Jan 1, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive end Big Kat Bryant (1) awaits the snap during the first quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

‘Big Kat’ Bryant to join Gus Malzahn at UCF

Oct 25, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (99) forces a fumble by Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool (11) during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive end Markaviest “Big Kat” Bryant said Tuesday that he plans to join former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn at UCF.

Bryant announced in January that he was entering the NCAA transfer portal and would play elsewhere for a fifth season, taking advantage of having another season of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Soon after, he said he was heading to Tennessee but apparently changed his mind after the firing of coach Jeremy Pruitt amid allegations of recruiting violations.

Bryant made his decision to play at UCF known on social media, sharing a photo illustration of himself in a team uniform with the caption, “Big Kat in the Bounce House.”

Bryant finished 2020 with 17 tackles, including three sacks, and four quarterback hurries. In four years at Auburn, Bryant appeared in 49 games and amassed career totals of 56 tackles, 10 sacks, two interceptions and seven passes defended.

He becomes the third former Auburn player to commit to playing for Malzahn at UCF, joining running back Mark-Antony Richards and receiver Nate Craig-Myers in Orlando.

Auburn fired Malzahn on Dec. 13 after eight seasons (2013-20) and a 68-35 overall record, 39-27 in Southeastern Conference play. He had four years remaining on his seven-year, $49 million contract extension and guided the program to an SEC Championship and BCS National Championship appearance in his first season.

He was hired at UCF in January.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA;  Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn shouts during the first quarter of the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: UCF to hire Gus Malzahn as head coach

UCF is expected to hire former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn as its next football coach, and the deal could be finalized as soon as Monday, multiple outlets reported.

The job was offered to Malzahn on Sunday, according to 247Sports.

UCF had been seeking a replacement for Josh Heupel, who left last month to take the head coaching job at Tennessee. He followed athletic director Danny White, who assumed the same position with the Volunteers.

Since then, UCF named Terry Mohajir as its athletic director, and he has a connection to Malzahn. He previously was the athletic director at Arkansas State, where Malzahn coached in 2012.

Auburn fired Malzahn, 55, on Dec. 13 after eight seasons and a 68-35 overall record and 39-27 mark in Southeastern Conference play. He had four years remaining on his seven-year, $49 million contract extension and guided the program to an SEC Championship and BCS National Championship appearance in his first season.

He led Arkansas State to a 9-3 record and a Sun Belt Conference championship in 2012.

The Knights were 28-8 in three seasons under Heupel.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn walks onto the field during a timeout during the fourth quarter of the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Ex-coach Malzahn thanks Auburn for ‘true honor’

Former Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, who was fired over the weekend, wrote a lengthy thank-you letter to the program and its players Monday.

Malzahn, who went 68-35 in eight seasons as Auburn coach, showed no hard feelings after his dismissal. He reportedly will collect a $21.45 million buyout.

“I’m incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to coach at Auburn for 11 years, including the last eight as head coach,” Malzahn said. “It was a true honor to lead our program.

“Auburn will always hold a special place in mine and Kristi’s life. Our two daughters, Kylie and Kenzie, both graduated from Auburn, as did our two sons-in-laws. We are very thankful for the many friends we’ve made along the way.

“I want to thank every player I’ve been fortunate to coach during my tenure. It was a true blessing, and I’m incredibly appreciative of how you represented the program and most importantly, yourselves. We shared a lot of special memories together. I enjoyed watching you guys grow into Auburn men.”

Malzahn led Auburn to a Southeastern Conference championship and a BCS National Championship appearance in his first season at the helm.

The Tigers named defensive coordinator Kevin Steele as interim head coach while they search for Malzahn’s replacement.

“Lastly, I want to thank the Auburn Family that made our time here incredibly special,” Malzahn said. “You are the reason it is such a great place. I wish Auburn nothing but the best in the future. To the next head coach, you will be inheriting a great group of young men that will give their all for Auburn.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA;  Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn shouts during the first quarter of the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn fires Malzahn after eight seasons

Auburn fired head coach Gus Malzahn with four seasons remaining on his seven-year, $49 million contract extension, the school announced Sunday.

