Central Florida hired Gus Malzahn as its new football coach Monday, replacing Josh Heupel with a coach who never has had a losing season in nine seasons at Auburn and Arkansas State.

Malzahn went 68-35 at Auburn, led the Tigers to the BCS championship game in 2013-14 and scored three Iron Bowl wins over rival Alabama (two of them when the Crimson Tide was ranked No. 1). But even though he was only midway through a contract extension signed in 2017, Malzahn was fired in December after a 6-4 campaign in 2020, with blowout losses to Georgia and Alabama riling up the program’s boosters enough that the school paid Malzhan a $21.45 million buyout to leave.

“I’m thrilled to be the head coach at UCF, and I’m truly looking forward to being part of Knight Nation,” Malzahn said in a statement. “It’s exciting to be head of a program where the future is extremely bright. I will be hitting the ground running in terms of getting to know our team and everyone else connected with UCF. Our goal is to be ready to win championships.”

There was no offset language in Malzahn’s Auburn contract, meaning the school will not recoup any of that money after Central Florida hired him.

Malzahn, 55, will look to maintain the momentum generated by Scott Frost and Heupel at Central Florida, which has won at least 10 games in three of the past four seasons and has become one of the better programs outside the Power Five conferences. He and Knights Athletic Director Terry Mohajir, who was hired last week, worked together for one season at Arkansas State in 2012. Heupel and former athletic director Danny White both left UCF for Tennessee last month.

“When I started the search process, it became very evident very quickly that, based on the conversations I had with the players last week and what they told me were looking for, Gus Malzahn was the guy for the job,” Mohajir said in a statement. “He has won at every level, and he has coached a Heisman Trophy winner and NFL draft picks. There has never been a better time for Coach Malzahn to lead this program than right now.”

Under Malzahn, Auburn was known for its hurry-up, no-huddle offense that produced ample rushing yards, but in 2020 the Tigers ranked just 46th nationally in terms of offensive SP+, a measure of overall efficiency (they ranked 34th in 2019). Auburn went just 8-17 against rivals Alabama, Georgia and LSU during Malzahn’s tenure, 0-12 in road games against those teams, and was only 2-5 in bowl games. One of those postseason losses was to Central Florida in the Peach Bowl that followed the 2017 regular season, when the Knights went 13-0 and proclaimed themselves “national champions” despite finishing sixth in the final Associated Press poll.

The Knights have ranked in the top 20 nationally in yards per game in each of the past four seasons, but Malzahn inherits a team that returns only 68 percent of its production from 2020, which ranks 74th nationally.

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