Posted by Jerry Hinnen
In what might be the most surprising hire of the 2011 coaching carousel, Arkansas State has hired away coveted Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn as the Red Wolves' new head football coach.
The news was being reported Tuesday night by multiple outlets including the Birmingham News, AuburnUndercover.com, and others. Malzahn will replace new Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, hired by the Rebels Dec. 4 after one 10-2 season in Jonesboro.
Gene Chizik announced Wednesday that Malzahn would remain on the Auburn staff through the Tigers' Chick-Fil-A Bowl appearance against Virginia.
"I'm very happy for Gus and the opportunity that awaits him at Arkansas State," Chizik said. "Gus has always had the strong desire to become a head coach and the chance for him to return to his home state that he is so familiar with, will be very beneficial."
Though contract terms are not yet public, Malzahn is expected to earn somewhere between $650,000 and $850,000 in annual salary to coach ASU. Though that represents approximately three times what the Red Wolves were paying Freeze (who had been promoted from offensive coordinator to replace the dismissed Steve Roberts), those figures would amount to a substantial pay cut for Malzahn, who earned $1.3 million this season as one of the nation's highest-paid assistants.
As recently as last year, Malzahn also reportedly turned down offers from both Vanderbilt and Maryland, the former to have allegedly paid him in the ballpark of $3 million per season. So why bolt for a program that until this year had been to all of one bowl game as a full Division I member?
That Malzahn is a native of Fort Smith, Ark. and remains one of the state's all-time most successful high school coaches certainly doesn't hurt, but CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman also reported that Malzahn "feels like he needs to prove he's a head coach" after being passed over for the recently filled Kansas and North Carolina positions.
Whatever his reasoning, it leaves Auburn in the awkward position of having to replace both coordinators in the space of a single offseason after the recent departure of Ted Roof. Chizik received a substantial bump in salary after his national title-winning season; he's about to have to earn it.