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What's the Point of Gus Malzahn as Head Coach, But Not Play Caller?

I've got an answer for you.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn is searching for a new offensive coordinator for the first time since Gus Malzahn arrived on the Plains as a head coach. While there have been plenty of questions about who controlled the offense and to what degree during the 2016 season, the word is that Gus Malzahn will bring in an offensive coordinator for 2017 who will have complete control over the offense and play calling.

That has, of course, led to questions among Auburn fans. Gus Malzahn was hired as an offensive genius and it was his offensive system that was the reason Auburn fans were so excited. What, then, is the point of Gus Malzahn as the head coach if we're bringing in a new offensive coordinator who won't be running Gus Malzahn's offense?

Well, I'll tell you.

First, let's go back and look at 2012. The opening game of that season wasn't that bad. It was a close game against Clemson that Auburn could have won if a few plays went differently. Unfortunately, the rest of the season saw a long spiral downward that resulted in Gene Chizik becoming the first Auburn coach to ever be fired before his first contract terms had run out.*

I don't think anyone argued Chizik should have been given more time. I genuinely liked Gene. I thought he was a good man. I also knew it was time to make a change. Everyone did.

Now let's fast forward four years later to the end of Gus Malzahn's fourth year on the Plains. There have been some trying times. There have been some bad losses. There have been games, play calls, personnel choices, etc, that have made us shake our heads and wonder what's going on.

There has been nothing about this team that looked like 2012, though.

It goes much deeper than that. Auburn has averaged Top 10 recruiting classes under Malzahn. There's never been a point where I saw a team that wanted to quit and give up. Even in the annoyingly painful 2015 season that could have collapsed at so many points, I saw a team that stayed motivated and kept fighting. That team had no business going late into the second half with a chance to beat Alabama, and yet it did.

It's rare that a head coach calls the plays. I can think of only a very few that do. At some point, every coordinator who becomes a head coach relinquishes those duties of managing the details. What matters after that is how they manage the other aspects of being the man in charge.

Where does Gus Malzahn stand on that? His teams don't quit, as I noted above. He recruits well. He's faced coaching issues where he's decided to make a change when he saw a change was necessary. He allowed a disciplinary situation to become a problem with one team and then the next year cut the chord quickly before it ever had the chance to reach that point.

In short, he's grown. He's been Auburn's head coach for four years. He's been a head coach at the college level for only five years. We've had to watch a coach go through growing pains in the hardest division of one of the toughest conferences in all of college football.

All he's done is win the division (and conference) in one of those years (the year directly following one of the lowest points in Auburn Football history) and finished second in the conference and gone to the Sugar Bowl in another.

There have still been plenty of problems - most notably with the quarterbacks - but when it comes to the overall management of the football team, there are plenty of good things to point to, as well.

Whoever the offensive coordinator is, I think it's safe to say that Gus will have a good part of the game planning. Gus - and probably Herb Hand, as well - will work with the OC. Turning over the play calling doesn't mean completely letting everything go. Gus and Herb's run concepts paired with a great QB coach and passing coordinator could be an absolutely deadly combination.

Not having Gus Malzahn call the plays doesn't mean Gus is pointless as a head coach. He's come a long way over the last few seasons and is showing even more growth with this decision to bring in someone with new ideas.

There are plenty of things Auburn fans have to complain about. Complaining about the point of a head coach who is making the right moves as a head coach is one of the dumber things I can think of.

Now, let's get to naming that offensive coordinator so we can start looking at what the 2017 offense is going to look like.

War Eagle.

*So, yeah, the media can shut up about the "Auburn has a quick trigger finger" on coaches. I believe Tuco is working on an article about THAT subject as we speak.