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Painter’s Points: Stand with Malzahn

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Auburn fans have had their patience tested recently. Head coach Gus Malzahn has gone into the previous two off-seasons on a hot seat. This season, Malzahn used leverage against his school as Arkansas seriously looked to woo him home. The Auburn head coach banked a near $50 million contract at $7 million per year, while earning the backing of Auburn administrators in a time rife with turnover and controversy at the athletic department.

If Malzahn felt a strong urge to return home, and the temptation seems understandable, staying at Auburn is more logical. While some Auburn fans have raised concerns that Malzahn is merely an eight or nine-win coach, with an occasional uptick every few years, there is good reason to believe Malzahn is the best coach in the SEC behind Nick Saban.

In fact, he is currently the only head coach in the league who has been able to beat Saban. While Malzahn is 2-3 as a head coach against Alabama, he has managed to defeat Saban; a feat many coaches never experience. Excluding 2015, the Tigers’ lead man has had his team in position every November to strike for an SEC Championship.

With the hires of Chip Lindsey, and the subsequent development of Jarrett Stidham and Auburn’s once forgotten receiving corps, alongside Kevin Steele’s impressive turnaround, Auburn appears to be one of three teams atop the SEC with Alabama and Georgia.

While the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs both made it to the 2017 College Football Playoffs, Auburn handed both teams their only loss of the season. Silencing, for now, the cries that Malzahn could not beat his biggest rivals.

With Steele interviewing for Tennessee, but returning to Auburn, it appears, the defensive coordinator is locked in. One might argue Steele is the most popular coach on the plains. Nonetheless, Lindsey, after being linked to the South Alabama opening, also appears poised for a strong second season. Stidham is rumored to return with Kerryon Johnson. While these decisions are not final, if both players return next to a healthy Kamryn Pettway, it’s logical to think the offense will continue to take big strides during the offseason with its core intact and its offensive coordinator more familiar with his teams strengths.

Furthermore, Stidham clearly gained momentum as the year went on. Especially as the passing game became a viable option. Don’t be surprised to see a few names in Auburn’s backfield creeping into dark horse Heisman predictions this offseason.

Auburn fans should prepare to support Malzahn. His tenure has been filled with peaks and valleys, but many Auburn fans forget Malzahn has been a head coach for merely six seasons with five of those coming at a Power-Five school. Saban’s record through his first six seasons before arriving in Baton Rouge: 43-26 one season at Toledo and another five at Michigan State.

When Malzahn was hired by Gene Chizik as offensive coordinator in 2009, he was a slightly proven commodity. His brief success at Arkansas with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones was well documented, but doubts remained.

An oft-cited complaint is that Malzahn’s offense is built on gimmicks not substance.

He promptly left Arkansas after reported clashes with Houston Nutt about the offensive philosophy necessary for success.

After two seasons with gaudy statistics at Tulsa, Auburn gave Malzahn a chance. It is, perhaps, his time as offensive coordinator coupled with his five years as head coach that lead some Auburn fans to believe the grass may be greener elsewhere.

Malzahn has shown some willingness to adapt. His stubborn play calling and game strategy can be wildly successful or mind-numbingly inefficient. With Lindsey’s influence, the development of a strong backfield, a blossoming receiving corps behind an experienced, albeit sometimes inconsistent offensive line, Auburn’s offense looked more like the revered squads that elevated Malzahn to popularity at Arkansas and eventually throughout the coaching ranks of college football.

Auburn was wise to secure Malzahn with a new contract. He has stressed the depth established on their roster and as one glances across the SEC landscape, it is apparent that atrophy has hit schools who were trigger happy to fire their coaches in attempt to catch up with Alabama. While coaching changes are necessary, stability and depth alongside the resources available at Auburn create an atmosphere where winning and winning consistently is possible. Now it is up to Malzahn and his staff to build on the second half of their 2017 campaign.

