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Gus Malzahn only has one option left

That’s two offensive coordinators in three years for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.

Rhett Lashlee jumped ship for UConn after the 2016 season, and now this latest lieutenant, Chip Lindsey, is bolting for Kansas per AL.com’s Matt Zenitz.

Kansas?

At Alabama, Nick Saban’s assistants leave to be head coaches. At Auburn, Malzahn’s assistants flee for basketball schools.

Lindsey’s offense was erratic in the first game of the season, and it never found consistency. There were moments of brilliance — game-winning drives against Washington and Texas A&M — but also too many mental mistakes by the skill players, and problems along the offensive line for the team to reach its full potential.

Despite having a veteran quarterback who torched Alabama and Georgia in 2017, Auburn’s offense finished 11th in the SEC. Only Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee were worse.

But Auburn was close again and again this season. That’s what made it so frustrating for fans, who have made it clear in no uncertain terms that Malzahn still might be Auburn’s football coach, but he is not getting invited to any Christmas parties this year.

The unhappy marriage between Auburn and its football coach is based on years of inconsistency. Malzahn has lost five games in four of his six seasons at Auburn, but also led the team to the 2014 BCS national championship, and is the only current coach in the SEC with a victory against Saban (Malzahn has two).

This season, only a few plays separated Auburn from a 9-0 record heading into the Georgia game.

–Auburn couldn’t put LSU away despite leading 21-10 in the third quarter.

–Running back Boobee Whitlow’s fumble at the goal line against Mississippi State changed the season.

–Quarterback Jarrett Stidham threw two of the worst interceptions you’ll ever see against Tennessee, but the Tigers were still in position to win … before Stidham fumbled the game away.

Bottom line: Auburn couldn’t run the ball this season, and Malzahn didn’t trust his offensive coordinator and quarterback enough to make the necessary adjustments. Now, make no mistake, Malzahn is staring into the void of his own Little Bighorn as he enters into the final weeks before the early signing period.

This is Malzahn’s Last Stand.

He doesn’t have an offensive coordinator, and his quarterback isn’t expected to return. If Malzahn doesn’t land former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, things could get ugly down on The Plains.

Last week it was reported that Auburn wanted Malzahn to renegotiate his buyout so it would be easier to fire him (because that makes perfect sense). This week the offensive coordinator is bouncing for one of the most difficult jobs in America. You thought your family was dysfunctional around the holidays. Auburn is trying to burn down its own house because no one can agree on how to clean the shag carpet.

There is only one choice for Malzahn at this point, and that is to bet on himself and go it alone. If Malzahn is so rigid and uncompromising that one offensive coordinator after another would rather leave for more difficult jobs than stick around, then Malzahn should run the offense himself, call his own plays and just hire a quarterbacks coach to develop his recruits.

12 potential candidates for Auburn offensive coordinator

When Malzahn signed his new contract extension in January, he picked up one of the most important recruiting commitments of his time in Auburn. That commitment hasn’t wavered over the last few months, and Pinson Valley senior Bo Nix, the No.1-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country, is expected to sign with Auburn later this month.

Nix is perfect for Malzahn’s offense, and on Friday night in the Class 6A state semifinals he became the AHSAA’s all-time career leader in total offense (12,161 yards) in Pinson Valley’s 28-20 victory against rival Clay-Chalkville. Pinson Valley plays Saraland this weekend in the state championship, and, coincidentally, the game is being played at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Nix committed to Auburn in January after Malzahn signed his contract extension. He and his father, former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, wanted to know Malzahn was Auburn’s long-term option. But what about long-term stability? This latest coaching departure wasn’t all that surprising after such a dreadful season, but Lindsey attended Nix’s entire playoff game last Friday night and has been recruiting Auburn’s future at quarterback for two years.

All this drama is like a bad lyric to a country song at this point: Now another coordinator is gone because he couldn’t coexist with Malzahn.

Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group. He’s on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.



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