I’m done venting. I’ve bloviated enough about why Gus Malzahn was a bad hire and how I believe he could fail.
But he is our coach. He’s the new guy in charge, and just like when Gene Chizik took over, we had to pull up our britches and rally around him. No matter how bad it looked, we had to somehow find a way to support our program.
And we need to do the same now. Luckily, it’s much, much easier this time to get behind Gus Malzahn.
We knew why Gene Chizik was a historically bad hire. He was 5-19 at a program that showed no signs of progression. The beat writers for Iowa State bludgeoned his departure with point after point of how Chizik was unqualified to be a head coach and how Chizik had no shot at being successful at Auburn. There were stories of pompous, flimsy attempts to instill discipline on a football team like lining up helmets. There were stories about vague blueprints and lack of creativity in game plans. There were stories about how he failed to prepare his football team, how he failed to field a competitive squad when facing superior talent.
We had a right to boo that hire.
Gus doesn’t bring any of that. Sure, there are some questions marks, and you can find them on this website if you look hard enough.
However, Gus also has many positive traits, many of which don’t come only from the undefeated 2010 season.
Gus Malzahn’s offense has always produced high numbers with a lot of points except for 2011.
In 2006, he took over as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator. After a miserable season in 2005, the Arkansas offense helped lead the team to a ten game winning streak and a berth in the SEC championship game. Some speculate that Malzahn’s offense was not implemented and most of this should be credited to Nutt. However, there are no reports confirming that, and the fact remains that Malzahn was the offensive coordinator and the offense improved immediately upon his arrival. He was awarded National Offensive Coordinator of the year by Rivals.com.
In 2007, he took over the offense at Tulsa. In 2006, Tulsa without Malzahn averaged 26.9 points per game. In 2007, with the help of Malzahn at offensive coordinator, Tulsa jumped to 41.1 points per game. He also helped Tulsa be the first team to have a 5,000 passing/1,000 rushing player.
In 2008, Malzahn had continued success at Tulsa, this time leading the nation with 570 yards per game. The team also scored 47.2 points per game and had the #2 highest scoring offense in the history of the NCAA.
In 2009, Gus Malzahn became the offensive coordinator for Auburn, a school that featured an offense ranked #104 in 2008. The biggest issue with Auburn’s team? Quarterback. From the time he was hired in December to August 2009, Gus Malzahn was able to put together an offense that broke the single season record for total offense at Auburn. Auburn went from 302 yards per game in 2008 to 432 yards per game. Most impressively, Malzahn was able to take a completely defunct passing game and guide it to setting records led by Chris Todd, a player that fans loathed the previous year.
In 2010, Malzahn helped the Auburn Tigers set more records, win every football game, and obtain a Heisman Trophy for the starting quarterback. No matter the talent of Cam Newton, it took a wide open, high octane offense to achieve what was achieved that year, and that was orchestrated by Gus Malzahn.
In 2012, Malzahn took over Arkansas State and their offense improved across the board. In his first year as a head coach, Gus Malzahn hoisted a conference championship trophy.
Now, that proves his effectiveness as an offensive coordinator. Judging his history in college football (and high school if you want to go there), 2011 was an anomaly. 1/7 seasons featured a piss poor offense, and many have speculated that other issues at Auburn led to the demise of Malzahn’s vaunted offense.
But do we have reason to be excited about him as a head coach?
Yes. And for reasons you may not expect.
The head coach’s job is to instill discipline on his team. To create an environment that fosters success on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. To encourage his players to go to class, do the right things, and stay out of trouble.
Do we have any evidence that he can do that?
In 2011, Arkansas State had 90 penalties for 785 yards. They ranked #95 in the nation for penalties and averaged nearly 7 per game.
When Malzahn took over in 2012, their penalties dropped from 90 to 61. From 95th in the nation to 35th.
Penalties are often a sign of poor discipline and lack of preparation. Gus Malzahn’s first college football team showed vast improvement in on-the-field discipline.
In 2011, Arkansas State had 27 turnovers and a +2 turnover margin for the team.
In 2012, Arkansas State had 14 turnovers and a +8 turnover margin for the team.
Turnovers like penalties are a sign of poor team discipline. Gus Malzahn improved the team in this area.
Now, we don’t have a panoply of Arkansas State beat writers giving opinions on Malzahn’s brief tenure; however, we do have a few posts by Arkansas State fans on other websites.
In terms of producing a product on the field:
“The improved strength and conditioning program…..you have to admit our guys had more endurance than many of the foes we faced.
The disciplined and tough training program….this did succeed in being so intense that it made the games themselves “easier” for the players.”
Gus has been described as a very intense, obsessive, organized coach that pays attention to detail and demands excellence from his players.
In terms of off-the-field production:
“The improved focus on gaining a statewide following for the ASU program, including courting the Little Rock media.
The improved marketing and advertising campaigns.”
Fans of Arkansas State noticed a change in the atmosphere of their football program.
While I am worried about this hire, I see reason for optimism. Going after Ellis Johnson and Tracy Rocker are very good starts when assembling an experienced, effective staff.
It’s going to take patience and we’re going to be frustrated, but perhaps this can work out. Perhaps Gus Malzahn will continue to work wonders on offense. Perhaps we too can have a Johnny Manziel or find another Cam Newton.
We have nothing else to do but wait and see. Might as well pick up our shakers and shake them like hell.