Auburn is 1-3 in bowls with Malzahn at the helm. The Tigers will play three straight games in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Peach Bowl against UCF is a game the Tigers need to win to take momentum into 2018 and establish itself as a true contender yet again.

Painter’s Points: Auburn 2017 Regular Season Recap

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After a roller coaster season in 2017, Auburn football has achieved 10 wins and an SEC West division title. However, much like the losses at Clemson and LSU, a disappointing offensive performance during the SEC Championship game and an underwhelming special teams unit contributed to a tough loss against Georgia.

Unless you lived under a rock for the last month, the much anticipated rematch from only weeks prior proved to be another valley in an up and down season for Auburn and head coach Gus Malzahn.

Still, Malzahn was courted by Arkansas after Bret Bielema’s unsurprising firing. The fifth-year Auburn coach chose to stay put on the Plains after reaching an agreement to extend his contract for seven years with a price tag at about 50 million dollars or roughly 7 million per year.

Malzahn isn’t the only coach with rumors circulating at Auburn. Kevin Steele has reportedly been in serious talks with Tennessee for their head coaching vacancy. Steele has become a popular man at Auburn after his second season. He has effectively turned around a defense that had not been feared by offensives coordinators in nearly a decade.

Malzahn expects “special things” from Auburn on the heels of his extension. It appears his renewed contract has given him a strong sense of support from Auburn administration and a general green light from a fan base that has been wishy-washy toward him even when he has won big games at Auburn.

The biggest knock on Auburn’s head coach was that he has not been able to finish seasons, particularly in November against his biggest rivals Georgia and Alabama. With Hugh Freeze’s departure before the 2017 season and Kevin Sumlin’s split from TAMU, Auburn now has the only coach in the SEC who has beaten Nick Saban. It doesn’t hurt that Malzahn has done it twice.

Malzahn must feel a sense of relief that he has enough support from Auburn leaders and its fan base without going into 2018 on the hot seat. A feeling he could not claim at the end of his last two seasons. While his employment has had its share of twists and turns, it is clear that Malzahn offers stability to Auburn during a time that many SEC schools are searching for a coach and attempting to re-brand themselves as football powerhouses. Tennessee, most notably, has been publicly spurned by multiple coaches. The Volunteers have spent more than a decade in mediocrity –best case scenario— and have found it difficult to replace Butch Jones. In the process UT has become a nationwide laughingstock. Although many fans have repeatedly called for Malzahn’s job, most loudly after a brutal second half collapse in Baton Rouge, he led his team on a tear beating two top ranked teams in three weeks. Administrators patience with Malzahn appears, for now, to have paid off. Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

If Auburn truly has the depth and experience Malzahn feels confident about the Tigers could find themselves in Atlanta to start 2018 against Washington and could again end their regular season contending for another SEC Championship.

 

Painter’s Points: SEC Championship–Coaching Carousel

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Auburn knocked off the top-ranked college football team for the second time in three weeks at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn’s win is surprising for many people who expected Alabama to steamroll into its fourth straight SEC Championship game. Their win takes them to the SEC Championship game over Alabama in a situation eerily similar to the 2013 season — a year that featured a tough road loss to LSU — and a subsequent turnaround for Auburn. Furthermore, a sore spot for Malzahn, November, has turned sweet with the Tigers grabbing wins like cotton candy at a carnival. An Iron Bowl victory positions Auburn squarely in college football playoff contention  – for now. Can Coach Gus Malzahn and the Tigers beat Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs twice in one month? In other news, the SEC has sent about half its coaches to the chopping block. The coaching carousel is in full swing. Enjoy this week’s version of Painter’s Points.

