gr82be 12,329 Posted December 15, 2017 Share Posted December 15, 2017 By Joseph Goodman One of the biggest college football stories in 2017 was Auburn's return to national prominence. It's worth noting that Gus Malzahn did it the right way. In the SEC, there are always examples of prominent coaches breaking the rules, cutting corners and compromising their integrity for fast-tracked wins. Former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is the latest coach to sell out for quick success, but other coaches have run their programs into the ground with willful disregard for discipline (for some reason, this happens a lot at Florida). Malzahn, on the other hand, has made several high-profile decisions at Auburn over the last few years to uphold a standard of accountability among his players. At the time of each incident, Malzahn's difficult choices cast doubt on his ability to lead. In the long run, though, kicking off key players who couldn't follow the rules appears to have established a sustainable team culture. This season, Malzahn won -- and won big -- despite removing from the team a receiver with great potential (Kyle Davis), and the team's backup quarterback (Sean White). Did Malzahn win this season despite making these decisions or because of these decisions? When it comes to measuring coaching intangibles, there might be no greater question. The answer is simple. He won because of them. Now, I'm not saying Malzahn is some kind of saint. This is, after all, the SEC we're talking about here. But Malzahn has invested in the accountability of his football players, and it has established a strong baseline of integrity within Auburn's football team. That integrity is translating to wins. On offense, running back Kerryon Johnson and receiver Ryan Davis lead by example on and off the field, according to their teammates, and they helped rally the team after that terrible loss to LSU. Just before the road game against LSU, Malzahn was forced to kick Davis, the talented former Auburn receiver, off the team for breaking team rules. Previously, Davis was suspended from the team during the offseason. Auburn could have imploded after self destructing against LSU. Instead, the Tigers rallied for wins against two top-ranked teams. That doesn't happen without a strong core of players who believe in a coach. Malzahn has built that culture, and stayed true to it, since he arrived at Auburn, and now it's beginning to pay dividends for both Auburn University and himself. In a time when Alabama's Nick Saban has dominated the SEC in a way only rivaled by Paul Bryant, Malzahn's team policies for rule breaking is even more commendable. The pressure at Auburn to compete with Saban is tremendous, and unlike anything else in college football. It is clear now that Malzahn realized early on there was no easy -- or easier -- path to competing with Saban. The only way to do it was establishing a strong culture and building from that. So, in 2015, Malzahn made the tough decision of kicking off his best receiver (Duke Williams) before the season. In the end, Williams was a team cancer and Malzahn made the right call. In 2016, it was almost the exact same scenario when Malzahn kicked off the team's best running back, Jovon Robinson. Like Williams, Robinson had major off-the-field problems. This season, Davis and White were removed from the team after being given multiple opportunities to rehabilitate themselves. Auburn has taken hit after hit this year for its athletic department, but the bedrock of the operation -- the football team -- appears to be strong thanks to Malzahn, and not despite him. For that reason, and under those special circumstances, he's worth every penny of his new contract. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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