If you Google Auburn’s Head Coach Gus Malzahn, one of the first headlines that pops up is “No-cuss Gus: Malzahn keeps it clean, sets standard Auburn players want to follow.” As I was watching last night’s National Championship between Florida State and Auburn, I paid special attention to the teams’ coaching staff, especially their head coaches. Given the present situation with the Dolphins’ coaching staff and the recent firing of OC Mike Sherman (finally!), I wanted to see how two of the best college coaches handle themselves and their players on the field. While FSU’s Jimbo Fisher did a fine job, it was Auburn’s Gus Malzahn who stood out to me. He reminded me very much of our very own head coach, Joe Philbin.
Like Coach Philbin, Coach Malzahn is a very simple, no nonsense kind of guy. He expects nothing but class and smart play from his players, and that showed on the field last night. During his pre-halftime interview, Malzahn said that he was happy with his team’s play in the first half, and that they were going to try and wear down the Seminoles in the second half. He did not add any flare to his answer, but rather simply stated a very “T.V.” answer and trotted into the locker room. When the cameras showed Malzahn on the sideline, he showed very little emotion if any at all, and focused mainly on the game and the next play. Not unlike Joe Philbin.
However, while there are some similarities between the two men, there also major differences, mainly aspects that Malzahn does that Philbin does not. First, although Malzahn is not the most flamboyant or energized coach, he had his players playing at a high intensity and completely pumped up. From the opening kickoff on, the Auburn Tigers were playing with passion and looked like they wanted to win more than the Florida State Seminoles. They ran the offense with confidence and speed. After big plays they celebrated quickly then immediately returned to business. I can’t remember the last time the Miami Dolphins came out fired up and ready to play. That surely was not the case the last two weeks of the season.
Furthermore, Malzahn was involved in the game. Sure, Coach Philbin would bark at a referee after a bad call and even had a high success rate on challenges. But other than that, it never really seemed like Philbin played a role in the game, other than occasionally clapping and encouraging his team. Meanwhile, Malzahn assisted his offensive coordinator call the plays. He analyzed the defense and could be seen relaying an offensive play or package to QB Nick Marshall from the sideline. When the Miami Dolphins hired Joe Philbin, I was anticipating him helping Mike Sherman call the plays. After all, Philbin was the OC for the Green Bay Packers when they won the Super Bowl in 2010. Surely he would step in and assist Sherman, especially when the Miami Offense as struggling right? Nope. Not even once. He seemed content on remaining a non-factor and allowing Sherman to run the offense straight into the ground and offense.
On paper, the Auburn Tigers were not one of the top teams in the country this year. And yet, they found themselves in the National Championship. I think a big reason of that lies within Gus Malzahn. I think Joe Philbin could take a few pointers from the college coach, and yes I realize that there is a big difference between being a head coach in the NCAA and being a head coach in the NFL. However, there is no difference when it comes to motivating your players and stepping in and making some calls on your own in a game. Two things that Malzahn has mastered and Philbin has yet to do thus far in his head coaching career.
Joe Philbin, barring a future change, has been given a second chance. He fired his mentor, the cancerous Mike Sherman, and will need to find a replacement soon. His decision will determine his fate as a coach and Miami’s success next season. Regardless of who he chooses, I think Philbin needs to step up and take control of this team into his own hands. His knowledge as an offensive coordinator is too valuable to be kept inside and will need to be unleashed next season if need be. Hopefully, Philbin will learn from his mistakes this year and will channel his inner Gus Malzahn.
His job may just depend on it.