UCF and Gus Malzahn: It’s the right marriage

FILE – Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn argues a call during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama in Auburn, Ala., in this Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, file photo. Central Florida hired Gus Malzahn as its football coach Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, a little more than two months after he was fired by Auburn.(AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File)

680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – Gus Malzahn was much more relaxed and rejuvenated when he met with the media in Orlando on Monday. 

The new Central Florida Knights head coach talked about his future, being re-energized for the job, UCF’s chances to win championships and how he’ll benefit the players. It was a side of Malzahn that honestly hadn’t been seen in a while. 

Malzahn was in a tough spot at Auburn. He was expected to win championships year in and year out against one of the toughest schedules in all of college football. It wasn’t bad enough that he had to face Alabama every season. Malzahn also had to play the best in the SEC East, Georgia every year. 

Frankly, Malzahn was in a tough spot all along at Auburn. No matter what, they’re always being compared to what is happening in Tuscaloosa. The questions from the media, pressure from boosters and administration. That’s what comes with the job. It doesn’t help, when the Crimson Tide have gone through the current run of success.

Did Malzahn lose games that he shouldn’t have in some seasons? Sure he did. Did they have a less than stellar conference record the last three seasons? Yes, they were 14-12 and finished no better than third in the SEC West. That simply just doesn’t do at Auburn. 

When was Malzahn at his best? When he had control of the offense and they did what he wanted that side of the ball to do. It was only when he started to give up control (either by pressure or uncertainty), that he started to see inconsistent results from his offenses. This with the untimely losses, is what eventually got him exited from “The Plains.” 

Malzahn also did something not a lot of people have done at Auburn, much less in the SEC. He beat Nick Saban and Alabama three times. One time, it’s a coincidence. Twice? You’re maybe lucky. Three times? You’re a darn good coach. 

2013 was a high-water mark for Malzahn at Auburn. They won the SEC and got to the then BCS National Championship Game. They got close to the first goal again in 2017, but never sniffed the ultimate goal again. That happens. 

Something else to consider, when gauging the amount of success that Malzahn had at Auburn. Since that first 2013 season for Malzahn, only three other schools won the SEC Championship. Alabama’s done it five times, LSU and Georgia have only one in that time frame. 

Not beating Alabama isn’t what got Malzahn to UCF. It was his inconsistency in other games and on offense that did. Step one of winning the fan support over, is giving them a road map for what it will take for a non-Power Five program like them to reach the College Football Playoff. Even though Malzahn said in his introductory press conference, that he has no plans to move on from UCF. He still wouldn’t mind being able to beat a top-tier Power Five program again. 

That’s what it will take to get them into the CFP party. Malzahn can do it. Trying to beat Cincinnati, won’t be like trying to beat Georgia and Alabama every year. But, it won’t hurt to go to a top program’s place and win. Malzahn can do it. 

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