Auburn’s football program has reached the heights of success with more regularity than most over the last 20 years, only to plunge back to mediocrity and beyond before rising again.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” former Auburn and NFL linebacker Takeo Spikes said.
This Auburn team has produced the most dramatic rebound of them all. The second-ranked Tigers soared from a 3-9 debacle a year ago to Monday night’s BCS championship game against Florida State at the Rose Bowl.
The trick for first-year coach Gus Malzahn and athletic director Jay Jacobs will be sustaining a high level of success consistently.
Spikes is optimistic that there won’t be a repeat of what happened in the aftermath of the Cam Newton-led national championship season in 2010. The Tigers won four Southeastern Conference games over the next two seasons, including a goose egg in 2012.
“I think Jay Jacobs is aware and is going to do a better job as far as maintenance of it,” Spikes said. “To have the team win a national championship the way they did, and have Newton win the Heisman, and come back and pretty much suck the next two years, is why it’s so hard for not only alumni but the fans to swallow.”
The Tigers have had four seasons since 1993 with no more than one loss, under four different coaches. They’ve matched that with four losing seasons.
Few programs have been so up and down during that span.
Four times since 1990, Auburn has improved by five or more wins from one season to the next. That matches the most by any Football Bowl Subdivision program, putting Auburn in the company of Hawaii, Rice, Tulane and Tulsa.
Auburn is far from the only program that has struggled to maintain a high level of success year in and year out.
It’s the goal, though.
“That’s exactly what we’re striving for,” said Jacobs, a former Auburn offensive lineman, who has worked in the athletic department for more than two decades. “I think this year we’ve built a foundation and we said back in December when we hired Gus, we’re not sure how many wins we’ll get but Auburn football’s going to be fun. It’s certainly been fun.
“It’s been a season for the ages.”
Jacobs feels Malzahn, an experienced group of assistant coaches and their successes in recruiting make for a bright future.
The Tigers are poised to land their fifth consecutive recruiting class rated among the nation’s top 13 in the 247Sports composite rankings. That’s a nice start.
The search for stability has also included a big raise for Malzahn, who has already agreed to a new six-year deal worth $3.85 million annually.
“Auburn is a great program and used to winning championships, so I knew that we were going to get it turned around,” Malzahn said on Sunday. “I didn’t know how quick.”
Jacobs is looking beyond this season and hoping Auburn can keep it going.
“When you just look around the league, you see teams that have peaked and valleyed and then they’ve peaked again,” he said. “It’s a challenging thing, but I know that with Gus’s leadership and everything that we’re doing at Auburn in the athletics department, we’re building a program for stability and for the future.”