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Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn speaks Thursday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. Malzahn is the league's only current coach with a head-to-head win against Nick Saban, but his job status appears shaky after the Tigers went 3-5 in SEC play with a lopsided loss to Alabama last season.

HOOVER, Ala. — It's hard to find a "hot seat" ranking of Southeastern Conference football coaches this summer that doesn't have Auburn's Gus Malzahn at the top and somebody else as a distant second.

It didn't take long for that subject to surface Thursday as SEC Media Days wrapped up.

Malzahn is entering his seventh season as Auburn's head coach and his 10th overall with the Tigers, having served as offensive coordinator for the 2010 national championship team highlighted by quarterback Cam Newton. His first six seasons as head coach have yielded six bowl trips, one SEC championship and two SEC West titles, and for a second straight year, Malzahn is the only league coach who has ever defeated Nick Saban.

"I've got a job that expects to win championships, and I expect to win championships," Malzahn said. "I knew that when I signed up for this. In the years that we win championships, it's good. The years we don't, it's 'hot seat this' and 'hot seat that.' Out of the six years, four have been this same rodeo. It's just part of the job description.

"At some places, they celebrate eight wins. That's just not part of Auburn. We expect to win championships and we've done that, and we're going to have more championships in the future here, too."

Auburn played for the national championship during Malzahn's first season in 2013, and his 2017 team was ranked No. 2 after the regular season but then lost 28-7 to Georgia in the SEC title game. Last year's team opened with a win over Washington in a top-10 showdown on Labor Day weekend, but his Tigers skidded to a 6-5 finish before awaking to obliterate Purdue 63-14 in the Music City Bowl.

In simpler terms, Auburn followed a 7-1 SEC season that included a 26-14 win over Alabama in 2017 with a 3-5 league mark that included a 52-21 loss to the Crimson Tide.

"If we're being straight honest, any coach in the SEC not getting to the SEC championship game or winning more than eight or nine games a year is going to be talked about getting fired regardless," Auburn senior defensive lineman Derrick Brown said. "That's what's expected out of these coaches, but at the end of the day, Coach Malzahn is there for us, and we have his back.

"The hot seat talk is what it is. We're going to play for our coach, and we're going to do what we do."

Auburn isn't moving the meter much this summer on the SEC landscape, with Alabama and Georgia locks to begin this season in the nation's top five and with Florida, LSU and Texas A&M either in the top 10 or very close. The Tigers return their offensive line along with receiver Seth Williams and running backs Kam Martin and Boobee Whitlow, but they will enter preseason camp not knowing the starting quarterback.

The choices are redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix.

"Both of them are very athletic," Malzahn said. "They can create things when things break down. They have big-time arms. Both of them are really hungry for the job. We'll figure it out in fall camp. We'll name a starter and figure which of those two guys gives us the best chance of winning."

Malzahn said Thursday that this could be the best defense he's seen in his decade on the Plains. The biggest reasons for that are Brown, Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe across the defensive front.

The schedule is beyond brutal with Oregon as the opener, Alabama as the closer and the likes of Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Florida, LSU and Georgia in between, but Malzahn said his program has come to expect such a slate.

"When I look at the team that we have this year, there are some of the same characteristics that our championship teams had, and that's what's exciting for me," Malzahn said. "Now, you've got to win close games. You've got to make plays when the games are on, and you've got to stay healthy, but the exciting thing for me and the thing I tell my team is that we've got a chance.

"Not every team in the league can say that."

Contact David Paschall dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

 

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