In July 2019, Gus Malzahn took the podium at SEC Media Days and did something rarely ever seen before. He admitted he made a mistake.
Malzahn stated confidently and adamantly relinquishing control of the offense and giving up play calling duties was an error on his part. He first ceded control to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee in 2016 then to offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey in 2017. Malzahn still had plenty of influence on game plans, but Lashlee and Lindsay were supposedly calling the shots on Saturday’s.
Under the pressure of a seven-year, $49 million contract and mounting discontent from fans and boosters, Malzahn reclaimed offensive autonomy in 2019 for what was considered a make-or-break season. As it turns out, a 9-4 record with a win over Alabama falls smack dab in the middle of make or break. The offense wasn’t bad on average, but it failed miserably against the best competition in the biggest moments.
Auburn now has a new offensive coordinator in Malzahn’s old friend and former Arkansas head coach Chad Morris. The two coaches have a well-documented and long-standing relationship going back to their days of high school football in Arkansas and Texas. Malzahn has stated on several occasions about just how implicitly he trusts and respects Morris.
Still, I was skeptical about how much influence Morris would have on the offense considering Malzahn’s mea culpa at Media Days less than seven months ago.
Well, in recent days Malzahn has made it abundantly clear he will completely turn the entire offense over to Morris.
Morris will apparently call the plays, formulate the game plans and oversee the depth chart. In fact, Malzahn has reportedly stated he will not even be involved in the offensive meetings. It’s an absolute about-face to his attitude going into the 2019 season.
Of course, Malzahn has been known to say one thing and do another on occasion, but I’m taking all of this at face value and assuming it’s true.
The question then becomes is this a good thing. Is this what is best for Auburn?
After all, Morris is coming off two disastrous years in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s true, the Razorbacks were deplorable the last two years, but Morris should be judged on his entire body of work.
As Clemson’s offensive coordinator, Morris produced two offenses ranked in the top 10 nationally before taking the head job at SMU. The Mustangs’ offense ranked No. 124 the year before he arrived. In his three seasons, they ranked No. 76, No. 55 and No. 15, respectively.
Morris has proven to be a very innovative and capable offensive mind during his time in college football. To be honest, whether he succeeds or fails on the Plains is irrelevant.
Completely turning the offense over to him is the right thing to do.
It simply isn’t working with Malzahn running the offense against quality competition and hasn’t been for quite a while. The Tigers have to do something differently.
Will Morris be to Auburn what Joe Brady was to LSU? I certainly hope so, but I’m not expecting anything that drastic. I just consider it a great sign Malzahn appears to recognize there’s a problem, has hired someone to deal with it and is going to stay out of his way.