Tue Dec 13 09:42pm EST
Well, here's something I didn't expect to be writing today: Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is about to take a 30 percent pay cut to become the head coach at Arkansas State. Batten down the hatches, everybody.
Are NCAA hawks about to swarm on Auburn? Did the Tigers' predictable post-Cam Newton plunge ruin Malzahn's reputation as an offensive mastermind? Did his crazy wife scare off more attractive suitors? Are real estate prices in and around Jonesboro, Ark., the steal of the century? Why is he taking this job?
I don't know. With Malzahn's reputation, he could conceivably top the wish list at any one of at least five current vacancies — and most of the dozen head-coaching jobs that have already been filled over the last month — all of which could afford to improve on his $1.2 million salary at Auburn, the highest in the nation for an offensive coordinator. Last year, he was reportedly on the verge of agreeing to a $3 million deal at Vanderbilt before things fell apart. Earlier this year he was reportedly a leading candidate for the North Carolina job, which eventually went to Southern Miss' Larry Fedora for $1.7 million.
According to al.com, Malzahn is expected to make "around $850,000" at his new job, which is digging really deep for Arkansas State as it is: His predecessor, Hugh Freeze, was the lowest-paid head coach in Division I this year with total pay amounting to a little over $200,000. They're quadrupling that number for Malzahn, and it's still less than half what he could have earned at the other jobs he's been connected to. Hell, Freeze is now making a base salary of $1.5 million at his new job, Ole Miss, and the vast majority of Rebel fans would have leapt to hire Malzahn instead.
There's only one thing Arkansas State has going for it: It's home. Malzahn grew up in Arkansas, went to college in Arkansas, and built his career in the Arkansas prep ranks, where he literally wrote the book on the hurry-up, no-huddle philosophy that he deployed to prolific effect at Shiloh Christian and Springdale high schools. His first college job was at Arkansas, where he followed four senior stars — including his five-star quarterback, Mitch Mustain — from Springdale's state championship team in 2006.
When that experiment went bust, he joined up with one of his old high school rivals, Todd Graham, as Graham's offensive coordinator at Tulsa, where his attacks led the nation in total offense in 2007 and finished second in 2008, despite a pair of pedestrian quarterbacks whose names no one will ever remember outside of the record books. (Paul Smith and David Johnson, for the record.) With long-striding, Heisman-winning freak Cam Newton at the controls last year, Malzahn's second offense at Auburn averaged 42 points per game en route to a BCS championship, and his ascension to a top job seemed inevitable. Given the massive attrition from the championship team, this year's tumble to the depths of the SEC rankings — the first time in six years his attack has finished outside of the top 30 nationally in total offense — hasn't damaged his standing in the rumor mills. (Not nearly as much as that leaked video of Kristi Malzahn Uncensored, anyway.)
So: Gus Malzahn is going home to take over a Sun Belt squad that just turned in its first winning season since 1995, and Auburn is going to be replacing coordinators on both sides of the ball following defensive coordinator Ted Roof's departure to Central Florida. They don't call it the silly season for nothing.