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Phillip Marshall: 20 years, four Auburn head coaches

Aug 15, 2013

In 15 days, Gus Malzahn will be the fourth head coach in 20 years to lead Auburn into a season. Malzahn signed on last December, after Gene Chizik was forced out in the wake of a 3-9 season.

Malzahn inherits a unique set of challenges. The Southeastern Conference is at an all-time high. And Alabama has won three of the past four national championships.

Joe Whitt, who was hired by Pat Dye and spent 25 years as an Auburn assistant coach, doesn’t agree that it’s a bad time to be head coach at Auburn. In an interview for a story I did in July, he said it is the best of times to be Auburn’s head coach.

"It's the best time in the world to come to Auburn," said Whitt, an assistant athletics director and fundraiser. "I wouldn't want to be here any other time. I've been out of coaching since '05 and have no aspiration to coach again, but where they are right now almost makes me want to coach again.

“If you don't want to be a coach at Auburn right now, you aren't the person we are looking for. It's tough times and it takes tough people that are willing to work from can to can't and get the job done."

Following is a look at the previous there coaches, the situations they inherited and how they responded:


Bowden took over for Pat Dye, who resigned after his 12th Auburn season. The Tigers had been 5-5-1 in 1992, their second consecutive non-winning season.

Auburn fans were neither overjoyed nor particularly unhappy about Bowden getting the job. He was a young up-and-comer who had built a program almost from scratch at Samford. He had a famous name and was considered an offensive innovator.

Bowden, it seemed, faced a massive task. NCAA sanctions were looming. Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee were the league’s strongest programs. Alabama had won the 1992 national championship and had won 24 of its last 25 games.

Not much was expected of Auburn, but Bowden inherited a three-year starter in quarterback Stan White and more than a dozen other future NFL players. He became the first coach ever to go 11-0 in his first Division I-A season and won his first 20 games.

Bowden’s time at Auburn ended when he resigned midway through the 1998 season.


Auburn was coming off a 3-8 season when Tuberville was named head coach two days after Thanksgiving in 1998. His hiring was widely hailed as a good one. After rescuing Ole Miss from the most severe sanctions in NCAA history, he was a hot commodity. He had a choice between Oklahoma and Auburn. He chose Auburn.

Alabama was starting to come back from problems of its own. Mike DuBose’s Tide would win the SEC championship in Tuberville’s first season before collapsing in 2000 and eventually facing its own NCAA issues.

There was immediate controversy when Auburn backed out of playing Florida State in the 1999 season-opener. Auburn replaced the Seminoles with I-AA Appalachian State and had to have a late touchdown pass to win 22-15.

The Tigers won their first three games, including a 41-7 rout of LSU in Baton Rouge. But quarterback Ben Leard was plagued by injuries and trouble hit when he went down against Ole Miss. A 5-6 record could have been much better. A missed field goal try in the final seconds led to an overtime loss to Ole Miss. Fourth-quarter leads against unbeaten Mississippi State and Alabama didn’t hold up.

Tuberville took his second Auburn team to the 2000 SEC Championship Game. He would win 85 games in 10 seasons, including a 13-0 record in 2004.

Gene Chizik, 2009

When Tuberville resigned after a 5-7 season in 1998, Gene Chizik, the defensive coordinator on the 2004 team, was the controversial choice.

Chizik had a better season than almost anyone expected in 2009, going 8-5. In December of that year, quarterback Cam Newton signed and the 2010 Tigers went 14-0 and won the national championship.

Though Alabama had been 7-6 in Nick Saban’s first season in 2007, things were about to change. Chizik caught Alabama on a rapid rise. In Chizik’s four seasons at Auburn, Alabama won three national championships.

Chizik was dismissed after last season’s 3-9 record.

Gus Malzahn, 2013

 Malzahn was the choice of athletics director Jay Jacobs and his blue-ribbon committee. He was a mostly popular choice and went about healing the wounds of 2012. His journey is just beginning. History shows things are not always as they seem.

It should be fascinating to watch.


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:




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