UCF hires former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn to lead Knights

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Gus Malzahn had planned take a season off from coaching and maybe do some TV work.

Then the UCF job opened up.

“I truly believe that this is a program of the future in college football,” Malzahn said. “The reason I believe that is the foundation has been built.”

Central Florida hired Malzahn as its coach Monday, a little more than two months after he was fired by Auburn.

Malzahn received a five-year deal with an annual salary of $2.3 million.

The 55-year-old Malzahn was 68-35 in eight years with the Tigers, never having a losing season and going 39-27 in the Southeastern Conference. He led Auburn to the BCS title game in his first season as head coach in 2013, and was offensive coordinator at Auburn in 2010 when Cam Newton powered the Tigers to the national championship.

Malzahn said UCF can reach those lofty heights, too.

“The goal is very simple: Win championships and get into the College Football Playoff,” he said.

Auburn fired Malzahn in December, paying a $21.5 million contract buyout to the coach, after the Tigers went 6-4 in 2020. The buyout had no mitigation clause and is not decreased by Malzahn taking another job.

UCF lost both its athletic director (Danny White) and football coach (Josh Heupel) to Tennessee last month. UCF hired Terry Mohajir as AD last week. Mohajir was the athletic director at Arkansas State during Malzahn’s one season at the Sun Belt school. Arkansas State won a conference title that season before Malzahn returned to Auburn as head coach.

Mohajir said he called Malzahn even before he was officially announced as UCF’s new athletic director to gauge the his interest in becoming the Knights’ head coach.

Malzahn was very interested.

Malzahn said he had drawn some interest from other schools looking for a head coach over the last couple months, but he called it “nothing serious.”

He was content to take a year off after more than three decades in coaching that started in Arkansas high schools.

“This coach has won at every level,” Mohajir said.

Mohajir said even after contacting Malzahn, he went through the process of evaluating other candidates before offering Malzahn the job Sunday night.

“Having a national brand coach is important, but you have to have a good national brand coach,” Mohajir said.

UCF has been one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference since joining the league in 2013. The Knights have won the conference three titles and played in three BCS or New Year’s six bowls.

Coach Scott Frost led UCF to an unbeaten season in 2017, capped by a Peach Bowl victory against Auburn and Malzahn. Heupel took over in 2018 and led the Knights to another unbeaten regular season before losing in the Fiesta Bowl to LSU.

Being in a conference outside the Power Five has been a glass ceiling for UCF, but Malzahn doesn’t believe it has to stay that way.

“This is one of the top 25 coaching jobs in all of college football,” Malzahn said.

The Knights fell off last year to 6-4, but located in the heart of a talent-rich, football-crazy state and having sunk plenty of money into facilities, UCF appears primed to continue its winning ways.

Malzahn inherits one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Dillon Gabriel and the foundation of a offense that has been one of the most prolific and fast-paced in the country under Frost and Heupel.

One of the reasons Malzahn’s time at Auburn came to end was a inability to recreate the high-powered offenses the Tigers had the beginning of his tenure.

He promised UCF fans the Knights would continue to light up the scoreboard.

“We’ll continue to build on the high-flying offense that we have and our goal to be in the top 10,” Malzahn said.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”