Jay Jacobs grew up 20 miles from the Auburn campus, walked on the football team in 1980 and won an SEC title with the Tigers in 1983. Now the school’s athletics director, Jacobs hired former head coach Gene Chizik—who won a national title in 2010 over Oregon.
Three seasons later, Jacobs tabbed Gus Malzahn—who ran a tempo-based, power rushing attack as the offensive coordinator of that title team—to revitalize the program. Malzahn won an SEC title and played for a national championship in his first year as the head coach in 2013 but has struggled since.
An 8-5 campaign in 2014 and 7-6 season last year has put pressure on Malzahn in 2016.
This year’s Tigers boast a 3-2 record, a defense that is giving up just 358.4 yards per game, a kicker in Daniel Carlson who scored all 18 points in the win over LSU in Week 4 and an offense that has slowly improved since the opening night loss to Clemson in which Malzahn rotated three quarterbacks.
Jacobs sat down with Bleacher Report to discuss Malzahn, the 2016 season, the pressure he’s under and the state of the program.
Bleacher Report: Gus Malzahn has things going in the right direction now on offense in back-to-back wins over LSU and Mississippi State. What are your overall thoughts on how the season—which has been a bit of a roller coaster—has gone?
Jay Jacobs: It’s obvious that we’ve lost to really good teams (Clemson and Texas A&M) who are both now in the Top 10. I like the way our guys are playing. We’re playing sound football. That’s the way I look at it, week-to-week and game-to-game, which is how Gus looks at it too. You know, ‘how are we playing?’
I think we are in a great spot and have great momentum going. We’ve got to keep winning games and have another challenge with an SEC West game this week with Mississippi State and have to go over and play there early in the morning. If we play the way that I think we are capable of playing, we’ll go into the fourth quarter with a chance to win.
In this league and this sport, you do take it a week at a time, and I know that’s what Gus is doing as well.
B/R: You gave Gus a one-year extension this offseason. How much pressure really was on him, the program and you because of that following a 7-6 season in 2015 in which the offense—which is his strength—took a step back?
JJ: In this business—the SEC being the best conference in the nation and the SEC West, inarguably, being the best division—there’s always pressure regardless of what the circumstances were last year. There’s pressure to move forward, there’s pressure to get better and there’s pressure to stay where you were, if you had a great year.
There was no more pressure or less pressure; it’s just a pressure position to be in.
When you come to a school like Auburn, or any other school in the SEC, you know that there’s pressure to win. Here, particularly, to do it the right way.
Coming out of last year, obviously we have to get better. But there was no more pressure than there was in 2013, when we played for the national championship and won an SEC title as to try to maintain what we had and win that championship. That’s what our goal is for all of our sports—football, basketball, all of them.
B/R: Auburn’s identity this year has been somewhat old-school, with a defense that’s consistently solid and a kicking game that’s one of the best in the nation. Is that something that you like, can build off of and build off of as a new brand for a program that became synonymous with offense over the last few years?
JJ: Where you win championships in this league is making sure you have a great defense, and I think that we do. Even this early season, we’ve demonstrated that we have a really good defense. We’ve also demonstrated that we have the best kicker in college football.
If the offense can continue to improve like it has the last couple of weeks, we’ve got a pretty good recipe for success. What does that mean? Does that mean winning seven or eight games? Maybe so, but it also depends on how good everybody else is.
The way you win championships in this league is to have a great defense, be able to score and have a great kicking game. Right now, the kicking game is making up for our lack of ability to score on offense. If we can continue to improve on offense, then I’m really going to like this team and like our chances.
I do like that style of play. I like the style of hard-nosed defense, which Auburn has traditionally been that way. And a great kicking game, which we’ve traditionally been that way. The offense is coming along. That’s what it takes to win championships, and that’s why I like them.
And I like our players. If you ever get a chance to know them, they’re just really good guys. Some years, you don’t have it that way. This year, we have it that way. Outstanding guys.
B/R: You’re an Auburn guy through and through—went there and played there—and some of the fanbase judges success or failure through the prism of what’s going on across the entire state. Auburn has gone out on its own over the last few years by establishing an offensive identity that’s different than Alabama and achieved the ultimate success while Alabama has tasted the ultimate success itself. How important is that to you?
JJ: What’s important to me is that Auburn is Auburn. I grew up an Auburn fan, walked on, won an SEC championship here. That’s the way I’ve always viewed it. We’re not comparing ourselves to anybody else—I just want Auburn to be as good as it can possibly be.
To be one of just a few schools that has competed for the national championship twice in the last six years, there are a lot of schools around the country who would love to be in that position. I’ve hired two different guys who have taken us to the national championship.
But we’ve had some dips. What I want, is to win the national championship and not have that dip—and that’s what I’m looking for this year.
What we’re comparing ourselves to is Auburn. What do we need to do to win championships. I’m not comparing it to Alabama, Florida, Georgia or anybody else. I’m comparing it to Auburn. ‘What’s the most important thing for Auburn?’
When I was growing up and in my day, we were never dominated by a team. Back in the ’60s and ’70s we were, but I didn’t live with that in the early ’80s. It’s a more equal playing field now. I want us to be the best we can possibly be, and this league breeds that.
What has happened around this league, and what some would say successful coaches not being here anymore, there’s a lot of pressure.
I really like our chances.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Source: Bleacher Report -SEC Football