Before he ever coached a down, Gus Malzahn played receiver for two years at Arkansas before finishing his collegiate career at Henderson State University, a Division II school in Arkadelphia, Ark. After college, Malzahn began a coaching career in the Arkansas high school ranks. He would go on to be very successful at Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale. As we all know, his success at Springdale spring-boarded him to Houston Nutt’s staff at Arkansas for one season, before finally leaving the state to become Tulsa’s co-offensive coordinator. He would then go to Auburn for three seasons on Gene Chizik’s staff before accepting the head coaching position at Arkansas State. Following one successful season at A-State, Malzahn was hired as head coach at Auburn where he has now served since 2013.
All this is to say, Gus Malzahn has seen great success in the state of Arkansas, is well liked and knows the lay of the land as well as anyone. He is Arkansas football in many respects
This season, Malzahn’s Tigers are 7-2, with wins over Oregon and Texas A&M and losses at Florida and at LSU. Auburn has Georgia this weekend and closes out their regular season with the Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare. Should Gus win both of those two, the Gus Bus will be full speed ahead, but the past six seasons have shown us that bus has a turn radius tighter than a Ferrari’s, and the Bus will be headed the other direction at 100 mph if Auburn loses to Georgia and Alabama, particularly if the Tigers are non-competitive in either or both games.
From a contractual perspective, Gus is in Year 2 of a 7-year, $49 million contract. If Auburn were to fire Malzahn now, it would owe him well over $20 million. If he were to buyout his contract so he could move on, he’d owe them approximately $7 million.
After reading those two figures, many logical people would assume neither of those two scenarios will play out after this season. However, this is the SEC, where #ItJustMeansMore. Auburn firing Gus seems highly unlikely given the dollars involved, but if Arkansas came calling for Gus, would Auburn entertain reducing the $7 million he would owe them? Eh, maybe. That part remains to be seen.
Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek has been on the job nearly two years. Undoubtedly he has heard from countless Hogs that Gus is the right man to lead them to the top. Further, Arkansas benefits from having a number of exceedingly wealthy alums who support the program and are willing to invest in it.
From Gus’ perspective, at 54, would you rather battle Alabama, LSU and all others from nearby, while your fanbase second guesses every move you make, knowing that anything short of an SEC Championship is considered a failure? Or, would you consider stepping into a new, 7-year (or longer) contract at a place that you could rebuild, and be deemed a tremendous success if you simply have the team in or around the top 10 each year? Pile up another $50 million or so, coach into your early 60s as the most important public figure in your home state, groom your successor and then retire and enjoy life knowing you are beloved throughout the motherland? This is a man who lived the formative years of his life in the shadow of the University of Arkansas, who wore the Razorback colors twice and was quickly rejected both times, and now, potentially, has the chance to go out as the Head Hog, possibly the most important figure in Razorback history since Frank Broyles himself.
That rejection — first as a Hogs wide receiver, then as Nutt’s offensive coordinator — tends to do one of two things to a person’s psyche. Either they want to conquer the place once and for all, or they want to burn it down.
Remember, Gus has already made this choice once before. Two years ago, in fact, when Arkansas made a Godfather offer in the wake of Bret Bielema’s firing, when Auburn happened to be in the midst of an SEC West title run, capped by wins over eventual SEC champion Georgia and eventual national champion Alabama. That’s how Gus got his $49 million contract in the first place. (Don’t ever let anyone tell you timing isn’t important in life.)
There is historic precedent if indeed Arkansas goes whole Hog (pun intended) at Gus a second time. In 2015, Jimbo Fisher was prepared to leave Florida State for LSU if and when the Tigers pushed out Les Miles. The coup became public and Miles kept his job… for another year. LSU fired Miles the following September, but by November 2016 Fisher had changed his mind and LSU hired Ed Orgeron.
In perhaps a better example — particularly if you’re an Arkansas fan with a Gus Bus ticket in hand — Roy Williams, then in the midst of a successful run at Kansas, was approached by his alma mater, North Carolina. He passed, in the most public manner you’ll ever see a coach pass on a job.
The hire North Carolina hired in Williams’ absence failed, and four years later the Tar Heels landed their man. Roy Williams is still North Carolina’s head coach today, with three national championship trophies in hand.
Making the move isn’t crazy, nor is it outside the realm of possibility; but will it happen? Let’s all enjoy these next three weeks of football and see how this plays out.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest coaching job information.