OC!

JRW7

December 14th, 2011
11:17 am

NCAA must be still looking at AUBURN! Is probation coming soon?

UGABugKiller

December 14th, 2011
11:18 am

Here’s a possibility:

The job he REALLY wants is Arkansas. It’s his home state, his dream job. AND he knows the PigFace Coward currently running the show probably won’t be around too much longer/.

So maybe he figures he takes this lesser job, oversees an ArkansasState move to C-USA in the next year or two, raises the profile of that school and athletics program, and then BOOM, when PigFace leaves for another school in no less than two or three years (after it becomes apparent to him that he can’t ever win the West), probably for the Auburn or Tennessee job he REALLY wants, and then Malzhan steps in, the local guy, the guy who will save Arkansas from the disloyal departure of PigFace.

That’s my conspiracy. ;-)

Hankie Aron

December 14th, 2011
11:18 am

Oh and Harold- your mom says it’s time for your afternoon nap so go put on your elephant roll tide onesy. You know your’e feet get sweaty cause they can’t breathe but you wear them anyway

Otha

December 14th, 2011
11:18 am

It’s a good thing Gene has put together 3 All-World Top 5 Recruiting Classes. Should be tons of talent on campus for him to coach up!

Innocent Bystander

December 14th, 2011
11:19 am

Good job of covering the possibilities.
It’s hard to imagine that Arkansas State was a significant “pull”.
Though Hugh Freeze used Jonesboro as a stepping stone to Ole Miss
But there must have been a significant “push.”
I have to think Coach Chizik could have talked him into staying if he’d wanted to retain him badly enough.

Hankie Aron

December 14th, 2011
11:20 am

I like your enthusiasm but it seems a little farfetched UGABugkiller

Tossed Salad

December 14th, 2011
11:21 am

Auburn sucks regardless.

Bubba

December 14th, 2011
11:22 am

He is not that good.Cam made him look good

Bubba

December 14th, 2011
11:22 am

Cam made them all look good

Bubba

December 14th, 2011
11:25 am

Alabama has the best fat white girls

Brick Tamland

December 14th, 2011
11:25 am

Family, all in, war eagle…..that should do it!

Sandman053

December 14th, 2011
11:25 am

I just came back from Jonesboro and the duck hunting was great. I’d leave Auburn for that too.

UGABugKiller

December 14th, 2011
11:25 am

Hankie,

We know Tennessee is pretty much coming open next year. We know they won’t make a mistake of hiring a coach from a lesser league who didn’t have an over-.500 winning percentage again.

They’ll look at PigFace’s record vs. the East and they’ll see how tough his teams have played Bama, LSU, and the Barners, and they will go after him hard. They’ll throw “highest salary in the SEC” at him. And PigFace being the disloyal coward he is will take it, because he knows he’ll never win the West (because they won’t win it next year, either), but has a chance to compete and win the East every year with a stronger Tennessee team.

Then, Malzhan steps in at the job he’s wanted all along, with the kind of athletes on campus he needs to run his offense. It makes perfect sense.

THE Dixie Redcoat Band

December 14th, 2011
11:26 am

First of all …”who cares”?
Second of all…Paul Finbaum…his call -in show does get a little boring after a few mins, but he does have some interesting weekly Big Time guests.

Hankie Aron

December 14th, 2011
11:26 am

Kinda shoots down that all in mentality

Urban Meyer

December 14th, 2011
11:27 am

Hey, when it’s time to go it’s time to go. When Cam Newton and Tim Tebow leave, it’s best to follow them. Who wants to have to rebuild anyways, it’s hard!

KOOL

December 14th, 2011
11:28 am

I hope Chizik told Malzahn to keep a muzzle on his old lady’s yap. Axl Rose said it best when he offered similar advice to Kurt Cobain & C. Love

jim

December 14th, 2011
11:30 am

The guy is from Ark. He wants to build his resume for the future. Ark. St. has a really good team in the Sun Belt Conf. Why not go there for the near future, enhance your coaching results, and be ready for a big job when it comes up. The coaching carousel remains alive and well. Would not read more than what is here – a chance to increase your worth down the road and make a pretty good living while you are doing that.

