Tommy Hicks: Malzahn gets One Last Shot Award

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It’s awards season in college football, with players and coaches flying all across the county to pick up hardware that designates them as among the best in the game this season.

The Heisman Trophy, the Butkus Award, the Davey O’Brien Award, even the Ray Guy Award, all among a laundry list of accolades presented soon after the regular season has ended.

There may be one award that has escaped attention — perhaps, because I just came up with it — but there isn’t any doubt as to who the recipient of the award should be.

Ladies and gentleman, the (unanimous) winner of this year’s One Last Shot Award is Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.

That seems to be the position Malzahn has taken in the past few weeks as some Auburn faithful called for the buying out of his contract — at a whopping $32 million — and sending him packing. Rumors, and there is nothing to suggest they were anything more than rumors, had folks from Auburn checking with former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops to gauge his interest in taking over the Tigers’ football program.

At any rate, Auburn and Malzahn reached an agreement to adjust his contract, an agreement that basically allowed him to remain as Auburn’s head coach and in so doing he agreed to reconfigure his contract in such a way that should Auburn officials decide they are ready to part ways with Malzahn after next season it won’t be as expensive a move as it would have been had that action been taken after the past season.

The agreement by Malzahn to the new deal has the feel of a coach who (1) recognizes there are darn few jobs out there that would offer him the type of visibility and the opportunity to be a player on the national stage that being the head coach at Auburn provides; and (2) that he wants another shot, in that environment, to show that he has what he takes to lead the Tigers to contention, both nationally and as a member of the stout SEC.

He will get his chance, it seems, to prove he is the offensive wizard he was believed to be when hired by the school, first as an offensive coordinator and later as the school’s head coach.

If he is to prove himself, he’ll have some work to do. For while the contract/will he go or will he stay? Drama was playing out, and shortly after, a few other changes took place. Most notably, perhaps, is the loss of quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who announced he is skipping his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.

Oops.

While the move couldn’t or shouldn’t have caught Malzahn by surprise, it certainly creates an interesting situation for a coach trying to improve his team’s offensive performance. Who will lead the Tigers’ offense next season? Will it be sophomore Malik Willis, who was Stidham’s back-up this season, or perhaps freshman Joey Gatewood? Or instead, will the keys’ to the Tigers’ offensive vehicle be handed over to incoming freshman Bo Nix, he of the two-time state championship Pinson Valley football team led by his father, head coach and former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix? Certainly Nix has the size, talents and lineage to take over the position, but will he be ready to jump from 6A football to SEC football? Of late, there are many SEC schools who have tabbed true freshmen as their quarterbacks, so that once unheard of circumstance is not an issue.

The new quarterback, whomever that may be, will be working under a new offensive coordinator. Chip Lindsey resigned his position with Auburn to take the same position at — wait for it — Kansas. And he will be the OC for — dramatic pause — Les Miles, who was booted from his LSU head coaching position in part because of boring and ineffective offensive thinking.

So yes, an offensive coordinator at Auburn leaves the school for the same position at Kansas. Yep, those are alarm bells you hear ringing, suggesting — not surprisingly — he was ready to get out of Dodge. His replacement was recently named, that being former Memphis OC Kenny Dillingham, who did a terrific job for those Tigers this past season and in recent seasons.

It’s a good hire, maybe a great hire, but there’s a couple of issues. One, he was not Malzahn’s first choice, or so it is believed. Secondly, when announcing Dillingham as the new OC, Malzahn also made another interesting announcement: he, not Dillingham, will handle the play-calling next season.

We’ll take a moment for you to catch up.

So, if there was ever a sign that Malzahn is going “all in’’ on next season, that’s the bit of information that highlights that path. As though the pressure wasn’t going to be pretty intense for him already, Malzahn has decided to take on the play-calling chores himself as well. The new OC can offer suggestions, but this will be Gus’s show. All the way. In every way. He will either turn things around or, likely, he won’t get another chance to do so beyond next season. And he’s going to take his chances by taking on the biggest tasks himself.

And thus, he’s the One Last Shot Award winner.

Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at  

thixx25@gmail.com.