Paul Finebaum, one of the SEC’s most influential voices, offered a bleak forecast for coach Gus Malzahn on the Plains.
The longtime sports-talk radio host sees Auburn at a crossroads heading into its game against LSU on Saturday night with Malzahn running out of time to change the “dynamics” of the conversation for his struggling program.
“To me it’s a critical game,” Finebaum said. “Maybe not do or die, but certainly this will set the tone for the rest of the season. I mean do the math. Without this one, it’s hard to see them doing much better than .500.”
Auburn has lost six straight conference games at Jordan-Hare Stadium — a streak going all the way back to 2014 — and is 2-10 against SEC opponents overall during the stretch.
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Even for a fanbase that’s become accustomed to extreme highs and lows — “Auburn fans have probably spent a lot of time at the chiropractor cause of all the whiplash” — Finebaum isn’t sure they can handle another offensive performance similar to the season-opener against Clemson.
“That is probably the worst constructed game plan I’ve ever seen,” Finebaum said. “Unmitigated disaster and the blame goes to Malzahn. It makes you ask is he an offensive genius or a high school coach that’s been fortunate to make the most of his opportunities but is in over his head?”
The radio and television host talked with the Ledger-Enquirer about the state of Auburn football Friday afternoon before stepping on the set of the aptly named The Paul Finebaum Show at the Wellness Kitchen Green Space.
Finebaum is on campus for the SEC Nation’s stop in Auburn this weekend. The broadcaster is one of the analysts on the conference’s flagship preview show that’s doing a live remote Saturday morning from the Wellness Kitchen.
Finebaum would love the chance to talk with Malzahn directly on-air about Auburn’s struggles, but the broadcaster won’t get the chance this weekend.
Malzahn declined a request to be on the show as has often been the case during his three-plus years as head coach.
“We always request the coach when we come to a college campus, in his case we haven’t always got the affirmative,” Finebaum said. “I don’t know him very well. Of the 14 SEC coaches, I probably know him the least.”
Finebaum’s producers don’t keep track of guest appearances, but Malzahn has rarely appeared on the program outside of annual guest spots during SEC Media Days when the show is broadcast at the host hotel.
“I think I’ve done really one long interview with him for the SEC Network,” Finebaum said. “He was fairly engaging, but he has a distrust of the media for whatever reasons. I never take it personally.”
Finebaum gets the sense from just watching Malzahn speak to the media Tuesday that the coach knows his seat is warming up.
“It looked to me like somebody told him he was on the verge of getting fired if he didn’t start talking a different language,” Finebaum said. “All of a sudden he starts playing the sympathy card? I don’t buy it, sorry.”
Malzahn might face an uphill battle in saving his job, but Finebaum isn’t ready to write the coach off completely.
The one-time columnist and reporter for the Birmingham Post-Herald knows from his own experience covering the sport anything can happen in the world of college football.
“I’m always hesitant to say a coach can’t turn things around,” Finebaum said. “I remember in the ’80s at Alabama when I was sure the coach (Ray Perkins) was going to get fired. He was a disaster then they go on to win the ’84 Iron Bowl in the Bo goes the wrong way game and he kept his job, so who knows? Malzahn could change the dynamics of the conversation, but without a win at home that’s going to be hard to do.”
LSU at Auburn
- When: 6 p.m., Saturday
- TV: ESPN, 6 p.m.
- Radio: WVRK-FM 102.9. 5:30 p.m.