Auburn fires coach Gus Malzahn after 8 roller-coaster seasons

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Auburn fired football coach Gus Malzahn, ending an eight-year run that began with a trip to the national championship game.

Athletic director Allen Greene announced the firing Sunday, a day after the Tigers finished the regular season with a 24-10 victory over Mississippi State. Auburn is 6-4 in a pandemic-shortened season of all Southeastern Conference opponents, losing by double digits to highly ranked teams Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M.

The Tigers also were upset by a struggling South Carolina, which wound up firing coach Will Muschamp during the season.

“After evaluating the state of the Auburn football program, we’ve decided that it was time to make a change in leadership,” Greene said in a statement. “We appreciate everything that Gus did for the program over the last eight seasons. We will begin a search immediately for a coach that can help the Auburn program consistently compete at the highest level.””

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will be interim coach. Auburn will owe Malzahn a $21.45 million buyout for the remaining four years of a seven-year, $49 million deal.

The school must pay half of that within 30 days.

Malzahn went 68-35 in eight seasons and was 39-27 against SEC opponents. He led the Tigers to an SEC title in 2013, his first season, losing to Florida State in the national championship game.

Auburn said Greene recommended the firing to President Jay Gogue after conducting a “thorough analysis” of the program.

Known for his his up-tempo, no-huddle offenses that have since become more prevalent, Malzahn was offensive coordinator in 2010 when quarterback Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy and led the Tigers to the national title. He called offensive plays for much of his tenure, but he struggled to develop other passers, including Jarrett Stidham and Jeremy Johnson.

Nick Saban, coach of rival Alabama, said Malzahn was among those “at the forefront of” a move to up-tempo offenses that even the top-ranked Crimson Tide has adopted — with great success.

“I guess playing against those guys, you almost get to the point where you say if you can’t beat them you might as well join them,” Saban said. “I guess that’s why we’ve changed some of the things we do around here.”

Current starter Bo Nix was a prized recruit but has been inconsistent in his two seasons and hasn’t appeared to progress much as a sophomore. Other quarterbacks have transferred, including Malik Willis (Liberty), Joey Gatewood (Kentucky) and Woody Barrett (Kent State).

The Tigers are tied for 86th in scoring this season, averaging 25.7 points per game. They’re 80th in passing at 212.3 yards a game, despite having playmaking receivers like Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz, along with freshman tailback Tank Bigsby and a second-year starter in Nix.

Besides the South Carolina loss, Auburn wilted against No. 10 Georgia (27-6), No. 1 Alabama (42-13) and No. 5 Texas A&M (31-20).

Malzahn started his tenure in impressive fashion, leading the Tigers to a turnaround from 3-9 in Gene Chizik’s final year to 12-2 in 2013. But they lost at least four games in each of his remaining seven seasons, despite making it to the SEC championship game in 2017 after knocking off No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Malzahn was already pointing to next season after the loss to Texas A&M.

“We’re not happy with a six-win season,” he said the next day, Dec. 6. “But under the circumstances of being an inexperienced team, having a couple injuries, not having a nonconference schedule — which, in the past, we’ve been very good in nonconference. But make no mistake, our goal is to win championships.

“I will say this: I’m extremely excited about next year.”

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

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Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.