AUBURN, Ala. – Maybe Gus Malzahn was playing poker. Or maybe he just identified his guy and moved quicker than expected to begin filling out his staff.
Upon being hired Auburn’s head football coach Tuesday night, Malzahn said he’d exercise patience in rounding out his assistants, starting with the coordinators.
“I’m going to take my time and I’m going to find the right fit,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “We are going to hire men of character who will be great examples for our players and then they’re going to be great coaches and great recruiters.I’m going to take my time to try to get the best person whereever he is.”
Asked if fired coach Gene Chizik’s assistants would be considered – among them offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, each just finishing their first year at Auburn – Malzahn reiterated, “Well, I’m going to get the best fit for Auburn no matter whether those guys are here, guys who are with me, guys who are other places. I think that is so important, and I’m going to take my time with it.”
Less than 24 hours after Malzahn said that, Auburn SID Kirk Sampson confirmed Chizik’s entire staff has been released, after ten days of holding down the program in the interim.
Malzahn did not outline a timetable for making hires, but did add “I do have some people in mind” when it comes to the coordinators.
Accounts from multiple media outlets proved that theory Wednesday, as former South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was reportedly interviewed to replace VanGorder by Malzahn, less than 24 hours after Malzahn was brought in from Arkansas State.
AuburnUndercover.com reported an offer was extended to Johnson, who was just fired by Southern Miss following an 0-12 season – the nation’s only winless Division I squad.
Allegations by FootballScoop.com and a local television station that Johnson has agreed to become Auburn’s defensive coordinator could not be confirmed Wednesday night.
Johnson is expected to consider the same opening at Florida State, which just had Mark Stoops hired away to lead Kentucky’s program.
Johnson, 60, has served as defensive coordinator at South Carolina, Mississippi State, Alabama, Clemson, Southern Miss, Appalachian State for a combined 17 years. Johnson was linebackers coach for the Crimson Tide’s 1992 national championship.
He has taken 15 different work stints at 11 different schools (nine colleges), never staying in one place longer than four years.
No buyout for Gus: Auburn’s letter of agreement was released Wednesday, dictating the basic terms of Malzahn’s hiring. A full contract will be drawn up before Jan. 15.
The most intriguing revelation: while Malzahn’s school pay will be $2.3 million annually for five years – which athletic director Jay Jacobs disclosed Tuesday – his actual base salary is $500,000. The remainder of his income is made off endorsements, broadcast responsibilities, personal appearances and other fundraising opportunities.
Moreover, Malzahn does not have an official buyout agreement in place – Chizik also didn’t on his first Auburn contract in 2009, but earned one after winning the national championship his second year.
If Malzahn were to be terminated without cause, he would be owed his base salary for the life of the contract. So, essentially, his price tag if fired begins at $2.5 million today and will depreciate each month he is employed.
Chizik’s buyout begins at $7.7 million, minus any wage income he earns over the next three years.
On top of his $2.3 million yearly pay, Malzahn is eligible for academic and performance bonuses worth up to $1.5 million per season. He is held accountable for himself and everyone under his supervision in the football program as far as Auburn, SEC and NCAA rule compliance.
Auburn will loan Malzahn $700,000 to cover his buyout from Arkansas State. Malzahn is not anticipated to coach the Sun Belt Conference champion Red Wolves in this year’s GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, though that’s not official as of Wednesday evening.
The letter was signed by Malzahn and university president Jay Gogue.
Feeling for Gene: Malzahn was offensive coordinator for three years under Chizik, and watched as the Tigers slunk to 3-9 the first year after Malzahn departed for his first head coaching job.
“I have not gotten a chance to talk to Gene since that, but I will,” Malzahn said. “You know from afar I take a lot of pride in Auburn, and I was hurting for them.”