How else to interpret the offseason that’s shaping up following a regular season of blowout losses to the best teams the Tigers played?
Dyer, a two-time thousand-yard rusher and easily the most productive player on the nation’s 104th-ranked offense, is out for at least the Tigers’ Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup with Virginia.
Gus Malzahn, who coordinated a lot of good offenses before this season, will leave Auburn to become Arkansas State’s head coach, the Birmingham News reported late Tuesday. He’ll reportedly take a $500,000-a-year pay cut to coach a Sun Belt Conference team.
This a year after he turned down SEC member Vanderbilt for a hefty pay raise at Auburn and days after reported flirtations with North Carolina, Kansas and Ole Miss proved fruitless.
Ted Roof, the coordinator who presided over three years of bad Auburn defense, took a similar job at Central Florida. That leaves Gene Chizik, who hired him, to be the interim defensive coordinator for the bowl game on top of being the head coach who must hire a permanent replacement.
Other assistant coaches have reportedly interviewed for various jobs at other schools.
It gives a picture of an unhappy house, full of people either eager to push open the front door or primed to be shoved out of it. It hardly seems like a house less than a year removed from winning the school’s first national championship in football since 1958.
The before-and-after pictures raise questions, like was the 2010 house party an aberration? Was it a gloss-over glory owing to Cam Newton, a once-in-a-lifetime house guest?
Was the heckler at the airport this time three years ago right?
Those questions creep in because it’s starting to look like 2011 was more than a hiccup, explained away by personnel losses and inexperience. Off-field happenings since the regular season ended make it seem like Auburn is sliding further back.
OK, so maybe it’s not that bad.
Roof’s departure was expected, even if the landing was softer than expected. Malzahn’s itch to be a head coach is well-known.
Assistant coaches move on, and coordinators have short half-lives at Auburn. That reality marked previous regimes, and good days followed.
Then again, Chizik has emphasized that his new defensive coordinator must be down with Chizik’s defensive philosophy. Was that not true three years ago, when Chizik hired Roof? Did Chizik and Roof not discuss Xs and Os?
How much of Auburn’s defensive struggles the past three years owe to a tug-of-war between Roof and a head coach who came up as a defensive coordinator?
As for Malzahn, he didn’t exactly jump at just any job a year ago. He said he would be choosey.
So, how to interpret his jump to Arkansas State? A willingness to take a reported $850,000 a year at Arkansas State over $1.3 million at Auburn makes him look more desperate to leave than glad for a head-coaching shot.
Even with the chance to return to his home state and win big in the Sun Belt, it’s hard to see Arkansas State as a better springboard. Hugh Freeze’s cash-in was Ole Miss, a job comparable to the one Malzahn took a check swing on a year ago in terms of prospects for success in the SEC.
It seems that Malzahn’s stock has taken a hit, and he’s worried it will take more of a hit.
More troubling than any of those questions is the Dyer situation.
Auburn has not said why the sophomore running back was suspended, but rumors persist about attitude problems. Kristi Malzahn, Gus’ wife, seemed to confirm that in her now viral video.
Dyer is a Chizik-era signee, and Chizik has long said he recruits Auburn men. Recruiting misses happen, so did Chizik just miss something with Dyer?
Or did Dyer’s talents and Auburn’s dire needs at the time change the risk assessment? If so, how many other recruits got the same assessment?
Such questions follow when drama follows a dramatic fall, and Auburn has fallen dramatically from its national-championship run.
That recruiting continues to look strong suggests a healthy program. Rivals.com ranks Auburn’s grab of 16 commitments No. 7 nationally. The list includes five-star running back T.J. Yeldon and 10 four-star pickups.
But Malzahn’s departure could hurt recruiting, and Auburn could use good news on the field sooner than later. Dyer’s suspension dampens prospects for the Chick-fil-A Bowl launching the Tigers forward.
Lately, it seems Auburn just goes backward.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.