Malzahn back on hot seat

Auburn coach optimistic entering seventh season

HOOVER — Gus Malzahn had plenty of talking points on Thursday at SEC Media Days. The Auburn head football coach, who is entering his seventh year at the helm, has a quarterback battle brewing, returns two of the top defensive players in the conference and is taking over play-calling duties this season. Yet Malzahn was dealt an all too familiar question to open Thursday morning's media session — how is life on the hot seat? Of all the SEC head coaches, Malzahn is perhaps the one facing the most pressure following an eight-win season in 2018 that included a home loss to a Tennessee team that had dropped 11 straight SEC Games. The Tigers also lost to rivals Georgia and Alabama by a combined score of 79-31. "I got a job where you are expected to win championships. I knew that when I signed up for that. In the years we win championships, it's good. The years we don't, it's hot seat this and hot seat that," Malzahn said. "At some places, eight wins — they celebrate. That's just not part of Auburn." Malzahn is optimistic entering the season.

Though the Tigers will have a new quarterback — freshman Bo Nix and redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood are vying for the starting spot — Auburn returns an experienced offensive line as well as running backs JaTarvious Whitlow and Kam Martin and receivers Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz. "You look around college football the last few years and there's been some very successful freshman quarterbacks. And if you really look, their teams have been really good around them. So, really that is one of our challenges and one of our goals, not just defensively, but offensively at every position we need to be really good around whoever is going to be our starting quarterback. And that will help them grow and learn and get experience," Malzahn said. Auburn, which has one of the most difficult schedules in the country, will find out where it stands right away this season. After a game against Oregon in Arlington, Texas in the opener, the Tigers play at Texas A&M in Week 4 and at Florida in Week 6. "Our schedule once again is one of the toughest in college football. It's not a shock to our system. I really believe we're used to it. We really look at it as a great opportunity for us. Really, that's our approach," he added. Malzahn feels this year's team has the opportunity for a special season. "This is my 10th year at Auburn (three were as offensive coordinator). During that time, we played for two national championships. We won one. We played for three SEC championships. We won two. And when I look at the team that we have this year, there's some of the characteristics those teams had, and that's exciting for me," Malzahn said. "Now you've got to win close games. You've got to make plays when the games are on (the line). You've got to stay healthy. I can tell you today, the exciting thing for me — I tell my team — we've got a chance. Really exciting times, as far as that goes, and looking forward to coaching this team this year."