Hey, Vanderbilt wanted Gus Malzahn as its head coach. Auburn wanted to keep him in his current job, offensive coordinator, and that’s how badly Auburn wanted to keep him.
It is what it is, and it’s all a matter of timing and landscape.
But everyone had it wrong in assuming that Auburn paid Malzahn backward for his work in the Tigers’ 2010 national-title run and quarterback Cam Newton’s Heisman Trophy run.
Indeed, they paid Gus forward, knowing how he would have to earn it this season.
Just going on numbers, he’s not earning it. Through five games, Auburn ranks 37th nationally in rushing offense, 98th in passing offense, 80th in total offense, 52nd in scoring offense and 60th in pass efficiency.
Never mind the corresponding averages. Those rankings alone hardly paint an offense under the direction of Gus Malzahn.
More like an offense that needs Gus the kicking mule.
So, two weeks out from Auburn fans wanting to tee up defensive coordinator Ted Roof behind Gus (the mule), it’s no shock the focus has turned to Malzahn and the offense.
It’s not just a 16-point showing at South Carolina on Saturday. Factoring out a defensive touchdown against Florida Atlantic, Auburn’s offense has averaged 21 points over its past three games.
The Tigers averaged nearly double that (41.2 points a game) in 2010, when Malzahn made quite a bit less money.
Ah, but didn’t we mention that his raise this past offseason was a matter of market forces? And it appears Auburn was paying it forward, based on difficulty of task and not on statistics.
Malzahn had Newton in 2010, not to mention veteran wide receivers and a senior-laden offensive line.
And did we mention he had Newton, who could run like few, if any, college quarterbacks before him and who ranks third in the NFL in passing yards per game?
Malzahn could also count on a mediocre-but-veteran defense to make timely plays and do just enough to keep opponents from outscoring his offense in 2010.
Back to the present, Malzahn’s task ties him n pretzels.
He has a starting quarterback in Barrett Trotter who is no threat to run, and it showed when South Carolina intercepted his pass to Phillip Lutzenkirchen in the end zone Saturday.
He scrambled to his right, and South Carolina’s secondary gave him nary a second look.
Two stayed glued to Lutzenkirchen.
To have any running threat at quarterback, Malzahn must sprinkle in freshman Kiehl Frazier. At least Frazier can run an effective read option, the staple play with Newton.
And when Frazier comes in, defenses know what’s up.
Malzahn and his boss also know what’s up with Auburn’s young defense, which might be why the Tigers ran the ball 67 times Saturday. Hey, nothing like a near-11-minute edge in possession time to keep a young defense off the field.
And nothing like running the ball to keep Carolina’s Jadevenon Clowney and Melvin Ingram off of Trotter.
Add injuries to wide receivers Emory Blake and Trovon Reed, and the million-dollar coordinator has a million-dollar task.
And what if running back Michael Dyer can’t hold up? He played through an in-game ankle injury en route to 41 carries Saturday.
If Dyer goes down, then Malzahn will need a raise to match the task.
Of course, there are those who believe pay should be based only on bottom-line results.
Well, this Auburn team somehow stands 4-1 and ranked a season-best 15th in the Associated Press poll.
Looks like Auburn and the market got it right with Malzahn.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.com.