“Strength and Stability” Propels the Future of Auburn Football

July 15, 2018 By Skye Underwood

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn/Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football — without the Jimmy’s and Joe’s, your time as a college football head coach will be short-lived. Recruiting is all about building long-term relationships, trust, and creating an environment within your program where parents believe that if they send their child to you, you’re gonna love them and build them up to become not only a great athlete on the gridiron, but a responsible human being that exercises character and integrity off of it.

Auburn University has always carried a certain family first mystique, so it’s no surprise that Gus Malzahn and his staff’s approach in recruiting is selling that family feel to prospects and their loved ones.

And while the family appeal can be a determining factor for a lot of recruits when they make their final college choice, coaching hotseat talk and instability within the program with a constant turnover of coaches can derail any hopes of securing a top-tier class year in and year out. Elite prospects want the reassurance of knowing that the coaches that they’ve built these bonds with will be around for their 4-5 years at the university they choose.

And this my friends is why Auburn did the right thing by signing Malzahn to a longterm extension. After all, in his first five seasons on the plains, Malzahn has won one SEC Championship, two SEC West Championships, played for one national championship, led Auburn to 10+ wins two times, and not to mention he’s 2-3 versus Nick Saban, who many believe is the best college football coach in the history of the game. In fact, he’s the only SEC head coach that has beaten Saban…and Gus has done it twice. Not exactly chopped liver, right?

Regardless of the successes, there have been inconsistencies that sparked hotseat talk going into last season and 2016. Even with a successful year on the field of play during 2017, Auburn coaches had to contend with opposing coaches negatively recruiting against Auburn insisting that Gus Malzahn was either going to be fired or take a head coaching position elsewhere (cough, cough, Arkansas).

Despite the Auburn coaching staff fighting an uphill battle on the recruitng trail, the Tigers still managed to sign an impressive 2018 recruiting class that was ranked barely outside the top ten. Malzahn’s first four classes with Auburn were all ranked inside the industry generated 247Sports composite team rankings top ten, but the trend ended after the Tigers ‘18 class came in at No. 12, respectively.

Again, still not chopped liver, and credit to Malzahn who could see the forest for the trees. He knew that he was on the verge of something special when considering the program’s long term outlook, but he first needed Auburn’s administration to see his vision. Yes, Auburn University was Malzahn’s first Power-Five job. Yes, Malzahn has had to learn on the job, but when you look at the overall foundation that he’s built on the plains, the Auburn administration agreed that the program’s direction was trending upward and that stability and continuity would only continue to propel it in that direction.

In November of last year, reports started surfacing that Arkansas was ready to back up the Brinks truck to Malzahn as he was their #1 choice to lead the Razorback program out of SEC purgatory after their B1G 10 Bret Bielema experiment resulted in the SEC cellar.

A few experts predicted Malzahn would be a perfect fit for Arkansas and would ultimately take the job. After all, that was his home, where he was raised and where he made his mark as an uber-successful high school coach whose offenses transcended the game. His first college job was with Arkansas as an offensive coordinator. All signs were pointing to Malzahn returning to his roots.

Gus is as competive as they come and he realizes that only a select amount of college football programs can truly compete for a national championship on a consistent basis, and unfortunately for Hawg fans, Arkansas just isn’t one of those programs. Remember, it’s all about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s and Arkansas isn’t exactly the easiest place to recruit to. Sure, he could get good players at Arkansas if he took the job, but could he consistently get the kind of four and five-star prospects that it takes to compete against the Alabama’s and Georgia’s of the world? The majority of you that are reading this already know the answer.

The best thing that could have happened to Auburn’s future was a direct result of Arkansas’s demise. On December 3, 2017, reports surfaced that Auburn had agreed to terms on a 7-year, forty-nine million dollar extension for head coach Gus Malzahn.

“Strength and stability go hand-in-hand, and we have both in coach Malzahn,” Auburn president Steven Leath said in a statement. “We’re excited for the future of Auburn football. This means a lot to the Auburn family.”

The “strength and stability” of the Auburn program has never been more evident during Malzahn’s tenure than right here, right now.

“Strength” – His squad enters the 2018 season as a probable top ten team with an All-American quarterback and arguably the best defensive front seven in college football. Many folks in the media contend that Auburn is a legitimate national championship contender in 2018.

“Stability” – Malzahn features a staff that has plenty of experience coaching together with very little turnover. Gus lost one assistant coach from last season when offensive line coach Herb Hand left for Texas, but his replacement may have brought the staff even more continuity when J.B. Grimes, who coached Auburn’s offensive line under Gus in 2013-15, returned to the plains at his old post. Remember, it was Grimes’ offensive line that paved the way for Auburn to become the first and only SEC school to lead the nation in rushing in 2013.

But where the contract extension is being felt the most is on the recruiting front, where experts have highlighted that Auburn is currently soaring early in the cycle when compared to previous years and predicted that Malzahn will likely sign a top five class, his best one yet on the plains.

The Auburn administration invested in Malzahn because of the “strength and stability” of the football program after his first five years on the plains, but if recruiting is an early indicator of what the future holds…and it is, the next five years could result in one of the most successful stretches for Auburn since the late 80’s when the Tigers won three consecutive SEC Championships. Auburn invested in Malzahn’s vision for the future of Auburn Football, but it should have come with a warning label for Tiger fans — it may be so bright that you have to wear shades.