Regardless of how Auburn fans felt about Gus Malzahn as their head football coach, and there are certainly a variety of different opinions on that subject, there has never been any doubt from my time covering his 11 seasons at Auburn that he was “all-in” when it came to getting the job done for the Tigers.
That was the case during his three years as offensive coordinator before returning in 2013 to take charge of the program.
His work ethic can’t be faulted. He is passionate about football and coaching. As an example of that, Kristi Malzahn once joked that for her husband “football is life and everything else is just details.”
Malzahn is a highly competitive person who loves to win and is truly annoyed when that doesn’t happen. He is also a coach who bonded well with his players and that probably happened more than ever this year because he had more time to do that in 2020 after turning over the offensive coordinator duties to Chad Morris.
He ends his time at Auburn with a 68-35 record as the head coach. Of the men who led the Tigers for more than one season, he ranks seventh in winning percentage behind Terry Bowden .731 (47-17-1 from 1993-98), Mike Donahue .730 (99-35-5 from 1904-06, 1908-22), John Heisman .722 (12-4-2 from 1895-99, Pat Dye .711 (99-39-4 from 1981-92), Tommy Tuberville .680 (85-40 from 1999-2008) and Ralph “Shug” Jordan .675 (176-83-6 from 1951-75).
Of that group, plus the other coaches in that top 10 list, only Malzahn and Heisman did not having a losing season for the Tigers.
Malzahn wrapped up his final season at Auburn with a 24-10 victory at Mississippi State to finish with a 6-4 mark.
The most disappointing and unexpected of those setbacks came at South Carolina, where the Tigers self-destructed with three costly turnovers that led to 21 points for the Gamecocks. The other three losses came to opponents ranked in the top five, with two of those games on the road, so those setbacks were easy to forecast.
Getting fired is tough in any circumstance, but happening in this very unusual season that was impacted in a major way by the Covid outbreak has to be frustrating to Malzahn.
Despite that he handled the situation as well as possible in his statements by thanking his players, the other coaches and the staff he worked with during his years coaching the Tigers. He also thanked Auburn University for the opportunity.
There were a lot more positives than negatives on his watch, including some of the top moments in Auburn football history.
Malzahn was the coordinator of a record-setting offense for the 2010 national championship team and the head coach of the exciting 2013 squad that was one play away from winning another national championship.
Whatever Malzahn decides to do I wish him well, and I sure wouldn’t rule out seeing him back on the sidelines coaching football in the not too distant future.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter