The time has come for Auburn to embrace the flaws and successes of Gus Malzahn
It's time for Auburn to let Malzahn be Malzahn, for better or worse
AUBURN, Ala. -- Nobody owns Alabama coach Nick Saban, but Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is living in his property at an extremely discounted rate. It's time for Auburn to get off his back about paying his rent.
Malzahn is 3-4 against Saban as Auburn's coach. Normally, winning just under 43 percent of your games over another coach is grounds for getting fired. Not for Malzahn. Not in this state. Not against the greatest of all time.
Malzahn is the only active coach in the SEC to beat Saban more than once in his career. The only other to do it this year is LSU's Ed Orgeron, the potential national coach of the year. When you add in Auburn's 2010 win over Alabama -- Malzahn was Auburn's offensive coordinator that season -- it is clear that Malzahn is in Saban's head.
Take Saturday's 48-45 Iron Bowl win. In a roller coaster of a game that featured two pick sixes, a kickoff return for a touchdown, a doinked field goal that would have tied the game late in the fourth quarter and enough twists and turns to make you dizzy, it was Malzahn out-coaching Saban that won the game.
Auburn, up three after Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas doinked the potential game-tying field goal off the left upright, lined up to go for it on fourth-and-4 from its own 26-yard line. After all, Auburn was up three and Jaylen Waddle -- he of four touchdowns on the night -- would have been back to return the punt with 1:06 left in the game.
There's no way Malzahn wanted the ball in his hands. So instead of punting it to him, Malzahn lined up to go for it with punter Arryn Siposs out wide left as a receiver. The goal was to keep Waddle off the field and force Nick Saban to substitute defensive players. In the chaos of the personnel change, Alabama was flagged for an illegal substitution penalty that gave Auburn a first down and allowed quarterback Bo Nix to line up in the victory formation to end the game.
Saban was not pleased.
"I really feel that it was a pretty unfair play at the end of the game where they substituted the punter as a wide receiver," Saban said. "So we put the punt team in. And when the quarterback was back in there, we tried to put the defense back in. I thought they should have given us a little more time to substitute and get Waddle out as a returner.
"You get called for 12 guys on the field. So that was very disappointing. It was a very unusual circumstance, to say the least. And I think sometimes when you have those, they should be viewed that way."
Sour grapes? Absolutely. But more specifically, an admission that he got schooled by Malzahn -- again.
"We got the penalty at the very end right there," Malzahn said with a smile on his face. "We put our punter on with the offense. They had their defense, and then their punt return, and then they got 12 guys."
Malzahn isn't one to brag. But this was clearly a subtle jab.
Malzahn gets deserved criticism at times -- including from yours truly -- for his predictable play-calling. That's overlooking his creativity in key moments. And while criticism is fair, calls for his firing all season were ridiculous. That never should have even been an option.
At Auburn, success is dictated by the outcome of the Iron Bowl rivalry. Gene Chizik was fired two years after winning a national title after getting drummed by Alabama to close out a dreadful 2012 campaign. It's been the case at Bama, too. Bill Curry was fired after three straight losses to Auburn.
It's time for Auburn to stop putting pressure on Malzahn and start embracing him. Embrace his flaws, his predictability and his success.
In this age of Alabama dominance, having a coach that can get you over the tallest hurdle in the country better than anybody else is a luxury, not a liability.
Malzahn gives Auburn a puncher's chance, and he landed a knockout blow on Saturday in an Iron Bowl that will live forever.
"We beat an excellent team with excellent players and a really good coach," Malzahn said after the game.
That "really good coach" is the best coach in college football history. But on Saturday night, Malzahn was the best coach on the field.
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