Gus Malzahn got into coaching to, well, coach. The same way a gardner gets into gardening to put his hands in the dirt, Malzahn has spent a quarter century in the business laying his own soil, planting his own flowers, watering his own plants and calling his own plays.
The analogy kind of broke down there at the end, but you get the point.
After soaring to a 12-2 debut season with an unforgettable win over Alabama, an SEC championship and a near miss in the national championship game, Auburn started the 2014 season 7-1, earning a No. 3 national ranking and prime position to return to the national stage. But the Tigers stumbled down the stretch, dropping their last four games to FBS opponents, and haven’t really recovered. A 19-3 start has turned into an 8-10 stumble as the Tigers have won just two of their last 11 SEC games.
To steer his program back on course, Malzahn is plunging his hands back into the earth.
“I’m a football coach, not a CEO,” Malzahn told ESPN.com last month. “I probably tried to be too much of a CEO last season. My teams have taken on my personality in the past, and I think we sort of had four or five different personalities last year, all the different coaches’ personalities. That’s on me. That’s my fault. You live and learn, and I learned the hard way last year.”
Malzahn’s lack of involvement can best be seen in his quarterbacks’ play. The Tigers never found an answer at the position, and in the process saw their passing efficiency plunge from eighth to 79th nationally.
“It wasn’t just the quarterback last year,” Malzahn said. “I know the quarterback is the focal point and all that. We just didn’t execute as a whole, and that falls on me. I tried to be a CEO, and I’m a football coach. I can promise you we’ll execute better on offense this year.”
One would think the hiring of Will Muschamp — the highest-paid coordinator in college football at the time and essentially the head coach of the defense — would allow Malzahn to focus more of his time on the offense, but he says the exact opposite happened.
“When you’ve got a job like this, there are a lot of different things grabbing at you,” he said. “We also had a new defensive coordinator coming in and putting in a brand new defense. But that’s the challenge for all the head coaches in our league, everything that goes with the job. Some are more CEO-driven, and some are more football coach-driven. I’m going to stay true to who I am. I’m a football coach, and I’m going to do a better job this next year.”