AUBURN, Ala. — Bo Jackson says new Auburn coach Gus Malzahn must build the program from the ground up and start by putting down a solid foundation.
Malzahn inherits a Tigers team with virtually every starter returning next season but plenty of uncertainty at quarterback and many other positions from a team that had a number of issues on both sides of the ball — and away from the field. So Jackson is preaching patience.
“I think what Gus Malzahn is facing right now, he’s facing an empty lot,” said Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner and part of the four-man search committee. “He’s got to go move dirt. Lay a foundation and start to build a house. He’s got to rebuild that house. That’s what he plans on doing.”
Auburn gave Malzahn a five-year, $11.5 million deal Tuesday with focus on restoring the team to championship caliber and bringing more discipline to a program that endured a number of off-the-field issues under Gene Chizik.
He has signed a letter of agreement that pays up to $1.5 million a year in performance bonuses. The letter, released by Auburn on Wednesday, says he will be owed his $500,000 base salary for the rest of his contract if fired without cause. He won’t be owed anything if fired with cause, including rules violations or “serious personal misconduct.”
Auburn will pay his $700,000 buyoout to Arkansas State as a loan, forgiving 20 percent each year Malzahn remains. Jackson is optimistic that he’ll be there awhile.
The former NFL and Major League Baseball player used words like “passion,” “tenacity” and “hungry” to describe Malzahn’s pitch and demeanor in his interview with the search committee. He also praised his willingness “to come into a hornet’s nest like this and say, ‘My job is to rebuild this program, to get these kids back to the winning ways these kids are used to.”’
That challenge extends well beyond Xs and Os.
The Tigers wilted against top competition, getting routed by No. 10 Texas A&M (63-21), No. 6 Georgia (38-0) and No. 2 Alabama (49-0) and also had center Reese Dismukes and freshman quarterback Zeke Pike arrested for public intoxication over the summer. Chizik dismissed Pike from the team.
Search committee member Mac Crawford, a Nashville businessman, said discipline was one of the first topics brought up with Malzahn.
“We talked about it a long time and we were very satisfied with the answers that he gave to us,” said Crawford, a former Auburn fullback who was chairman of the board at CVSCaremark and CEO/chairman of CaremarkRx.