Auburn vs Georgia; Gus Malzahn

Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn looks over his play sheet during the Auburn vs. Georgia game last Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Much of the talk this past week has focused less on the game and more on the future of Malzahn.

Some would argue that headline is a rhetorical question.

It’s intended, however, as a challenge statement.

The weather forecast at the time of this writing says there is a 100 percent chance of rain at 11 a.m. today for the kickoff of host Auburn vs. Samford, but frankly, this isn’t about that kind of storm.

Facing the oddsWant to know the difference between a could-be 10-0 Auburn team and the actual 7-3 Auburn team?

You’ll see it in the stands at Jordan-Hare Stadium for this matchup with a 5-6 Samford Bulldogs squad that counts among its losses a 59-58 setback to Tennessee Tech.

Most college football fans hate 11 a.m. games anyway. One might find himself sitting on the side of the bed with one shoe on, one shoe off, and wondering if he’s supposed to be lying down or getting up.

Many if not most of the student body have fled the friendliest village for Mom’s turkey and a favorite pillow back home.

Throw in a chilly rain, a lackluster appeal with the opponent, and the undeniable distraction of a looming Iron Bowl, and Auburn head-counters should declare a major victory if the turnstiles hit 50,000.

Just the facts, ma’amMost of the talk about Auburn football this past week had nothing to do with Samford; no offense to the Bulldogs.

Instead, it’s all about head coach Gus Malzahn and whether he should stay or go.

Oddly, it’s not so much that most of the negative talk about Gus is those who are disenchanted saying they hate him; so-called odd because so much about football in the Southeastern Conference is built entirely around love-hate relationships.

Rather, it’s a frustration with the facts:

The fact that he has a losing record against LSU.

The fact that he has a losing record against Georgia.

The fact that he has a losing record against Alabama.

The Auburn fan base has tasted enough of championship that it has desired to set its diet to it.

Is that a good thing or bad thing for Auburn University?

Josey Wales said it

Pause for a moment to take another look at Gus Malzahn.

The players love him.

At least, those who get to play do.

Those who don’t get to play and think they should, or that their time on the field is being mismanaged, often leave in search of greener grid irons.

It reminds me of a line in that classic Clint Eastwood Western, “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” where gunslinger Wales sits in the saddle and complains that people he gets to liking don’t stick around long.

His old Indian partner points out, “I’ve noticed when you get to disliking folks they ain’t around long neither.”

Fans get frustrated when a Joey Gatewood star quarterback isn’t played and transfers. That’s another issue many disgruntled fans would put on the Gus debit side, but on his plus side?

Players, and just as important, player parents, love Gus because he has indeed brought together a staff, administration and environment that makes them sincerely feel like family.

The brighter side

Auburn has avoided being burdened or having its reputation tarnished with scandal, recruiting violations or a steady diet of player misbehavior beyond the norm for college kids.

Gus and his wife, Kristi, seem to have a genuine love and appreciation of Auburn, enough so that they’ve invested money, time and many emotional roller-coaster rides with Auburn and say they remain committed and want to stay here, not chase grandeur elsewhere.

He recruits well. This, despite some of his stiffest competition in recruiting coming not from other programs and coaches, but from a fan base that year after year puts the consistency of his Auburn tenure in doubt in front of kids and parents who seriously weigh such things.

He knows what it takes to win. Keep in mind, Gus was part of Auburn’s 2010 national championship. He had the SEC champion Tigers 13 seconds away from another one after 2013.

He’s the only coach in the world to ever beat two No. 1 teams back-to-back in conference play, as he did in 2017 while winning the SEC West Division.

And there’s this not-so-minor detail: Pushing him out the door would cost the university millions of dollars, and how tired is the Auburn Family of those kinds of deals?

So the coach isn’t winning all the games and championships you expect him to win?

Hmm. You have that right, especially given the price of a ticket allowing admission these days.

No offense, but …Gus needs to get better, just like he tells his teams they need to get better.

Gus needs to win, just like his players desire to win. They all work hard 365 days a year for every point and every tackle.

Auburn has the type of defense that in any given game could have more sacks than a grocery store.

It has a promising young quarterback who twice this year has tied the Auburn record for most completions in a game and has nothing but an upside to him.

Perhaps Gus and those who support him — such as athletic director Allen Greene , seen walking off the field with his arm around a dejected Malzahn after the emotional Georgia loss — need to take an engineer’s approach and better analyze the problems, admit them and fix them — i.e., get a new offensive mindset?

Seems to have worked at LSU this year, doesn’t it?

Who’s who?

The players will dress out and trot onto that field rain or shine, because it’s what a rugged football player does.

The wise ones like the dedicated seniors will embrace it.

The young ones will hunt for the fun in it.

So back to the question in the headline: Should Auburn cancel the game?

Samford will be there. And don’t think those visiting Bulldogs are hapless. They lost last season to Florida State only by 10, and by only a couple of scores to Mississippi State a season or two before.

You can bet they will love the rain, holidays and anything else that lessens the crowd and evens the odds.

And Auburn fans?

It won’t be a sellout, and plenty of ticketholders will have a long-enough list of reasons to be elsewhere.

But if Jordan-Hare collects a somewhat respectable crowd today and enough fans show support, it will mean something.

Just like it will if they don’t.

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Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He can be contacted at tturner@oanow.com and followed on Twitter @troyturnernews.

Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He previously served as the news editor in New York for the nation's second largest newspaper company, and as the senior editor at several other news entities around the nation. He is an Auburn alum.

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