Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has taken a lot of criticism this season and been subject to a lot of speculation about his future. Some of that has come on the ESPN-owned and operated SEC Network, and from SEC Network personalities in other venues, and Malzahn’s apparently particularly annoyed by that. Here’s what he said during a speech at the American Football Coaches’ Association Convention Tuesday, as per Zach Barnett of Football Scoop and College Football Talk:
Gus Malzahn: "This SEC Network was supposed to be really cool when it started three or four years ago. Now it's all about trying to get the coach fired."
— Zach Barnett (@zach_barnett) January 9, 2018
It’s not clear specifically what Malzahn is referring to there, but there are plenty of options. One would be SEC Network analyst and sideline reporter Cole Cubelic (a former Auburn player) saying “I think if they lose, he’s gone” about Malzahn on an Arkansas radio station ahead of the SEC Championship game, suggesting that Malzahn would leave Auburn for Arkansas (Malzahn was the Razorbacks’ offensive coordinator in 2006 and was a long-time high school coach in the state before that, plus the head coach of the Arkansas State Red Wolves in 2012) if the Tigers lost to Georgia. (They did lose, but he didn’t leave.) That interview itself wasn’t on the SEC Network, but it featured a SEC Network personality.
That’s also the case with some of the other inflammatory comments we’ve seen about Malzahn, such as SEC Network host Paul Finebaum’s repeated comments in his weekly guest appearances on KJOX radio in Birmingham. In October, he said he thought Malzahn would leave for Arkansas after the year, assuming he survived the season at Auburn. Later in October, Finebaum said “In a coach’s fifth year, you don’t want to be having these conversations. It’s really not excusable” and “I don’t think living in the same state as Alabama that this is going to be good enough.”
And in November, Finebaum said “he does not look happy at Auburn” and “I didn’t hear very much support for Gus Malzahn” (on the Auburn campus), and then later “I think Gus Malzahn would be wise to look around, frankly.” All of that was just on KJOX: Finebaum also said on ESPN’s SportsCenter in November that Malzahn was “close to being offered that [Arkansas] job” ahead of Auburn’s Iron Bowl game against Alabama, and predicted the end of the Malzahn era on an ESPN podcast in October after Auburn’s loss to LSU.
And while none of those particular remarks aired on the SEC Network itself, plenty of other comments along those lines did. Finebaum’s show in particular sees a whole lot of takes on the conferences’ coaches, whether from the host, guests or callers. So it’s understandable why Malzahn might be a little miffed at the network, especially with it being initially sold to coaches as a recruiting tool, and why he might be miffed at Finebaum in particular.
However, the way Malzahn phrased this (at least in the quote transcribed by Barnett above; we don’t have further context) wasn’t the best. If he has an issue with a specific SEC Network personality like Finebaum or Cubelic, it’s totally fair to bring that up. And if he has an issue with what the network chooses to air, like Finebaum’s show, that’s also valid to talk about. It’s unlikely they’re going to change based on a coach’s thoughts, though.
But what this particular quote is missing is the wider context; a whole lot of discussion about coaches’ job status happens every fall, inside and outside the SEC Network and from many others in addition to SEC Network personalities. And turning SEC Network into a “everything is fine at all SEC schools, always” propaganda channel probably wouldn’t make things any better for Malzahn; no one would watch it under those circumstances, and the hot seat discussion would continue elsewhere. Malzahn might have a point if he aired specific grievances and talked about specific personalities, but this sort of wide-ranging shot at SEC Network doesn’t seem to really accomplish much.
[Zach Barnett on Twitter]