Would a loss in the Birmingham Bowl put Gus on the hot seat?


There has been a lot of frustration from the Auburn fan base this year over the lack of offense from a coach that has shown himself to be an offensive genius in the past. Auburn finished the regular season 78th in the country with an average of 27.2 points per game – two touchdowns less a game than what their Birmingham Bowl opponent averaged during the season.

Last year Gus had the offense scoring an average of 35.5 points per game, and the year before that they average 39.5 points a game. In two years this offense has dropped 10 points a game on average from where they were when they won the SEC title.

Obviously a lot of the blame can be put on the quarterback position, but Jeremy Johnson was someone Gus praised and led us all to believe that he would keep the train moving in 2015. That either means Gus was just talking him up to the media to build his confidence, or he didn’t do a good job of getting his quarterback ready for the job. Neither Johnson nor Sean White were anywhere close to the level of production Nick Marshall brought to the offense.

Gus and the staff have brought in several high level recruits at quarterback in his three seasons, including Marshall, Johnson and White, but they haven’t built the depth at that position to create a healthy competition in case one of them doesn’t pan out. For example, Alabama had five quarterbacks competing for the quarterback job this past offseason, while the only two quarterback names you’ve ever heard of at Auburn are White and Johnson. There just doesn’t appear to be a lot of high quality depth at a position that is key to running Gus’s offense smoothly.

In his first year at Auburn Gus went 12-2 and took the Tigers to a National Championship, but in the past two seasons Auburn has won eight and six games (with a chance for seven) respectively. Three years is a mighty short sample size to give a coach, but it’s not too different from the treatment Gene Chizik received at Auburn.

Chizik was 8-5 his first year at Auburn – granted they were only 3-5 in SEC play – and they won the National Championship in his second season with Cam Newton at the helm. However, in his third season the Tigers crashed to a 3-9 record and failed to win an SEC game, which led to the immediate removal of Chizik as head coach.

Now 6-6 looks a lot better than 3-9, especially considering that 2011 team didn’t even win an SEC game. Gus hasn’t fallen quite as low as Chizik did, but you have to wonder how important it was for him to make this bowl game to take some of the pressure off. A lot Alabama fans, as well as some Auburn fans, are making fun of the fact that the Tigers were selected to the lowly Birmingham Bowl, but can you imagine the reaction if they didn’t reach a bowl game at all?

Now the pressure could be back on Gus to win this bowl game and finish with a winning record. A 7-6 record looks a lot better on your resume than a 6-7 record would. It could also give the fan base some confidence heading into the next season, cooling down that hot seat a little bit. Then again, Auburn opens up the 2016 season against Clemson, and they face LSU and Texas A&M in the first four weeks of the season so Gus won’t have much time to relax.

Having said all that, Gus’s leash needs to be a little bit longer than what it is right now. Yes, the play calling was horrible at times this year, especially in the redzone, and if that continues into next year then the heat on his seat is warranted, but the man deserves another chance.

Give him another full offseason to work with the quarterbacks to find who really is the right fit for this offense. Gus and the staff have a couple of highly touted quarterback recruits in the upcoming recruiting class that could have an immediate impact. Junior college transfer John Franklin III is a duel-threat quarterback that many believe could jump right into this offensive system.

It would have been refreshing to see Gus be able to win games this year despite not having great quarterback play, because there are going to be years when that’s the case, but at the same time Auburn fans now realize how vital the quarterback position is to this offense.

The talent is there at the running back position already, and there are a lot of talented receivers in this upcoming recruiting class that could jump right into the mix, but Gus has got to find the right quarterback to lead this offense or everything else is futile.

This bowl shouldn’t have any impact on Gus’s future as coach of the Auburn Tigers, but a win with a good performance on offense sure would ease the mind of a lot of fans going into the offseason.