The rumors started percolating on Twitter that Arkansas State had interest in Gus Malzahn. Yeah and Texas A&M was going to hire Mark Richt and UCLA had dibs on Chris Petersen. This was just not a move that I seriously thought could happen. Last year, fresh off of an undefeated run through the regular season and National Championship Game, Gus Malzahn was one of the hottest coaching prospects in the land. He was heavily linked to the Vanderbilt job and rumored to be offered around $3 million dollars. So why now, one year later, should I think that he would take the Arkansas State job.
No disrespect to Arkansas State but let's be realistic for a minute. Huge Freeze did a fantastic job for the Red Wolves in his debut season this year. Freeze took a team that had not won more than six games since 1987. For those that drew the short stick on math skills- that's over twenty years over irrelevancy. So why would Gus Malzahn take a job that is basically a no-win situation? If Malzahn succeeds then he succeeded because of what Hugh Freeze started. If he fails, it's because he's not a good coach.
It really comes down to a few reasons why Malzahn would take this job. The first reason could be that Malzahn sees the writing on the wall at Auburn and knows that it will take them more than one year to re-build and be competitive again with the big three in the SEC West and he doesn't want to wait around that long. The second is that Gus simply isn't cut out for the SEC. Gus was wildly successful in the Championship year for Auburn but maybe Gus is just tired of the rigors and pressure of the SEC. Maybe he wasn't build for life in the SEC and wants to go to a smaller school that more fits his personality and his life style. If that's the case, I can't say that I blame the guy as you have to be really dedicated to be a successful coach in the SEC. The third reason is that Gus sees this as a stepping stone job. He sees that Freeze has built something pretty good at Arkansas State and he sees that he's got a talented QB (Ryan Aplin) that can run Gus's system. Gus thinks he can get in and win big in the Sun Belt next year with Aplin and then he'll have his choice of jobs. Maybe he saw his window shrinking and schools backing off of him because of his wife and the "drama" that she brings. Possibly Gus saw his start fading and thought this was the way to brighten it again. Nobody knows for sure, but why else would he take this job?
All I can help but do is conjecture as to why Malzahn would walk away from a job that pays $1.3 million (as OC at Auburn) in the SEC to take a Head Coaching gig in the Sun Belt that pays around $850,000. This one is a head scratcher. Maybe Malzahn goes on to be a lifer at Arkansas State and this turns out to be the feel good story about a coach that walked away from the rigors of big boy football and continued what Freeze started and dominates the Sun Belt for years to come. All I know is that if I came home and told my wife that I was willingly changing jobs and that I would be taking more than a 30% pay cut I would be out on my ass.
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I will leave you with this thought. The last two hires for Arkansas State have been Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn. Compare this to the unoriginal ADs at UCLA, Kansas and Arizona State and I would have to think that whoever is the AD at Arkansas State needs to get some serious consideration for a big time job. UCLA is paying Jim Mora, a coach with zero college experience that wasn't successful in the pros, more than two million dollars a year and Arkansas State just hired an OC from the National Championship winning team from last year for under one million. I can't make this stuff up.