For much of the last 20 years, Auburn has proclaimed itself “Running Back U.” Well, by mid December the Tigers could be calling their program “Head Coach U.” If Gus Malzahn wins the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award, he will join every Auburn head coach hired after Pat Dye (1981-92) as a winner of the prestigious honor.
Terry Bowden won it in 1993, Tommy Tuberville in 2004 and Gene Chizik in 2010. The common thread among those seasons is they’re all ones in which Auburn went undefeated. That won’t be possible this year, but that’s certainly no reason to keep Malzahn from joining the school’s list of winners.
In his first season as head coach on The Plains, Malzahn has transformed the Tigers from an embarrassment (3-9 in 2012) to a Top 10 team that is 8-1 and competing for a berth in the SEC Championship Game.
But the Tigers’ transformation goes much, much deeper than just wins and losses. From a statistical standpoint, this team is entirely unrecognizable from last year’s. Auburn, which is 9th in the BCS Standings, is scoring 36.8 points a game this season compared to only 18.7 a year ago. Defensively, the Tigers are giving up only 20.1 points after getting gashed for an average of 28.3 last season. Those numbers rank Auburn in the top 30 nationally in scoring on both sides of the ball.
Furthermore, Malzahn’s players believe in what he’s doing. After Auburn’s road win over Texas A&M, the Tigers’ biggest victory in years, center Reese Dismukes echoed the players’ sentiments toward their leader.
“He’s the reason why we’re successful, and he’s got us and we’ve got him, we’ve got each other’s back,” Dismukes said. “It’s just a mindset. I’m glad he’s our head coach, and he’s a heck of a coach.”
If Auburn beats Tennessee Saturday it will guarantee a reversal of the 3-9 mark from a year ago to at least nine wins this season. After the Vols, only Georgia and Alabama are left on the schedule. If Auburn takes down either the Bulldogs or Crimson Tide and gets to 10 wins, there is absolutely no doubt Malzahn deserves to be honored as the best coach in college football this season.
But even if the Tigers end on a two-game losing streak (barring blowout losses), the “Gus Bus” has already covered more than enough ground to warrant “Head Coach U” adding another trophy to the case.