Gus Malzahn clarifies 'solid year' comment; excited about Auburn football future

Josh Vitale
Montgomery Advertiser

AUBURN — Gus Malzahn made the wrong kind of waves after Auburn's 31-20 loss to No. 5 Texas A&M on Saturday when he said a 6-4 record would be "a solid year."

The embattled eighth-year coach clarified that comment Sunday evening.

"I just wanted to make sure that it's very clear: Our expectation is to win championships here at Auburn. It's been that way since I've been here. We're not happy with a six-win season," Malzahn said.

"But under the circumstances of being an inexperienced team, having a couple injuries, not having a nonconference schedule – which, in the past, we've been very good in nonconference. But make no mistake, our goal is to win championships. "

The Tigers (5-4) finish the regular season at Mississippi State (2-6) on Saturday (6:30 p.m., SEC Network).

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Auburn hasn't won a championship since claiming the second SEC West title of Malzahn's tenure in 2017, after which he signed a new seven-year contract worth $49 million, making him one of the 10 highest-paid coaches in college football.

That contract, which was 75% guaranteed, still carries a buyout figure north of $21 million, half of which would be due in one payment within 30 days should the university choose to part ways with him. There are those in the fan base who would like to see that decision made after a season in which the Tigers lost to rivals Alabama and Georgia as well as unranked South Carolina, even during a year when finances have been so heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that might just be internet chatter – no member of the administration has made any public comment on the matter.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn shakes hands with athletic director Allen Greene after a 24-6 win over Tulane at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.

Malzahn has dealt with this conversation more than once during his tenure, most recently during a 2018 campaign when the Tigers stumbled to a 7-5 record. They responded by going 9-3 and winning the Iron Bowl last year.

"When we're not in the mix to win championships, that's part of being the coach here," Malzahn said. "They expect to win championships, just like I said."

The coach expressed optimism that Auburn "is really set up" be in that mix next season. This one was a challenge, he said, because the Tigers were one of the least experienced teams in the SEC after losing 10 starters to the NFL and – like every other team in the country – didn't get to go through a regular spring, summer or fall because of COVID-19.

Next year, he said, Auburn could be one of the most experienced teams in the SEC. It could return quarterback Bo Nix, running back Tank Bigsby, more than five players with starting offensive line experience, its top two linebackers (post-K.J. Britt's injury) and its entire starting secondary.

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"Next year will be a completely different standpoint as far as experience and having depth, quality depth," Malzahn said.

Asked what his message to the Auburn fan base would be, Malzahn said: “I’m excited about our future, excited about next year. As far as all the guys coming back, when we’ve had experienced teams, that’s the years we’ve won championships. That’s what I’m excited about.”

Josh Vitale is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshVitale. To reach him by email, click here.