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Brad Zimanek: Buckle up Auburn fans, your broken record of Malzahn hits will keep on playing

November 8, 2018

They say timing is everything. For Auburn, it spells disaster.

Do you find it odd that Auburn athletics director Allen Greene waited until Tuesday before saying Gus Malzahn will be the coach next year? And, that he’s looking forward to working with him for a long time?

It came days after the Tigers defeated Texas A&M 28-24 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in what was the worst performance I’ve seen by a winning team in 35 years of covering college football. Yes, it was that bad.

Don’t try to couch it being positive for Auburn in any way. If you do believe the win was something positive, you’ve been fooled too long.

What the victory bought you Auburn fans was more of the same.

Because Auburn won, the awkward pressure was removed from Greene — and more importantly Auburn president Steven Leath, who saddled Auburn with Malzhan’s ridiculous $49 million contract (with a buyout that currently sits north of $32 million) last December.

If Auburn lost to the Aggies, Greene and Leath would not have been allowed off the hook so easily in the court of public opinion.

The pressure to act on Malzhan would have intensified with humiliating losses in its final two SEC games beginning this Saturday at Georgia and Nov. 24 in the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa. And, they will be humiliating.

Auburn could play its best games of the season against the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide and be crushed. The gap between the schools is large. The discrepancy between the leadership of the programs is even larger.

But Auburn has gone through this situation previously.

In 2010, Auburn won the national championship under Gene Chizik, who won the title because of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton more than any program Chizik created. Chizik has been described as the “worst coach ever to win a national championship.”

Then-athletics director Jay Jacobs was under the misguided belief that Texas would want Chizik if then-coach Mack Brown retired. So, he rewarded him with an extension that increased his salary to $3.5 million annually.

Two years later, Jacobs fired Chizik after the worst season in school history which included an 0-8 SEC record and season-ending conference losses to Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama by a combined 150-21 score.

By the time this Malzahn fiasco is completed, people will look back on the Chizik debacle fondly for two reasons: the cord was cut quickly and the payout — though huge at the time — dwarfs the situation now.

Remember the “Who will get fired bowl” between LSU and Auburn in 2016? Auburn won 18-13 and Les Miles was fired the next day.

LSU thought it had scored a game-winning touchdown on the final play for a 19-18 victory, but the touchdown was overruled.

If Auburn lost that game, the coach on the chopping block would have easily been Malzahn. The same could be said for last Saturday’s game against the Aggies.

If Auburn lost, there’s no way Greene comes out this week with his vote of confidence. This is what that confidence is going to get you: A head coach who pursues a quarterback who doesn’t fit his system, but he keeps banging away with the square peg in the round hole, expecting incredible results and wondering why it doesn’t happen.

A good coach can adjust his system to players skill sets the same way a CEO can accentuate his workers strengths to accomplish goals.

Every SEC head coach and defensive coordinator knows Malzahn’s system inside-and-out. It’s not innovative anymore but rather pedestrian.

When every sports writer, aunt, uncle, grandfather, grandmother, brother, sister, pet dog, cat or bird, can correctly predict every single play Auburn will run on each possession there’s a problem.

Let’s see wide-receiver reverse. Don’t attempt a run-pass option where everyone in the stadium knows there is no “run” option because Jarrett Stidham will not run the ball. Don’t use a wide receiver screen that has no chance at success from the outset and results for a 3-yard loss.

There’s nothing against Malzhan personally. He’s caring, loyal, hard-working (though a bit paranoid) and espouses values that we need much more of in our society. But is he worth what Auburn bought into?

Because of back-to-back wins over top-ranked Georgia and Alabama last season, the school inflated Malzahn’s market value because of the threat that Arkansas would offer him a similarly ridiculous contract.

This is where an amended Disney Song should have blasted over the Jordan-Hare PA system: “Let him go, let him go … can’t hold him here anymore … turn away and slam the door … let him go, let him go …”

Now, Auburn fans will enjoy a 10-win season every five years (during a year when the Georgia and Alabama are home games) but four seasons of 7-5 or 8-4 campaigns with a multitude of head-scratching decisions.

For this, Auburn made him the fifth-highest paid head coach in the country. And forget about winning another national championship.

If it’s not going to happen in a season with the Prayer at Jordan-Hare and Kick Six or in a season when Auburn beats two No. 1-ranked teams and those teams end up playing for the national championship while you sit at home watching them … then it ain’t ever going to happen.

Remember, this is the coach who brings in talent and does not make the players better — where four-and-five-star athletes don’t ever perform to that expected level or disappear entirely from the program.

This is a coach who thought it was wise to play three different quarterbacks in the same game (Clemson 2016) and brought in the “passing” quarterback to run and the “running” quarterback to pass. You know, to throw off the defense. They were probably laughing.

He cannot make mid-game adjustments. If something doesn’t work, you can pretty much forget about it. The hand-writing is on the wall.

And, so it is for Auburn fans. Your wagon’s hitched to Malzahn. What you’ve seen so far is what you are going to get for the remainder of his tenure on the Plains.

Review last week’s “win” while it’s fresh in your mind … no running game, overmatched offensive line, defensive backs that have never been able to play the ball, pitiful execution, etc. Improvement in those areas may not even make a dent to respectability in difficult to stomach games against Georgia and Alabama.

Auburn fans, you better get used to wallowing in it because that broken record is going to go round and round for years to come.

Timing is everything. If Auburn got the result it deserved against Texas A&M, the flame would have gotten hotter. But now Auburn is going to continue to pay an enormous sum for smoldering mediocrity.

Contact Montgomery Advertiser Sports Editor Brad Zimanek at bzimanek@gannett.com. Twitter: @bzimanek.

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