Gus Malzahn is leaving Auburn, taking a significant pay cut to become the head coach at Arkansas State. There are any number of theories this morning why a guy who could have had an SEC head coaching job a year ago now takes less money to coach in the Sun Belt. To me, the most reasonable explanation is asking where Malzahn expects to be in three years. If he’s looking for a stepping stone, Vandy might not have been the best choice: it would have been tough to build much of a resume with a shiny winning record and bowl bids (note how much praise Franklin has received for a 6-6 year at Vandy this year). At Arkansas State Malzahn should, in theory, have the opportunity to take over a program in fairly good shape, lean on his familiarity with the area, and build his portfolio for the next tier of jobs for which he came up just short this year.
Including the changes at Texas A&M and Ole Miss, the SEC will see new offenses at 5 of its 14 programs for the 2012 season. We know a little bit about what we can expect from the Aggies and Rebels from their new head coaches. But it will be interesting to watch the simultaneous vacancies at Alabama, Auburn, and Florida. At the very least, a lot of playcallers around the nation (and their agents) figure to make some money.
Will so many changes across the conference lead to a sea change in SEC offenses? Not likely. A&M and Ole Miss have a ways to go before they start influencing the rest of the league. Muschamp at Florida is committed to the pro-style offense. It’s hard to imagine Saban at Alabama getting far away from the “don’t screw it up for the defense” system that has worked for him.
Auburn will be worth watching. Malzahn took some knocks in 2011, but he fielded some very good units during his first two years at Auburn. Calling to mind the back-and-forth between Blutarsky, Elkon, and Chris Brown, Gene Chizik has to consider the talent recruited for the Malzahn system. Instead of recruiting players to fit a particular system, Chizik might have to constrain his coordinator search based on the players.
Kiehl Frazier was the centerpiece of the 2011 Auburn recruiting class. His background (shotgun preference, running ability, familiarity with the spread) fit the Malzahn system well. The Tigers have a pair of veteran backs in McCalebb and Dyer who have been successful in Malzahn’s system. Quan Bray is one of several young players who were recruited for their flexibility in a spread scheme. Chizik has to worry about both sides of the ball, but finding someone who can make the most of that talent on offense before his own seat starts to warm up.