The situation at Auburn is…fluid. That statement is true today, just like it has been for the past three years.
Outside of football, Auburn athletics is a bit of a mess with several programs reporting off the field issues over the past year: the softball program has endured a recent sexual harassment scandal, men’s basketball assistant coach Chuck Person was just indicted in the FBI’s ongoing probe, and Bruce Pearl could be fired for failing to cooperate with the school’s own internal investigation. Pursuant to all of that, longtime AD Jay Jacobs is on his way out the door.
Meanwhile, Gus Malzahn has the football team playing some of its best ball in quite some time. The Tigers blew out No. 1 Georgia two weeks ago, and now host new No. 1 Alabama with a realistic shot to knock off the Tide and force a rematch with Georgia with the SEC Championship and a College Football Playoff berth on the line.
Malzahn’s tenure has been, typical of all Auburn coaches, uneven. He won the SEC and came one defensive stop away from winning the BCS national championship in his first season as head coach. Auburn started the following season 7-1 and was No. 3 in the CFP poll as late as Nov. 8, but then fell into a tailspin in which the club went 0-4 against Power 5 competition to close 2014, then 3-6 against Power 5 schools in 2015 and 0-2 to start the 2016 season — thereby making him 3-12 in his last 15 games against Power 5 schools at that time. That led into a Sept. 24 game against LSU where it felt like the loser would immediately fire its coach.
As we know, Auburn won the game thanks to some typical Les Miles clock management, and LSU dismissed Miles shortly thereafter. Malzahn dodged that bullet and then went on a tear. Auburn won its next five games after that LSU victory, reached the Sugar Bowl and now stands at 9-2 heading into a most pivotal Iron Bowl.
Malzahn is currently under contract three more seasons at an annual salary just under $5 million. His buyout should he choose to leave is extremely manageable.
And, yes, there is chatter among coaches that Malzahn may leave Auburn.
Should Auburn lose to Alabama Saturday, there is growing buzz within the profession that Gus might “reset his clock” by taking the Arkansas job. Arkansas closes out their season Friday vs Missouri, following which it is widely expected the University will let Bret Bielema go.
The logic among coaches we’ve spoken states that Gus would be to give himself a fresh 5-year deal with a total contract value likely in the $30 million range (and quite possibly larger)… and that’s before incentives. The Arkansas fan base is more tame than Auburn’s, there is no 365-day-a-year comparison with Alabama, they would be welcoming him back to a state where he has had great success, and he would have a voice in choosing Jeff Long’s replacement as athletics director.
Many in the profession view this is a no-brainer move for him.
The issue is the timing. If Auburn loses Saturday, Malzahn would theoretically be free to leave as early as Sunday. A win pushes Auburn into the SEC Championship and delays any possible departure date another week. A win in that game sends Auburn into the College Football Playoff, locking him into his current situation through New Year’s Day and sailing well beyond the new Dec. 20 signing date.
We’re told that Auburn is doing some diligence, preparing for the possibility of Malzahn’s departure, and multiple sources in the profession have relayed that Auburn seems to kicking the tires on Bobby Petrino as a backup plan.
Would Bobby Petrino be willing to make a move after his guy, Tom Jurich just got shown the door? Do we really have to answer that question?
For those wondering, Tom Jurich being let go had the effect of reducing Bobby’s buyout from $8.5 million to $4.25 million. Healthy; but not insurmountable for an SEC heavyweight.
This isn’t to say that Petrino is locked in as the next man up should Gus leave; but it is interesting to hear from sources in the profession that Auburn is already making inquiries.
As always stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest news in the coaching profession.