Gus Malzahn’s first day in office at UCF featured a flight from Alabama to Orlando, a meeting with the football team, answering reporters’ questions about Waffle House and chewing gum, and a pledge to get the Knights in the College Football Playoff.
“Our goals are going to be pretty simple, it’s to win championships, to get in the College Football Playoffs — and we’re excited about that — and then to play in New Year’s Six bowl games,” Malzahn said.
The former Auburn head coach was fired at the end of the 2020 season after the Tigers went 6-4 in the regular season. Auburn athletic director Allen Greene said in a statement “it was time to make a change in leadership.” UCF was in the middle of a similar change in leadership, but that all ended Monday when Malzahn was named head coach.
Malzahn is the latest piece to be shuffled into the Knights’ athletic department following the departure of former head football coach Josh Heupel and former AD Danny White to Tennessee. White was replaced by former Arkansas State AD Terry Mohajir, who “100%” agrees with Malzahn’s philosophy on competing for championships.
Mohajir and Malzahn worked together at Arkansas State in 2012 — Malzahn’s first and only year as head football coach who led the Red Wolves to a Sun Belt title that year.
Already familiar with leading football teams to championships, Malzahn said to accomplish a run at the College Football Playoff, the first step is to schedule a top-10 non-conference opponent. And beat them.
“That’s something obviously me and Terry will be working together on figuring out strategically. We’re gonna do everything in our power as a program to give our guys a chance to do that,” Malzahn said. “And I truly believe we will be in the Final Four in a short period of time.”
Mohajir mirrored Malzahn’s sentiment, adding that the duo will consider any opportunity that gives UCF an opportunity to compete in a New Year’s Six bowl game and the Final Four of the College Football Playoff.
“I share that philosophy — always have, always will,” Mohajir said. “In order to be the best, you have to play the best. And you have to play the best, and you have to beat the best. So in order to be the best, you have to play ‘em.
Coincidentally enough, Mohajir is a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. In Mohajir’s introductory press conference last week, he did not give a concrete answer on whether the playoff should be expanded or not due to his position on the committee. Malzahn, however, is a firm believer in expansion — something he has championed for long before his arrival at UCF.
“Terry being on the committee probably knows a whole lot more about that,” Malzahn said when asked his viewpoint on expanding the College Football Playoff. “But I know for me, and it was way before I got here … eight would be a better number.
“So in the future, maybe, being a former high school coach and having semifinals and quarterfinals, I’m all for it. Not just because I’m here, that was even when I was at the last job.”
Although Mohajir said it might be necessary to play on the other team’s terms to take the opportunity, Malzahn said he would be OK with playing in a parking lot.
As long as UCF beats them.
And being beat by UCF is something Malzahn has experience with as the former Auburn football coach. The Knights defeated the Tigers 34-27 in the 2018 Peach Bowl, capping UCF’s undefeated season and jumpstarting its National Championship campaign.
“I’ve got experience playing UCF in a New Year’s Six bowl game and getting beat,” Malzahn said.
The two-time SEC Championship coach also said UCF’s win on Jan. 1, 2018 “wasn’t a fluke.” UCF out-played Auburn that day, Malzahn said.
“They were one of the best teams in all of college football that year,” he added.
Malzahn says yes, Auburn was motivated beat UCF in the 2018 Peach Bowl.— Daniella Medina (@danimedinanews) February 15, 2021
Adding to UCF’s win over Auburn, Malzahn said the Knights weren’t just good on offense, but they were “very good” on defense as well.
“If we’re truly gonna have a chance to make the Final Four, we’re gonna play great defense,” he said. “And so that will be one of my priorities.”
Daniella Medina is a contributing writer for Black & Gold Banneret. Follow her on Twitter @danimedinanews.