Malzahn, 55, posted a 68-35 overall record and 39-27 mark in Southeastern Conference play during his eight seasons at the helm. He guided the program to an SEC Championship and BCS National Championship appearance in his first season.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will serve as interim head coach for the Tigers, who finished their season with a 6-4 record following a 24-10 win against Mississippi State on Saturday.

“After evaluating the state of the Auburn football program, we’ve decided that it was time to make a change in leadership,” Auburn athletic director Allen Greene said. “We appreciate everything that Gus did for the program over the last eight seasons. We will begin a search immediately for a coach that can help the Auburn program consistently compete at the highest level.”

Auburn said in its release that Malzahn will be paid the remainder of his contract.

Per AL.com, his buyout will be $21,450,000, with 50 percent of that sum owed within 30 days of his termination and the remainder paid in four equal annual installments. His annual salary is $6.9 million, which ranked seventh in the nation and fifth in the SEC behind Alabama’s Nick Saban, LSU’s Ed Orgeron, Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher and Georgia’s Kirby Smart.

Auburn joins Vanderbilt, Arizona and Illinois as having head coaching openings among Power Five conference schools.

“Coach Malzahn led the Auburn football program with honor and integrity,” Auburn president Jay Gogue said in a statement. “We appreciate his service to Auburn Athletics, Auburn University and, in particular, our student-athletes. We wish him and (wife) Kristi all the best.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 24, 2020; Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn before the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn halts football activities after 12 positive tests

Auburn halted football activities on Tuesday after a dozen positive tests for COVID-19 hit the program.

The stoppage isn’t affecting the next game for the No. 24 Tigers (4-2). On Monday, the SEC postponed Auburn’s game against Mississippi State because of a coronavirus outbreak among the Bulldogs.

At Auburn, nine players and three staff members tested positive, coach Gus Malzahn said. He declined to provide additional details.

The Tigers didn’t play last weekend because of a scheduled week off and haven’t played since Oct. 31, win they beat LSU 48-11. The previous positive tests in the program occurred Sept. 12, and Malzahn told reporters last week that he told his players to be careful with their time away from the team.

“The message was the No. 1 thing we have to do this week is have COVID etiquette and be responsible,” Malzahn said last week. “That’s going to be a huge key to the last four games and our success.”

COVID-19 has impacted at least half of all SEC teams. Mississippi State and Texas A&M are on pause, and Saturday’s game between LSU and No. 1 Alabama is in jeopardy because of a number of cases at LSU.

Outbreaks at Vanderbilt and Florida also have forced postponements this season.

Auburn is slated to host Tennessee on Nov. 21.

–Field Level Media

Nov 30, 2019; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn looks on during warm-ups before the game between the Auburn Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn has 16 players sidelined due to COVID-19 concerns

The Auburn football team will be without 16 players due to coronavirus concerns when it resumes practice on Tuesday, coach Gus Malzahn said.

Malzahn told reporters on Sunday that the team has nine players who have tested positive for COVID-19 and seven others who are deemed as high risk.

“We’re learning as we go here. Every day and every week is a challenge,” Malzahn said, according to 247Sports.

Malzahn revealed that two position groups had been impacted to an extent that the Tigers didn’t have full practices over the last few days.

NCAA guidelines require players who test positive to sit out for 10 days, and players who have had “high risk” contact with players who test positive have to sit out for 14 days. “High risk” contact is defined as 15 consecutive minutes in close contact while not wearing a mask or face covering.

Per Malzahn, Auburn protocols require at least 17 days before a player can return from a positive COVID-19 test. That includes a 10-day quarantine and a seven-day “re-acclimation period” before being fully cleared.

The SEC is using a 10-game conference-only scheduling format for this year because of the pandemic. The Tigers open the season Sept. 26 at home against Kentucky.

“There’s definitely an urgency, but the bottom line is the health and safety of our players is always going to be first,” Malzahn said. “When you’re going through this, there’s a competitive side, but we’re always going to put our team first — the mental and physical health of our players. Yeah, we understand we’re four weeks out. We feel like we have time to prepare.”

Cases of the coronavirus are rising at some SEC campuses.

At Alabama, more than 1,000 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since classes resumed Aug. 19, according to the University of Alabama system. And at South Carolina, where classes began Aug. 20, 620 students had tested positive for the virus as of Thursday, the school confirmed.

–Field Level Media