UCF hires ex-Auburn coach Gus Malzahn as head coach

Nick Bromberg and Sam Cooper
·3-min read

Gus Malzahn will return to the sidelines in 2021.

The former Auburn coach has agreed to become the next head coach at UCF. He will be introduced on Monday afternoon, the school said.

Malzahn will replace Josh Heupel, who left UCF to become the head coach of Tennessee.

Heupel went to Tennessee after the school hired UCF athletic director Danny White for the same position. White made the move to keep Heupel as his football coach not long after he got to Knoxville. And now Malzahn is joining a familiar athletic director in Orlando.

UCF hired Arkansas State's Terry Mohajir to be White's successor. Mohajir's first year at Arkansas State was 2012, the lone year Malzahn coached the Red Wolves. After one year at Arkansas State, Malzahn took over as Auburn's head coach after Gene Chizik was fired.

Now, the two are poised to reunite in Orlando.

"When I started the search process, it became very evident very quickly that, based on the conversations I had with the players last week and what they told me were looking for, Gus Malzahn was the guy for the job," Mohajir said. "He has won at every level, and he has coached a Heisman Trophy winner and NFL draft picks. There has never been a better time for Coach Malzahn to lead this program than right now."

Added Malzahn: "I'm thrilled to be the head coach at UCF, and I'm truly looking forward to being part of Knight Nation. It's exciting to be head of a program where the future is extremely bright. I will be hitting the ground running in terms of getting to know our team and everyone else connected with UCF. Our goal is to be ready to win championships."

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn watches during the second half of an NCAA college football game against LSU on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Gus Malzahn was fired from Auburn at the end of the 2020 regular season. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Malzahn got a hefty buyout from Auburn

Malzahn's firing was a surprise and one of the biggest moves in a surprisingly busy coaching carousel after the 2020 season. Auburn decided that it was willing to pay over $20 million to buy out the rest of Malzahn's contract after the Tigers went 6-4 in the regular season.

The Tigers never replicated the heights they reached in Malzahn’s first season. Auburn went 12-2 and lost to Florida State in the final BCS Championship Game at the end of the 2013 season.

Over his eight years at Auburn, Malzahn coached the Tigers to a 68-35 overall record with a 39-27 mark in SEC play. He also beat Alabama three times. In addition to his national title game appearance, Malzahn also led Auburn to 10 wins and the SEC championship game in 2017, losing to Georgia.

Following that season, Malzahn signed a seven-year, $49 million contract. His teams would underwhelm over the next three seasons, however, going a combined 14-12 in SEC play. As the middle-of-the-road SEC finishes continued, the talk about Malzahn’s job security became a common topic.

UCF is one of the best non-Power Five jobs

Malzahn has the chance to take over a program that's asserted itself as a top-three program in the state of Florida in recent years, thanks to Florida State's struggles. UCF has gone 41-8 over the last four seasons under Scott Frost and Heupel, though the Knights’ record has gotten worse with each passing year in that timeframe. UCF went 13-0 in 2017, but Frost left for Nebraska at the end of the season. Heupel’s teams then went 12-1, 10-3 and 6-4 in his three years with the school.

Can Malzahn reverse that slide? If he does, UCF will remain relevant at the top of the American Athletic Conference. And it could get him another shot at a job with a Power Five conference school if he wants it.

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