  • 69 Receptions made by Ryan Davis this season breaking Darvin Adams’ school record (60)
  • 55 Percent chance Alabama has to make the playoff according to ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight
  • 0 Points scored by Alabama during the first quarter snapping a 49-quarter streak
  • 7.5 Million-dollar buyout for former Florida coach Jim McElwain
  • 6.1 Million dollars per year for new Florida coach Dan Mullen
  • 13.8 Million-dollar buyout for Coach Mike Gundy had he left Oklahoma State
  • 6 Number of times SEC teams have played a rematch for the SEC Championship (2017’s version will make seven)
  • 2001 The only year an SEC team lost in the conference championship after winning the regular season match (LSU redemption against Tennessee)

 

 

Painter’s Points Iron Bowl Preview

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It’s November. Gus Malzahn has positioned his team nicely, again.

This story is old.

Under Malzahn’s leadership Auburn has mostly prospered before November. However, during the final month of the regular season his teams have often left fans wanting. Furthermore, Auburn has not fared well against its two biggest rivals – Georgia and Alabama – which leaves a putrid taste in fans’ mouths moving into the dreary offseason.

Nonetheless, Malzahn’s seat has cooled after a dominant 40-17 win against Georgia. At least, according to nearly every Arkansas message board.

Although Auburn did not dismantle Louisiana-Monroe, winning 42-7 was not the worst outcome. As the Iron Bowl looms, now more than ever, all eyes will be on Coach Gus Malzahn and Coach Nick Saban as they prepare their squads for a winner-take-all SEC Championship play-in game. Need I say more? It’s the Iron Bowl.

  • 1-3 Gus Malzahn Iron Bowl record

  • 39 Points Alabama has outscored Auburn during Iron Bowls since Malzahn became head coach

  • 70 Win percentage Nick Saban has against Auburn as Alabama Head Coach

  • 5 Times Alabama has won at Jordan-Hare Stadium

  • 3 Times Auburn has won the Iron Bowl against an undefeated Alabama team

  • 1 Alabama’s rank in the AP and College Football Poll

  • 1 Alabama’s total defense rank

  • 6 Number of schools with a better turnover margin than the Crimson Tide

  • 10, 11 Jarrett Stidham and Jalen Hurts quarterback efficiency ranked respectively

  • 45-35-1 All-time series record led by Alabama

 

Painter’s Points 10/31/17

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The Auburn Tigers travel to College Station this weekend. They compete against a Texas A&M team whose talent and focus seem sporadic every Saturday. While the two schools have played only a handful of games, mainly during the past five seasons with TAMU’s entrance into the SEC, the Aggies lead the overall record, 5-2. With exception to their first seasons Coach Sumlin and Coach Malzahn have struggled during November. Although Coach Sumlin’s job security seems further in peril both coaches entered 2017 on the hot seat. It appears the offensive-minded coaches will finish their seasons that way too with November games likely sealing their fate. Texas A&M hosts Auburn Saturday, November 4, at 11 a.m.

 

  • 0 Number of times the home team has won this series since Texas A&M moved to the SEC

  • 15 Current spread that favors Auburn. Auburn has yet to win against TAMU when favored

  • 67% Kevin Sumlin’s total win percentage at Texas A&M

  • 5 Heisman winners between Auburn and Texas A&M

  • 1 Heisman winner Malzahn and Sumlin have each coached at their respective schools

  • 11-8 Kevin Sumlin’s Head Coach record during November at Texas A&M (57%)

  • 10-7 Gus Malzahn’s Head Coach record during November at Auburn (58%)

  • 9,725,000 Combined dollar salary for one-year’s work as the TAMU and Auburn head coach

Painter’s Points 10/24/17

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This is the first edition of a weekly series called Painter’s Points. Each week Painter provides five points that examine the current status of Auburn sports, locally and nationally, with periodic pop culture tidbits. This week, a murmur lingers around Auburn after their heart wrenching loss against LSU and a strong rebound on the road at Arkansas.

 

  • 36 Points per game for Auburn during 2017 tied for 29th in the country

  • 4-1 Gus Malzahn’s head coach record versus Arkansas

  • 112 Number of points Auburn has outscored Arkansas since Malzahn became head coach

  • 58% Auburn football’s November record since 2013

  • 5-3 Auburn’s bowl record during previous decade (did not qualify in 2008 or 2012)