UCF coach Gus Malzahn needs to make up his mind about calling plays | Commentary

Head coach Gus Malzahn created quite a flood of discussion and debate a few days ago when he revealed that he will go back to being the chief offensive play-caller next season for UCF.

Personally, I don’t understand why there is so much debate about this. Malzahn, after all, has been one of the great offensive minds in college football over the last two decades.

However, I do have one question:

Why does he keep giving up the play-calling duties and then changing his mind?

I hearken back to something another renowned college football play-calling head coach, Steve Spurrier, once told me when I asked him why he was unlike so many other offensive-minded head coaches who cede the job of calling plays to an offensive coordinator?

“Why would I do that?” Spurrier replied. “Drawing up ball plays and calling them during the game is the fun part of the job. Besides, play-calling is the reason I got a chance to be a head coach in the first place.”

It’s the same for Malzahn. He was a high school coaching legend in Arkansas who would go on to become one of college football’s great offensive coordinators. Malzahn was one of the inventors of the hurry-up, no-huddle offense that has become all the rage today. Malzahn literally wrote the book on the up-tempo spread offense two decades ago.

However, Malzahn gave up the play-calling duties multiple times during his final years as the head coach at Auburn, and, quite frankly, it didn’t go well at all. When he took the job at UCF, he acknowledged that calling plays is what he is good at and what he loves, and he vowed he’d never, ever relinquish play-calling duties again.

Well, that lasted until a year ago when Malzahn decided to stop calling plays, in part, because he said he needed to focus on recruiting, the transfer portal, raising money for NIL and managing UCF’s roster.

Malzahn hired former UCF quarterback Darin Hinshaw as the offensive coordinator and play-caller before last season, but couldn’t even go the entire year without once again taking over as the main play-caller.

“About halfway through last year,” Malzahn admitted, “I felt I needed to be much more involved.”

Of course, he did, because that’s what Gus Malzahn does. He’s a play-caller and he’ll always be a play-caller.

I just wish he would make up his mind and quit waffling about it. If you’re going to call the plays then, by all means, call the plays. If you’re not then let somebody else do it.

It does seem a bit baffling that Malzahn is making this decision after a season in which UCF’s offense, under Hinshaw, was ranked eighth in the country (and second in the Big 12) in total offense. That’s the highest offensive ranking the team has had in Malzahn’s three seasons.

It’s also confusing to many fans that Malzahn now has three coaches on his staff who have “offensive coordinator” listed in their job title, and, yet, Malzahn is the one calling the plays. There’s newly hired offensive coordinator Tim Harris Jr., who left the University of Miami and is now listed as the offensive coordinator and running backs coach. Meanwhile, Hinshaw (quarterbacks) and Herb Hand (offensive line) are listed as “co-offensive coordinator.”

Actually, this isn’t unusual in the wacky world of putting together a staff in college football. If a head coach wants to attract or retain good assistant coaches then he has to give the assistant some sort of official title. For instance, Florida State has a head coach (Mike Norvell), an associate head coach (Odell Haggins) and a deputy head coach (Chris Thomsen).

Harris, a former state championship-winning high school coach at Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School, is considered an excellent running backs coach, teacher of the game and recruiter in South Florida. To entice him to leave UM (his alma mater), Malzahn presumably had to offer Harris a hefty pay raise and the title of offensive coordinator.

If this is what it takes to get the best position coaches and recruiters on his staff then more power to Malzahn. As for Malzahn resuming play-calling duties, I never thought he should have given them up in the first place.

I also give UCF’s head coach tons of credit for taking full responsibility for last year’s 6-7 record — his first losing season as a college head coach — and shaking up his staff to make sure it never happens again.

“The bottom line is my job is to do whatever’s best for our team to win,” Malzahn says. “Going 6-7, that’s where it starts. You have to understand, I’ve been real fortunate, I’ve never had a losing season in my life. When you finally do that, you evaluate yourself as a head coach.

“I know how to win and last year was totally unacceptable,” he added. “This is a championship-type program. To have a losing record is unacceptable. You first evaluate yourself as a head coach, which I did, and then you make the proper adjustments so it won’t happen again. We’ll be better next year. I promise you that.”

The message is clear.

Malzahn is once again fully in charge of driving the Gus Bus.

Call the plays, Gus.

Keep calling the plays.

Don’t ever stop calling the plays.

It’s who you are.

It’s what you do.

Email me at Hit me up on X (formerly Twitter) @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and