AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Gus Malzahn is returning to his play calling roots — and to Auburn for another season.
The coach addressed talk about his job security after the team's first bowl practice Thursday. He also expressed enthusiasm about reclaiming the role as offensive play caller that propelled him to that position in the first place.
Malzahn spoke publicly for the first time since the regular season loss to No. 1 Alabama that concluded an underachieving 7-5 regular season. The team's performance this season led to speculation about his standing even with a hefty $32 million buyout and statements from athletic director Allen Green and President Steven Leath that Malzahn would return next season.
"I know there's a lot of things that probably weren't accurate," Malzahn said. "As a head coach, you stay in your lane. You do everything you can to get it turned around. We're going to do that."
He did dispute several reports saying he'd agreed to rework his contract, including reducing that buyout for future seasons.
"My contract has not changed one bit," Malzahn said. "I was never told I had to change my contract to keep my job. I've got the support of our athletic director and president. There's nobody hamstringing me from doing my job."
Malzahn has bet big on himself to turn around an offense that ranked among the Southeastern Conference's least productive last season. That starts with the Music City Bowl Dec. 28 against Purdue, when Malzahn will be back running the show on offense.
He called the plays in his first three seasons as Auburn's head coach. The first season produced an SEC title and national championship game appearance, but his teams have only managed one more 10-win season.
The offensive production has dropped off in recent seasons, with Auburn ranking 75th nationally in scoring this season at 28.3 points per game. He admitted the team wasn't disciplined enough at times on the field.
Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey left to take the same job at Kansas. Malzahn has hired 28-year-old Kenny Dillingham away from Memphis as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach while re-installing himself as the guy calling plays from the sideline.
At Memphis, head coach Mike Norvell, a former graduate assistant under Malzahn at Tulsa, called the plays. Malzahn attended meetings and a practice at Memphis last spring and came away impressed with Dillingham.
"Really left that practice field thinking, 'That guy there, I'd like to hire him someday,'" he said. "It's pretty unique from that standpoint, that he's here with us. Really, I thought it was the perfect fit from the standpoint that he did the same thing for Mike Norvell he's going to do for me. Mike calls the plays. Of course, Mike was my GA. We're kind of from the same way of thinking."
Malzahn says the offense will be better but it has a gaping hole. Two-year starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham is skipping his senior season to enter the NFL draft and former Clemson starter Kelly Bryant picked Missouri over Auburn. That leaves scant experience at the position.
Plus, promising freshman tailback Asa Martin is transferring .
Malzahn is still sounding a positive note, citing the young offensive talent returning and what's shaping up to be potentially a Top 10 recruiting class.
"When you go 7-5 and have aspirations of winning a championship, no one's going to be happy," he said. "I'm not happy. I know our fans aren't. I will tell you this: We've got really a lot to look forward to next year."
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