Gus Malzahn has his next coaching job. And while he didn’t land at another SEC program, taking over as head football coach at UCF is a nice rebound after being fired from Auburn.
The news of Malzahn going to UCF was first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel. Malzahn replaces Josh Heupel, who left UCF to join athletic director Danny White at the University of Tennessee in late January.
With Auburn paying a $21 million buyout, Malzahn was dismissed after a 6-4 campaign during the 2020 season. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele oversaw the Tigers as interim coach while they played in the 2021 Citrus Bowl and lost to Northwestern, 35-19. Auburn eventually hired Bryan Harsin from Boise State to succeed Malzahn.
At Auburn, Malzahn compiled a 68-35 record (39-27 in SEC play) in eight seasons. His best season leading the Tigers was his first, during which Auburn went 12-2, defeated Alabama and Georgia, and went to the BCS Championship Game where they lost to Florida State, 34-31.
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) February 15, 2021
Unfortunately, Malzahn was good but not great during his Auburn tenure. He won nine or more games in three of his eight seasons. Though he beat Nick Saban three times, his record against Alabama, Georgia, and LSU, the top teams in the SEC, was only 8-17.
As ESPN’s Andrea Adelson points out, Malzahn has brief history with new UCF athletic director Terry Mohajir. The two worked together for roughly three months at Arkansas State before Malzahn left for Auburn. Whether or not any familiarity influenced the hire, Mohajir has to be thrilled with getting a coach of Malzahn’s caliber and continuing a run of success led by Scott Frost and Heupel in Orlando.
Looking at Twitter, some UCF fans wanted Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby to get the job. Lebby was on Heupel’s UCF staff as quarterbacks coach, then offensive coordinator before leaving for Oxford and hiring him would’ve maintained some continuity. Under his guidance, quarterbacks McKenzie Milton and Dillon Gabriel excelled.
Yet there was some concern that UCF was declining under Heupel, going from a 12-1 mark to 10-6, then 6-4 last season. So a new coach with an established run of success in a top Power Five conference might fuel a fresh start and reset for the program.
Gus Malzahn would have made 100 times more sense at Tennessee than Josh Heupel, instead ends up replacing Heupel and UCF upgrades
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) February 15, 2021
Meanwhile, Tennessee fans underwhelmed by Heupel’s hire might be wondering if UCF got the better coach. Malzahn’s Southern ties, reputation as an offensive guru, experience in the SEC, and success against Saban made him an appealing candidate among some Vols supporters.
Unlike Heupel, whose success was largely achieved with Frost’s recruits, Malzahn built a program at Auburn and could now do the same at one of college football’s top Group of Five programs. Comparing the two coaches could be an intriguing storyline to follow during the next few years.