Ahead of tomorrow’s game against Ole Miss, I want to get some of my personal feelings about this whole situation off of my chest. Warning — sentimental feelings ahead.
Everyone’s aware of the talk that Gus Malzahn (our once-beloved) may not make it through the season if things continue to trend downward. Auburn lost a heartbreaker to LSU in September, but things seemed like they were fixable. Maybe we just played a great team (it seems we did), and lost by a point on the last play of the game. Then came the loss in Starkville, where the Bulldogs did what we used to do to everyone else when we had Cam and Nick running the show at quarterback. Fast forward to last week, and there you have it. You can’t lose to Tennessee, who was supposed to be the worst team in the conference, and expect to have the full support of everyone around you.
At this point, it feels very much like Oliver Stone’s JFK. Gus is surrounded by enemies ready to take him out. There are secret cabals of boosters gathering the necessary money that’ll likely end up being the equivalent to the shot from the sixth floor.
We’ve seen it before, but it usually never came at a time like this. Pat Dye left after a major scandal, Terry Bowden did as well, Tommy Tuberville was on the downslope and didn’t seem able to compete with the tireless machine across the state, and Gene Chizik had lost the team after a winless conference year. Those were justified. Those needed to happen. It’s not so clear now.
All talk regarding what happens this weekend in Oxford and how it affects the rest of the season aside, I want to look back at this past Saturday to share what I felt personally about the last loss.
I was able to go to my first Auburn game in two years. I took my wife (a Tennessee fan, yes, but still) and we got to visit the campus that I love. For some reason, being at the game lessens the sting of defeat. Maybe it’s that I can share the pain with 85,000 other people when our team is struggling. Maybe it was the gorgeous fall day on one of the best campuses in the conference. Maybe it was the two trips to Toomer’s Corner for lemonade (before and after the game). Maybe it was seeing someone that I care about experience happiness that she hadn’t had in some years. I know that doesn’t help the vast majority of fans that witnessed the game on Saturday, but it certainly helps me.
Walking out of the stadium on Saturday, we passed so many areas that hold special meaning to me. Seeing my freshman year apartment at 167 Toomer St started a film reel in my head. The (at the time) mundane and repetitive walks south to campus are now experiences that I realize I took for granted. I’d give so much now to be able to enjoy the trek over Magnolia Avenue day after day, finding myself somewhere on Auburn’s campus, ready to get lost in Haley Center, or head all the way down to the Hill, where I’d leave a Music Appreciation class early. Watching the leaves change, getting lost in a sleepy Tuesday afternoon near the amphitheater, finding someone you know in the student center and catching up. Heck, I’d kill to have my biggest worry being where I could find a parking spot and a free table at RBD. It’s like another lifetime now, but every single time that I get to go back to Auburn and see that those places actually exist, and that it wasn’t some four-year dream, it makes me forget about the pressure of winning football games.
Pat Dye said it best – “Auburn people love Auburn.” It’s true. We do. While we live and die each week with the football team, it’s always nice that most of us get to fall back on the town and the school itself. There are so many of us that get to go to games every week, still live in town, or are able to visit whenever we want. Never take it for granted. It creates an ache, a dull, saddening ache when you’re removed and only get a few precious moments in Auburn every so often.
Of course I’m upset that we can’t seem to find any rhythm on offense, and that somehow we can’t put it together as of late and field a complete defensive team. Now we’re on the brink of getting rid of a coach. I don’t want to do that, and I know you don’t want to do that, but we might have to do it. It’ll cost a ton of money, bad press, likely some players and assistant coaches that we really do revere. Auburn people often almost need some pain in their lives. It’s like we think we deserve it. This is why we can’t have nice things – that kind of mindset.
Some people have been against Gus Malzahn since day one, but then he took us to the brink of a second national championship in four seasons. Last year, he beat two top-ranked teams in a row and won the division. However, those memories cloud the facts that he was a game away from being fired in 2016, and likely saved his job last year by winning out after the LSU loss. I like the coach. I remember pulling for him to be our new offensive coordinator back in the winter of 2008. His offense was revolutionary at the time, but maybe he’s got to adapt. Others have done it, while others have been left behind. The game changes quickly, and there are a ton of legendary coaches no longer in the game for that reason. Les Miles, Steve Spurrier, Mack Brown, Bob Stoops, Joe Paterno, Frank Beamer, Philip Fulmer, and Tommy Tuberville were all still in the game ten years ago. If you would’ve told me that none of them would be around now, I wouldn’t have believed you, but college football’s changing more rapidly than ever these days. Look at a list of current FBS head coaches and tell me how many names you don’t immediately recognize. It’s staggering.
The bottom line is that we can’t stop a buyout and a firing. We can’t control who we want to be the head coach, and we can’t control what happens on the field. Will that stop you from caring about Auburn? No. The cycle goes on. Let’s just see what happens.