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Cracks in the Auburn Family

It wasn’t a good offseason on the Plains

Auburn v LSU
So sad.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Auburn has a well-earned reputation as the Team Chaos of the SEC, but they are really leaning into that identity to an unhealthy degree right now.

The Tigers/Plainsmen/War Eagle/Off Brand Bama have never won ten games in consecutive seasons, a sign of their inability to sustain success, but the instability in that program is hard to truly measure.*

*Oops. They did it in 1988 and 89. Only to have consecutive five-win seasons two years later. Which was immediately followed up with the 11-0 and Nowhere to Go year. Geez, Auburn is one giant ball of stress.

In an 8-game season, there are nine possible win totals in SEC play, from 0 to 8. In the past dozen years, dating back to that national title season, Auburn has achieved eight of the nine possible finishes (a one-win season eludes them). That’s volatile.

But the one thing Auburn has always had going for them is the Family. There are the Mafia of the SEC, and no one speaks against the family. No program is better at circling those wagons and fighting off everyone who ain’t them. Probably because they have to do it so often.

But after a solid but unspectacular season in the COVID Season, Auburn decided to fire Gus Malzahn as its head coach. I don’t want to launch into a defense of Malzahn, but making a decision based on the results of the 2020 season, when most programs could barely field a team from week-to-week, is peak short sightedness.

But what the move truly inexplicable was that Auburn owed Malzahn $21.7 million. Look, when you have the chance to pay a guy $21.7 million not to coach your team, at the exact moment revenues are taking a sudden dip due to a global pandemic, you have to do it, right?

And if you are gonna fire a coach like that, you better nail the hire. It’s still early on the returns, but it is not looking good. I don’t want to say Bryan Harsin is a bad coach, because that is not true. He worked wonders at Boise St, and kept that program as a perennial contender.

But the thing is this… in the SEC, recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. And while Harsin did a great job winning with a bunch of lightly recruited guys with a chip on the shoulder, that is not the sort of strategy which works in a conference in which half of the teams blow past the Blue Chip Ratio.

After just one season, the boosters are in open revolt. “Auburn Booster Jimmy Rayne reportedly denies any booster interference…” is the sort of headline that asks more questions than it answers. And shows how bad things have gotten so quickly.

But you can even fight off the boosters if the players buy in. And there is the rub. Over 20 players entered the portal in the offseason. They lost their starting quarterback, three of the top four wide receivers, its top corner, and both of its starting linebackers.

Everywhere you look, there’s a new face. Now, I guess it could work out. Auburn is always at its best when everyone predicts the worst, right? Maybe, but that’s a slim sliver of hope to hang the season on. You can make a plausible case for any other team in the West to finish second behind Alabama, but I just can’t do it for Auburn.

Has the Family finally cracked? Is there such a thing as too much drama on the Plains?