Three Ghosts Lobby Gus Malzahn
Photo Auburn Football Coach Gus Malzahn and Alabama Coach Nick Saban, Iron Bowl, by AP Butch Dill November 28, 2015.
With slumped shoulders and a baffled expression on his face, Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn walked out of Jordan-Hare after losing to Alabama 29 – 13, his second Iron Bowl loss in two years, got in his truck and drove straight to the Waffle House. Alabama beat Auburn, cinched the SEC West and probably won a Heisman, all in his stadium that night. Sitting in his truck Gus reminisced about the good times when he and his wife would enjoy a victory breakfast after every Auburn football win in Jordan-Hare. This year he and Kristi munched on smothered and covered hash browns only 3 of the 7 home games and none of them were wins over an SEC team.
As he sat in the parking lot Gus replayed in his mind the post-game press conference where he fidgeted at the podium and answered questions, which were focused on the feeble offense that could not gain more than 263 total yards on Bama. Gus knew 37 carries for 91 yards and a quarterback completing 10 out of 23 attempts would never beat a Saban coached team. He thought about his answer when asked about staff changes, “I am not talking about any staff changes.” His thoughts swirled in deliberation between a desperate need for effective offense and his loyalty to his offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, his eight-year protégé whom Gus took with him on 5 of his own coaching jobs.
Weary and mystified, Gus mumbled to himself, “what should I do, what should I do?” and dozed off to sleep in his vehicle.
All at once, Gus was startled, awakened and not alone. Plopped in the passenger’s seat was former Auburn Coach Pat Dye who said, Gus, you’ve got to make some changes. While I was head coach at Auburn from 1981 to 1992 I hired 3 offensive coordinators and 2 defensive coordinators. Gus tried to speak, but no sound came out of his mouth and Dye said, “Shush, shush, now listen here. When you see the lights turn off at Jordan-Hare, you will be visited by three ghosts.
And then Dye disappeared.
A little creeped out by the peculiar experience Gus Malzahn cranked up the Ford and headed home. As he turned out of the parking lot he noticed the lights going off in the stadium and ran off the road upon being tapped on the shoulder. In the back seat of his truck was an angry panther. Gus leaped from the car and the big cat followed. Gus ran, but his feet were not moving and suddenly found himself inside the Auburn film room sitting beside Cam Newton.
Newton smiled and said, “Hi Coach, I’m the ghost of Iron Bowls past and I’ve got something to show you.” While the two smacked gum together for old times’ sake, they watched Auburn football film from last year, which was Malzahn’s second year as head coach of the Auburn football team. They watched highlights from Iron Bowl 2014 score, 55 – 44, an Alabama win and the highest scoring Iron Bowl in the history of the rivalry. Auburn traded field goals for Alabama’s touchdowns including 28 unanswered points and a 2-point conversion in the second half. The Tiger defense allowed 30 points or more for the sixth straight SEC game, a school record.
Suddenly Newton and Malzahn are out of the film room to outside the football complex. Immediately Malzahn sees an enormous orange and blue crane rising up in the air holding defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson who was wiggling and writhing. In a quick flicking motion the crane tossed Johnson out of sight. Newton says to Coach Malzahn, “Don’t worry; Coach Johnson is fine; he landed on $2.2 Mil for leaving The Plains.” The two men are startled by a snarling sound. They look up and see another crane holding former Florida head football coach Will Muschamp. The crane carefully lowers Auburn’s new defensive coordinator, drops him into the stadium and onto the field. Immediately he spins and whips up a cloud of dust like the Tasmanian Devil across the sideline and disappears into the tunnel.
Newton high fives his former offensive coordinator to congratulate him for making the necessary changes on his staff, does a strange dance and disappears from view.
Just then a door appears and Gus hears a doorbell ring loudly. Gus opens the door and inside is Bo Jackson who says, “Hello, welcome to the Heisman house, Gus, come on in!” Gus, who can barely believe the night he’s having, says to Bo, “Let me guess, you’re the ghost of Iron Bowl present. Am I right?” “You catch on fast, coach,” says Jackson who continues, “I was on the selection committee that recommended you for the head coaching job at Auburn, I love Auburn and I want you to succeed. You have to ask yourself, what would I do today, if I were brave.” Come on coach, let’s go for a ride. Coach Malzahn expects to get into a car, but Bo hands him a bicycle built for two and Gus jumps on the back seat. With Bo in the front and the curious coach on the back seat the two pedal and talk. They reviewed the statistics for every game of the season and as they ride they passed scenes and key plays in every game. They ride by the Iron Bowl and see Auburn make 12 first downs, half the number that Alabama made.
They ride by to see Mississippi State prevent Auburn from getting into the end zone with 4 red zone stops. But Auburn held Mississippi State to 17 points, which has a season average of 33. Auburn held Ole Miss to 27 points, below its season average of 40 points per game and UGA scored 20 points, which is below their season average 26. Bo stops the bike and exclaims to Gus that those were three games Auburn would have won if they had a good offense. And even Alabama, which averaged 34.5 points per game was held to 29 in Iron Bowl 2015. Just then Gus notices that it’s very dark and he can’t see Bo Jackson any more. “Where are you?” Gus calls out. “Do what you know you need to do,” Jackson says. Just then Gus starts to see a little light. Gradually the area gets brighter and he realizes he’s sitting in the stands at Jordan-Hare.
Down on the field he sees Bo run and jump over the top and then he’s gone.
Gus realizes that he has gotten thirsty.
He hears, “Ice Cold, Dr Pepper Here!” Larry Culpepper walks up the stands to the row where Gus is seated, hands him a Dr Pepper and says, “I’m the ghost of Iron Bowls yet to come.” Upon taking a sip of the Dr. Pepper, Gus looks around the dimly lit stadium and realizes that Jordan-Hare is a cold grey color that reminds him of the “Old Grey Lady,” Legion Field in Birmingham. The once sparkling Aubietron is missing thousands of LED lamps and flickers like an old black and white TV. Larry explains that the year is 2025 and 10 more Iron Bowls have come and gone.
As Gus drinks his Dr Pepper, Larry puts his hand on Gus’s shoulder and suddenly the two are sitting in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Gus immediately feels very ill as if a case of influenza has come over him. Bryant Denny is sparkling and video of Alabama Coach Nick Saban is playing on all four video boards, Nick hoists one College Football Playoff Trophy after another. Gus Malzahn notices, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2020, 2021 and 2025 National Championship flags flying proudly across the top of the stadium. He turns to Culpepper with a question mark on his face, but cannot speak. Larry turns to Gus Malzahn and explains that over the last decade Alabama won six more National Championships under Coach Saban and 12 Iron Bowls in a row. “Would you believe that Nick flipped 15 Auburn 5-star recruits during that time and 8 of them were drafted in the first round of the NFL draft,” Culpepper asks Malzahn who is now hyperventilating into a brown paper bag. Gus jumps from his seat in Bryant Denny and shouts, “Stop, please stop! Larry, tell me this isn’t true,” but the Coach could not find Larry Culpepper who was out of view.
Gus awoke in his truck, which was still parked at the Waffle House. He said to himself, “I know what needs to be done and I’ll do what it takes.”
He drove to his office eager to make changes and alter the course of Auburn football.
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