Gus Malzahn and Developing Quarterbacks, Part 1

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

**Updated in Part 2 after much good discussion.**

Gus Malzahn and Developing Quarterbacks

The "Gus can’t develop quarterbacks" line is bunk... Tulsa’s quarterbacks got better. Chris Todd got better. Cam got better. Once-and-future defensive back Nick Marshall threw for 456 yards at Alabama. White’s gotten better.

Either Gus gets the credit for all of his QBs, or he doesn’t. On the plus side, Jerry gives Gus credit for Chris Todd, Cam Newton, and Nick Marshall. But Jerry gives Gus a pass on Clint Moseley, Kiehl Frazier, Jeremy Johnson, and John Franklin III.*

Can Gus Malzahn develop quarterbacks? Are his tenures any different from other periods in recent Auburn history? I took a look at the last 16 years of data to find out.

I used quarterback rating as a proxy for overall quality of play, and built a chart of rating vs. season year. Each quarterback who played more than one season in the period from 2000-2016 has a line. White dots represent seasons with less than 10 attempts per game on average, filled dots vice-versa. Seasons with only a single attempt, such as Kodi Burns' single TD pass in 2010, are excluded. Coaching progression is represented by a yellow line.

QBR vs Year


I looked qualitatively in order to group players by exposure to coach, and figure out what they actually did on a season-to-season basis. Sample sizes for each quarterback are likely too small to permit quantitative analysis.

Because he is given the lion's share of criticism for quarterback development under Lashlee, and because Lashlee was on our staff for part of his initial tenure, I have considered Malzahn's and Lashlee's stints as OC as effectively the same.

Players who endured a coaching carousel

These players seemed to be somewhat unpredictable. Campbell's play fluctuated widely with coaching, whereas Cobb and Burns seemed to follow their own trends with no respect to the OC.

  • Daniel Cobb : Mazzone -> Petrino.
    Slight improvement with Petrino.
  • Jason Campbell : Mazzone -> Petrino -> Nallsminger -> Borges.
    Improved with Petrino, improved with Borges.
  • Kodi Burns : Borges -> Franklin -> Malzahn.
    Started with poor ratings, regressed slightly every year.

Borges only

Hard to draw conclusions from these players. Cox's play is confounded by his myasthenia gravis (he is first in the recent succession of medically-plagued quarterbacks). Field wasn't really relied on.

  • Brandon Cox
    Overall regression from high point in 2004.
  • Blake Field
    Inconsistent, but not a real significant contributor.

Malzahn only

Of the quarterbacks coached solely by Malzahn, most improved under his tutelage, most prominently Marshall and White. Johnson seems to be an exception**. When not relied on as the starter, he performed exceptionally well, but as the starting QB he was overall no better than Moseley.

  • Barrett Trotter
    Slight improvement from 2010 to 2011
  • Nick Marshall
    Definite improvement from 2013 to 2014
  • Jeremy Johnson
    Dramatic regression from 2013 to 2016
  • Sean White
    Significant improvement from 2015 to 2016

Malzahn edge cases

These are players who started under a different OC and finished with Malzahn, or vice-versa. Quarterbacks mostly improved when Malzahn arrived, though Wallace regressed**. Moseley as the starter regressed when Malzahn left, though Frazier improved (albeit not in a way that truly represents a coaching success).

  • Neil Caudle : Franklin -> Malzahn
    Significant improvement
  • Chris Todd : Franklin -> Malzahn
    Significant improvement and set records
  • Clint Moseley : Malzahn -> Loeffler
    Significant regression.
  • Kiehl Frazier : Malzahn -> Loeffler
    Significant improvement, but only from truly bad to merely dismal
  • Jonathan Wallace : Loeffler -> Malzahn
    Significant regression


Malzahn's presence as a head coach or OC results in improved quarterback play. When he arrives or if he stays, quarterbacks usually improve. When he leaves, quarterbacks either regress or continue to have dismal play. Thus, there seems to be some good evidence that Malzahn can coach quarterbacks.**

The exceptions to these trends are Johnson and Wallace***. Interpretations of their regressions will vary, and are not limited to the following :

  • Johnson's physical talents outstrip his other capabilities, and he was unable to keep up with the broad demand of being a starter.
  • Johnson and Wallace need a coach with a particular style in order to flourish, and Malzahn does not have that style. (I am reminded of Campbell in this regard.)

Overall, my opinion is that these two examples are not evidence of Malzahn's inability to coach quarterbacks.

We don't have as much data for other coaches because of OC turnover in the past 16 years, and data for the few quarterbacks developed by a single other coach are confounded. As such, there aren't any valid coach-to-coach comparisons.

* I don't use this quote to pick on anyone or single anyone out. I just felt that these quotes encapsulated the valid opposing viewpoints well.

** This originally read : the claim that Gus Malzahn can't develop quarterbacks seems demonstrably false. After some discussion, I softened my claim, on the suggestion of jd is legend.

*** 2013 is an odd year, in that one pocket passer flourished alongside Marshall, and another floundered. This can be explained by their relative talent levels (3-star vs. 5-star Mr. Alabama).

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