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December 4, 2013

Logical conclusion

Untitled

AUBURN | Gus Malzahn isn't the trusting type.

Auburn's head coach isn't outspoken. He doesn't share his opinion publicly about much of anything because opinions don't have much meaning in his world. Heck, he doesn't share much privately for the same reason.

Malzahn is a binary man, a bookworm, an introverted designer who works in secrecy with only a few collaborators. If left to his own devices, he'd be a recluse who scribbles plays on the back of napkins, facilitates a football practice every single day of the year and squeezes in just enough time to eat and sleep.

That's who Malzahn is right now. That's who he was 15 years ago. That's who he'll be 15 years from now.

Pete Thamel doesn't know that.

The unofficial muckraker of successful NCAA programs, whose poorly researched story about Manti Te'o's "girlfriend" became one of the most unseemly journalistic gaffes of the decade, unleashed another confounding salvo Tuesday at SI.com. In it, Thamel writes: "According to a source, Malzahn has told friends privately that coaching the (Texas) Longhorns is his dream job."

Friends. Plural. As if Malzahn suddenly has become a social butterfly like Tommy Tuberville, hopping from one clique to another spouting off about his plans -- real or imagined.

There is no date associated with the unsourced quote.

Was that in 1997, when Malzahn was engineering what would become his (soon-to-be-patented) hurry-up, no-huddle offense at Shiloh Christian High?

Was that in 2006, when Malzahn made the move to University of Arkansas as offensive coordinator and clearly had his eyes on bigger challenges?

Was that last season, when Malzahn made it abundantly clear that he was overqualified to coach in the Sun Belt Conference?

Was it two weeks ago, when Malzahn was completely ensconced in one of the most mesmerizing seasons in the history of college football?

It doesn't really matter. Malzahn isn't scheming to leave Auburn, hasn't schemed to leave Auburn.

Many coaches, particularly in this new world of excessive riches in college football, always are planning their next move. Malzahn doesn't think that way.

He's not driven by money, though he'll certainly earn plenty of it during the next three months. Malzahn makes $2.3 million per season and already has earned $250,000 in bonuses.

Even without a BCS bowl trip, the head coach is on pace to earn another $375,000 in bonus cash. Athletic director Jay Jacobs, a man who isn't shy about shelling out cash to coaches, already has said a richer contract will hit agent Jimmy Sexton's desk before long.

It'll be a good Christmas in the Malzahn household -- and it's certainly deserved. Still, money takes a back seat to football in Malzahn's world.

He's also not driven by fame. Dealing with the media is a necessary obstacle in Malzahn's world and he's become adept at saying nothing. Though he certainly understands how to work a room from behind the podium, Malzahn never searches out an opportunity to stand behind a microphone.

He'd rather be in front of a dry-erase board or standing on grass with quarterbacks nearby.

Thamel doesn't know that about Malzahn. He instead begins with a flawed premise and goes on to offer his own reasons why Malzahn should leave Auburn for Texas should an offer from the Longhorns materialize.

Among the most errant assertions:

  • "In the 14-team SEC, Auburn will never be better than the fifth-best job, as Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU are widely considered a notch above the Tigers' position." This comes down to your interpretation of better. Those schools have built-in recruiting grounds that make it easier to sign top recruits in those areas, though I'm not sure Malzahn considers that a problem. His offensive system doesn't require hyped recruits, the Tigers' ability to land five-star tailback Racean Thomas is an important exception, and it's not like Auburn has struggled to recruit during the past five seasons. Auburn has considerable financial resources and has exhibited little inhibition applying those resources toward improvements within the football program.

  • "History tells us that Auburn coaches -- no matter how successful -- don't have long and stable professional careers." Aside from the obvious miss on Tuberville, whose Cincinnati Bearcats are 9-2 right now, the storyline of Terry Bowden and Gene Chizik as victims doesn't match with reality. Many of Bowden's biggest problems were his own creations and the same could be said of Chizik.

  • "Meddling boosters have been a huge problem at Auburn in the past ..." Though no Auburn observer can discount the role boosters played a decade ago, there was only one set of fingerprints on Gene Chizik's dismissal: Those of athletic director Jay Jacobs. Auburn is a much different place behind the scenes these days. People who are here every day can see the difference.

  • "The school had enough concerns about its players' off-field behavior that it paid an outside company nearly $75,000 to monitor its players to uphold an 11 p.m. curfew last season." Chizik's paranoia has nothing to do with current events.

  • "Perhaps this is the start of a long and prosperous run of success on the field and a lack of issues off it." The start? Auburn went undefeated in 2004, won 11 games in 2006, won a national championship in 2010 (along with a third Heisman Trophy) and now is on the verge of another BCS championship game. Things went awry in 2008 and 2012, clearly, but what's also clear is that Auburn is capable of bouncing back quickly.

  • "Chasing Saban isn't a wise way to spend one's prime coaching years." Malzahn had to "chase" Saban on Saturday night for a post-game handshake; students rushing the field after Auburn's 34-28 victory made things difficult. Look, winning big at any SEC school will lead to the College Football Playoff next season and beyond. The Western Division is the best collection of talent (coaches and players) in the country and Malzahn is a competitor. He wants to go against the best. He's in the right place for that challenge.

    The world of college football can be chaotic and random. Anything is possible. Perhaps Mack Brown will leave Texas. Perhaps Texas will ask to talk with Malzahn. Perhaps Malzahn will talk with Texas. And while the Longhorns may be able to offer easier recruiting, more fame and perhaps a bit more money, Malzahn doesn't seem interested in increasing his supply of those things.

    He'll earn a significant raise soon.

    He can retain some semblance of anonymity at Auburn.

    He can win a national title at Auburn. He's already accomplished it once and he's on the verge of doing it again.

    In a world of chaos and random chance, Malzahn much prefers objective, verifiable data. Auburn is a championship-caliber program that adores Malzahn and will do anything to keep him here.

    The facts tell the story.



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