Jborodawg

December 14th, 2011
11:31 am

Mainly because Jonesboro, AR is an upgrade over Awbun, AL. He also needed HCing experience and he’s going to a team with a good record.

Troy

December 14th, 2011
11:31 am

FORTY-FIVE to 7…….LMAO………thats a big 45

icallbs

December 14th, 2011
11:31 am

This is too funny. It is absolutely telling and underscores the lightening in a bottle $cam season: mercenary players, mercenary coaches, mercenary fan base. THIS is the Auburn “tradition”. Go War Damn Plain Eagles! I’m sure recruits will be lining up to get some of this!

jarvis

December 14th, 2011
11:32 am

Auburn is proof that any decent program can be just two Junior College transfers away from a National Championship.

Jeff

December 14th, 2011
11:32 am

Let’s be very clear folks….Jonesboro, AR is clearly an upgrade to living in a cow pasture

ATL War Eagle

December 14th, 2011
11:32 am

Jeff: Chizik told Roof he was going in a different direction and gave him a chance to find a job instead of letting him go. Gus realized after going through so many interviews that head coaching experience was critical to get a BCS qualifier head job. He saw that Hugh Freeze was at Ark State for one year and is now head coach at Ole Miss. The only “consipracy theory” that might have a hint of truth is that I did hear that Chizik was micro managing the coordinators this year, but who can blame him based on performance.

Older, not necessarily wiser

December 14th, 2011
11:35 am

With all these coaching jobs now paying WAY TOO MUCH, all assistants with ambition want a head job. The poster who said something about life being calmer in Arkansas as opposed to the SEC, has a great point. Pressure to succeed is always present, so when these guys get a head job with big bucks, they better purchase some annuities or put some somewhere for the future. They get paid to take the pressure, but not many succumb to having someone on their back all the time. The school is usually the reason for looking for a new job. Malzahn made his own decision. His wife also belongs in Arkansas! I am sure the AU faithful had a “few” comments on her TV appearance.

The SEC is pure pressure. Look at what is going on at FL, TN, and has taken place at Ole Miss. TA&M saw the writing on the wall coming into next year and made a change now. Tough business, but that what the big bucks are for.

Speculation about Saban going to TX or to the Cowboys may have a little substance, but more likely after next year. He seems to move for more money, seizing opportunity, brings new excitement to a program and is able to make it better for awhile. Then others begin to catch up, and he is rumored to be the next coach at ……………..! Tough business when you have faculty, staff and hundreds of thousands of fans on your back every day. After building a program, look at what happened to Bobby Bowden. Times change, fans grow from little kids to season ticket holders or big people who don’t know so much about distant history or care about it. Tough business.

Vain Jangling

December 14th, 2011
11:37 am

Did I read somewhere that Chizik is the illegitimate son of Bobby Petrino? . . . Wait . . . No . . . I guess I just made that one up. Yeah, I know. I’ll get back to work now.

Jborodawg

December 14th, 2011
11:38 am

The Kristi Malzahn interview must have been really choice; Youtube has pulled it.

Walker, Texas Ranger

December 14th, 2011
11:41 am

I hate Auburn, with that said, the answer is “NO”. Auburn will only get better. Gus has always done great with great players. He had Newton at Auburn and Macfadden and Felix Jones at Arkansas. In both cases, the team dropped off drastically after their departure. I feel Auburn will get better. As for Roof, his defense spoke for itself. The worst defense Georgia played all year. I guess the worst part of Auburns defense is that it did not improve. I know they were young but it should have gotten better as the year progressed. Auburn will only improve

ramblingbuzz

December 14th, 2011
11:43 am

Beats me. Has AU already selected new OC & DCs?

St Simons - we're on Island time

December 14th, 2011
11:43 am

The $cam cheetah karma continues.

Auburn is the Jerry Springer Show of college football.

Taco Meat

December 14th, 2011
11:44 am

It is what it is. One thing’s for sure… we will find out just how good (or bad) a head coach Chizik is without his two NC assistants. This time next year, Chizik will be on the hot seat.

Walker, Texas Ranger

December 14th, 2011
11:45 am

Ole Miss didnt consider Gus while they took the guy from Ark St. Gus saw that he needed to be a HC in order to get a job at an SEC school. The guy from Alabama did the same thing. They both are just adding to the resume