There's always angst with uncertainty.
War Eagle, everybody! It's a scary week on the plains. It's been nearly ten years since Auburn football has lost both coordinators in the same month. This time a year ago, we had hit the jackpot with a national championship coaching staff. This Christmas, the stocking's stuffed with coal and folks are abandoning ship in all directions. Is this Auburn Armageddon, or could it just be normal turnover in modern college football?
While defensive coordinator Ted Roof's departure raised eyebrows, the departure of Gus Malzhan for a job paying sixty cents on the dollar has put a big cloud of doubt on the program. There will be speculation raging till Auburn finds new coordinators, but the real truth is unlikely to ever be known. Sportswriters far and wide speak of differences between Malzhan and his first college employer, Houston Nutt. I've never heard Malzhan say a bad word about Nutt, and we'll likely never hear anything negative on Gus' tenure at Auburn. It's a chapter closed.
Coordinator change is inevitable in college football. Lone gone are the days when a head coach stays decades, and his staff remains the same for much of it. A number of sources are pointing to a possible hire of Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops by the end of the week. For those who've been calling for Auburn to blitz more, that should be a boon. Far more worrisome is who might replace Gus Malzhan.
As far as the face of a football program goes, the offensive coordinator and system is like almost like a brand name. The longer Auburn goes with uncertainty here, the worse it will hurt recruiting. This is a hire that needs to be made soon. So, how often does Auburn trade in offensive coordinators, anyway?
A look at 30+ years of Auburn offensive coordinators, after the jump!
With the firing of head Coach Doug Barfield in December of 1980, the modern era of Auburn football was ushered in. Barfield's last offensive coordinator (sort of, I'm not sure Auburn really had that title back then) was Alex Gibbs, who stayed at Auburn for 3 years. These days, Gibbs is widely recognized as the father of the zone blocking scheme, and made a number of stops in the NFL as a line coach. Auburn was a powerhouse on the ground under Gibbs, even with a nearly non-existent passing game. With Gibbs running the offense in 1979, Auburn had two thousand yard rushers in the same backfield, Joe Cribbs and James Brooks.
Pat Dye's first offensive coordinator was Jack Crowe. Crowe had success at Auburn running the wishbone with Auburn stars Bo Jackson, Lionel James and Tommy Agee. It was the hottest offense in the SEC, till quarterback Randy Campbell graduated. Without an option quarterback, the 1984 team floundered offensively at times, and a power-I offense was installed in 1985. While the I produced a Heisman trophy for Bo Jackson, it was unable to move on the good teams, and Auburn lost 4 games. Crowe was fired at the end of the 1985 season, after 4 years, and went on to run the offense at Clemson and later Arkansas. Crowe was briefly the head coach at Arkansas, and returned to head coaching at Jacksonville State University about a decade ago.
Dye's replacement for Crowe was offense by committee. Pat Sullivan was brought in to coach quarterbacks, and Larry Blakeney handled the receivers. Auburn transitioned from a running team to a passing team,and won three back to back SEC titles during this time. In 1990, Auburn started freshman quarterback Stan White, and predictably the offense was stagnant against the better defenses. Blakeney took the head job at Troy at the end of the season. Blakeney has held that post at Troy for more than 20 years. Pat Dye decided that he needed an offensive coordinator, and hired Tommy Bowden to come in and serve as both the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. Pat Sullivan lasted one season under that arrangement, then took the head coaching job at TCU. Subsequently, Sullivan was offensive coordinator at UAB, and is currently the head coach at Samford.
Tommy Bowden was essentially Auburn's offensive coordinator from 1991 through 1996, although head coach Terry Bowden called the plays from 1993-1996. While the Dye/Bowden offenses were pretty forgettable, the two Bowdens produced 4 straight years that Auburn averaged 32 or more points per game, the longest such stretch in Auburn history. Tommy Bowden left after the 1996 season to take the head gig at Tulane, where he produced an undefeated season in 1998. That led to a 10 year stint at Clemson. When Tommy Bowden left Auburn, the points plunged.
