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Gus Malzahn, unicorns and Longhorns

Flawed logic may say that Gus Malzahn should leave for Texas. Serious thinking says it's a little premature to assume that.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn has had three undefeated coaches in the last 30 years.

Each one of those coaches eventually left.

Therefore, any Auburn coach who wins big will eventually be forced out.

So, it's in the best interest of any Auburn coaches who does win big, to leave early before he's shown the door.

That's the basic summary of the latest Sports Illustrated article by Pete Thamel.

History tells us that Auburn coaches -- no matter how successful -- don't have long and stable professional careers. Just ask Terry Bowden, who started 11-0 in 1993. Or Tommy Tuberville, who went 13-0 in 2004 after a failed coup to hire Bobby Petrino. Or Gene Chizik, who got fired two seasons after going 14-0 and winning the national title.

Eventually, serendipity meets reality. The pendulum of good fortune swings the other way. Charmed runs meet market corrections. There's a lot about the way this season unfolded that has been a unicorn. And unicorns don't often travel in packs.

Thamel uses this logic (and some other NCAA boogey-man related musings) as his reasoning for why head coach Gus Malzahn should leave Auburn. Why he should leave Auburn and go to Texas.

This is an informal fallacy. (Probably closer to a faulty generalization). To me, it's closer to "misleading vividness" than anything else. (Then again, I was an RTVF major and not a philosophy major.)

Here are are some issues with Thamel's thinking:

1. The Texas Job is not open (currently)

The current head coach of the Texas Longhorns is Mack Brown. That job is not open. Will it become open? Sure. Until the time that it actually becomes open, any speculation on who might be the 2014 head coach is null.

Say you are out with your friends one night. One of them is married (we'll call him Randy). You and your buddies see a table full of attractive women. Do you and your buddies start immediately speculating on who the future Mrs. Randy could be? No, because Randy is not divorced. Sure, he and the current Mrs. Randy have had issues and aren't as happy as they once were. Sure, his parents may have talked openly and privately about who the next Mrs. Randy could be. But right now, in this moment? Randy has a Mrs. Randy. That's not changing in the next week.

2. We need to better define what qualifies as a "long and stable career" at Auburn.

Tommy Tuberville had 10 seasons at Auburn. He had four of those after his undefeated year. We can even use Tuberville as the jumping off point for our comparisons. Since 1999, Tuberville's first year, Auburn has had three different head coaches in that 14-year span. Compare that to the rest of the league. All combined, the 14 SEC schools have averaged four different head coaches in the 14 year span:

  • Florida (5): Spurrier, Zook, Strong (interim), Meyer, Muschamp
  • Georgia (2): Donnan, Richt
  • Kentucky (6): Mumme, Morriss, Brooks, Phillips, Stoops
  • Missouri (2): Smith, Pinkel. I'm not counting Dave Steckel here, even though he coached two games
  • South Carolina (2): Holtz, Spurrier
  • Tennessee (4): Fulmer, Kiffin, Dooley, Jones. Jim Chaney also served as interim coach.
  • Vanderbilt (4): Widenhofer, Johnson, Caldwell, Franklin
  • Alabama (4): Dubose, Franchione, Shula, Kines, Saban. I'm not counting Mike Price or Joe Kines (interim) here.
  • Arkansas (4): Nutt, Petrino, Smith, Bielema. Reggie Herring served as interim.
  • LSU (3): DiNardo, Saban, Miles. Hal Hunter served as interim. Honestly, this should be closer to two, since 1999 was DiNardo's last season.
  • Ole Miss (4): Cutcliffe, Orgeron, Nutt, Freeze
  • Mississippi State (3): Sherrill, Croom, Mullen
  • Texas A&M (4): Slocum, Franchione, Sherman, Sumlin. Tim DeRuyter and Gary Darnell served as interim coaches.
If anything, Auburn is closer to the average. Even Terry Bowden (who, need I remind everyone did not get fired; he quit) still had five (meh, 4 1/2) seasons after his undefeated year.

Auburn is no different than any of these other schools.

3. Eventually, serendipity meets reality. (That's bull.)

This is where I have the biggest issue with Thamel's generalization. Just because Gus Malzahn is the coach at Auburn does not mean he is the same as Terry Bowden, Gene Chizik and Tommy Tuberville.

What Bowden did was magical. That is hard to to argue. Bowden's luck didn't even run out. He still posted seasons of nine, eight, eight and 10 wins before everything came to a crashing stop in 1998.

Tuberville was the same way: seasons of nine, 11 and nine wins before a disaster of 2008 (five wins).

The difference between those three and Guz Malzahn? Malzahn has shown no interest in being a game manager, a CEO coach. That's what makes our unicorn this year different. He is constantly innovating and teaching. It's a passion.

Here's when serendipity meets reality: When you stop improving and you get complacent. Malzahn has been the head coach of a major program for one year. One. This year, at Auburn. He's been an FBS head coach two years. Two.

How have all the detractors when Malzahn was hired suddenly become songbirds? How has one season changed him from an inexperienced coach with a gimmicky offense (their words, not mine) to a sought-after commodity?

Auburn is still a challenge. Going in to 2014, for the first time, Gus Malzahn will have the same quarterback he had the year before. The expectations will be high in 2014, but they will still be tempered. The schedule will be daunting. The challenge and the excitement and the ability to continually improve will still be there. Gus has yet to truly and fully implement his style. He still needs pieces, and the steps taken on the recruiting trail show that he is working hard to get those pieces.

Texas can throw the bank at him. Texas may be his dream job -- according to Thamel's source -- but Auburn is his home, and Jay Jacobs and the Auburn powers that be can do everything they can to make it his home for a long, long time.

Should Gus leave for Texas because he's been successful at Auburn, and history has shown that coaches who have success at Auburn eventually fizzle out and are put to pasture? No.

Because that happens everywhere. That's why we have coaching changes. That's why you make a change: because you can't live up to your previous success.

Using Thamel's logic, I should never fly on an airplane because some airplanes do, eventually, fall down to Earth in fiery balls of steel and sadness. So, to be safe, I should just never fly again.

This may be all with orange-and-blue glasses, but I don't see why the Texas job is even appealing. The recruiting is even more cutthroat, the media requirements are more than 20-fold than what they are at Auburn and the world of Austin is a far cry from the small-town feel of Auburn. That just doesn't seem to be Gus' style. This is home. He came back to Auburn. He's rescued Auburn.

What is a bigger legacy for a coach? Winning at Texas with all of the history, facilities, money and exposure, or winning at Auburn, in the best league in NCAA football, where your stock is high, but can (and will) be even higher?

Gus may be Auburn's unicorn. However, in this case, he's our last unicorn. Jay Jacobs should make sure of that.

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