Auburn athletic director Allen Greene announced Sunday afternoon that football coach Gus Malzahn has been fired after eight seasons.
Malzahn guided the Tigers to three wins over rival Alabama, two Southeastern Conference Western Division titles and one SEC championship, but he never matched the success of his first team in 2013 that went 12-2, won the "Kick Six" thriller in the Iron Bowl and came within 13 seconds of knocking off Florida State in the final title game of the BCS era. Each of his seven teams since has lost at least four games, including this year's squad that concluded a 6-4 regular season Saturday night with a 24-10 win at Mississippi State.
"After evaluating the state of the Auburn football program, we've decided that it was time to make a change in leadership," Greene said in a release announcing the change. "We appreciate everything that Gus did for the program over the last eight seasons. We will begin a search immediately for a coach that can help the Auburn program consistently compete at the highest level."
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will serve as Auburn's interim coach for what is expected to be an invitation to the Citrus Bowl.
Malzahn compiled a 68-35 record during his time on the Plains, including a 3-5 mark against Nick Saban's Crimson Tide. The league's other coaches combined to go 3-60 against Alabama during the same stretch.
Yet Malzahn was also 3-5 against LSU and just 2-7 against Georgia, including the split with the Bulldogs in the 2017 season. Auburn whipped Georgia and Alabama by a combined 35 points during the 2017 regular season, but the Bulldogs avenged their defeat with a 28-7 triumph in the SEC title game before ultimately losing to the Tide in the national championship contest.
Auburn was No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings before losing the rematch to Georgia, and the disinterested Tigers then lost the Peach Bowl against Central Florida to complete a 10-4 season. Take away the 2013 and 2017 seasons in which Malzahn's Tigers won the SEC West, and Auburn averaged an 8-5 record before this year's 6-4 clip.
According to the Auburn release, Greene recommended a change in the football team's leadership to university president Jay Gogue after a "thorough analysis" of the program.
"Coach Malzahn led the Auburn football program with honor and integrity," Gogue said. "We appreciate his service to Auburn athletics, Auburn University and, in particular, our student-athletes. We wish him and (wife) Kristi all the best."
Malzahn was the offensive coordinator for former Auburn coach Gene Chizik from 2009-11, with the 2010 Tigers winning the program's first consensus national championship since 1957. He left after the 2011 season for his first head-coaching opportunity at Arkansas State, where he went 9-3 before returning to Auburn less than a year later when Chizik was fired after a 3-9 collapse.
The prevailing thought this season was that no SEC coaches would be fired due to the financial strains of the coronavirus pandemic, but Malzahn is now the third to lose his job. Last month, South Carolina parted ways with Will Muschamp — the Gamecocks have since hired Shane Beamer — and Vanderbilt with Derek Mason.
"I just told our team how proud I am of those guys for the sacrifice they made to be able to play 10 SEC games without having a setback," Malzahn said Saturday night. "The sacrifice that they made — I can't say enough about our players. Our team has great character, and we've got a majority of those guys back, so I'm really excited about that."
According to the release, Malzahn will be paid the remainder of his contract, which is in excess of $21 million.
The potential candidates for what is easily the biggest opening right now in college football include Steele, former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who is 9-1 this season at Liberty University, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. A former head coach at Southern California and Washington, Sarkisian filled in for Saban late last month in the Iron Bowl and guided the Tide to a 42-13 win, their biggest triumph ever over a ranked Auburn.
The Tigers, incidentally, were ranked among the top 10 nationally at some point in each of Malzahn's eight seasons, but six of his teams finished outside the top 20. Three of those six were unranked, including this one.