Rodney Allison took over offensive coordinator duties at Auburn in 1997 and half of 1998. Allison never really had a chance, as Auburn suffered numerous offensive line injuries during his brief tenure. Allison left at mid-season in 1998 due to a disagreement with interim head coach Bill Oliver. Quarterback coach Jimbo Fisher finished the 1998 season as the play caller, to little success. Allison coached defensive ends at Clemson for 4 years after his Auburn gig, then was the head coach at Chattanooga from 2003-2008.
In 1999, new head coach Tommy Tuberville brought Noel Mazzone in as the offensive coordinator. Mazzone ran what was considered to be a high powered short-passing offense. Mazzone persevered through a changing cast of offensive characters, and was fired after 3 seasons. In the third season, he had lost his starting quarterback and had to replace him with a freshman, and went through 4 tailbacks. Also, Auburn's starting fullback and best wide receiver had graduated. As we've seen recently, youth is not an excuse with the Auburn faithful. Mazzone has had 6 offensive coordinator jobs since 2001, never staying at one place longer than 2 years. His most notable post-Auburn stop was North Carolina State, where he tutored Heisman candidate Phillip Rivers.
Replacing Mazzone in 2002 was Bobby Petrino. Petrino jumped Auburn's offense from 21 to 30 points per game, although a lot of that increase can be attributed to adding woeful Western Carolina and Louisiana Monroe defenses to the schedule. Auburn scored 108 of its 388 points that year on those two teams. Petrino left Auburn after just one season to take over the head coaching gig at Louisville. In four years with the Cardinals, Petrino won the Conference USA title in 2004, then the Big East Title in 2006. He then coached less than a year for the Atlanta Falcons, and was hired away by Arkansas, where he's been the head coach since 2008.
Replacing Petrino was promoted line coach Hugh Nall. Nall's offenses ran all over the Vanderbilts and Louisiana Monroes of the world, but disappeared against the likes of Southern Cal, Georgia Tech, LSU and Georgia. Nall was demoted at the end of the 2003 season, remaining as line coach through 2008.
Al Borges was tapped to replace Nall. Borges' first two offenses produced 32 points per game, but the last two went steadily downward. At the end of his 4th regular season, Borges and head coach Tommy Tuberville parted ways over philosophical differences. Tuberville had become convinced that he needed to run the spread offense in order to recruit, and Borges wanted to remain with the west coast offense.
Tuberville hired Tony Franklin away from Troy to install the spread, running it just a couple of weeks after the hire in the 2007 Chick Filet Bowl. Franklin lasted just half of the 2008 season, and was fired after a well-publicized meltdown at a practice. Franklin's offense had managed only 11 points per game against 4 SEC opponents. Tight ends coach Steve Ensminger finished that season as the offensive play caller, with similar results.
New head coach Gene Chizik brought in Gus Malzhan for the 2009 season. Both 2009 and 2010 seasons produced record-breaking offenses, but the 2011 edition seemed to regress as the season went on. Malzhan has left after 3 seasons to take the head coaching job at Arkansas State.
Recapping, in the last 30 years from Crowe forward, Auburn's had 10 offensive coordinators. That's not counting Jimbo Fisher or Steve Ensminger, who finished seasons out for the departed. Thus, your average tenure at Auburn is 3 years for an offensive coordinator. The longest tenure was Tommy Bowden, who had to survive a head coaching change to do that. Pat Sullivan was also at Auburn for 6 years, but never was a true coordinator.
Does Malzhan leaving mean the end of great Auburn football? Hardly. He's served an average tenure, and will move on to other things, as have the ten guys before him. I have little doubt that Gene Chizik will hire a capable replacement. The most interesting aspect will be how well a new coordinator meshes with the existing staff. Will Curtis Luper and/or Trooper Taylor be insulted if they aren't candidates or selected? These questions will be answered one way or another in the coming months. It should be interesting in Auburn!