Last year, in the course of writing a posting covering the $95 Fossil watch worn by Alabama football coach Nick Saban, I identified and commented on the watches worn by some other prominent college football coaches – Steve Spurrier, Les Miles, Mark Richt and a few others.  These gentlemen are leaders of popular football programs and are highly visible on Saturdays during the season, with the cameras following their every move and gesture, as they pace up and down the sidelines.

Michael Kors for Gus Malzahn

One of the more surprising discoveries of last year’s research was that first-year Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn was wearing a Michael Kors chronograph.  It wasn’t so much the $170 “street” price of the watch that surprised me, but the fact that Michael Kors is a “fashion” brand, most often preferred by teenage girls.  (Or as one of my daughters once told me, “by the time you get out of college, you want something a little more sophisticated”.)  Malzahn’s Michael Kors chronograph looks a bit fussy, or even flimsy, not matching up well against Nick Saban’s more rugged looking $95 Fossil chronograph.

In any event, many of the coaches’ choices of watches were a mystery, and I could only imagine the circumstances under which Gus Malzahn purchased the Michael Kors watch or received it as a gift.

Malzahn’s New Rolex Submariner

While the 2014 version of the Auburn Tigers football team (currently with 8 wins and 4 losses) is a couple of notches below the 2013 team (with its 12-2 record and appearance in the national championship game), during last night’s Alabama-Auburn game, it was exciting to see that Gus Malzahn has upgraded his watch.  In place of the white-dialed Michael Kors chronograph, Gus Malzahn was wearing what is definitely a “big boy” watch, the legendary Rolex Submariner.  As we will describe below, the Submariner is one of the all-time classics, the absolute antithesis of this year’s “fashion” watch.

Chalk and Cheese

Realizing that this may be the very first time that anyone has compared any Michael Kors watch to any Rolex watch, we begin with the Michael Kors.

The Michael Kors Reference MK 8131 chronograph is a three register chronograph, made in China but powered by a Japanese quartz movement (generally considered better quality than the Chinese movements).  The Michael Kors chronograph can record events up to 60 minutes [hey, that’s a football game, right?], provides a small dial (at three o’clock) to indicate the time based on a 24-hour day, and has a tachymeter track around the bezel, which serves no function other than giving the watch a sporty look.  The chronograph is waterproof to 100 meters (10 atmospheres) and retails for $255, with a “street price” in the $170 range.

If the Michael Kors represents the essence of a low-end “fashion” watch, that is tweaked and updated to be “this year’s model”, the Rolex Submariner embodies one of the timeless designs in the history of watches.  Introduced in the mid-1950s as a high-performance dive watch and produced continuously ever since, the Submariner is a legendary watch.  Submariners have been the daily watches for everyone from James Bond to Steve McQueen, and they do well as “tool watches” or as corporate attire.  Ask watch enthusiasts to name 10 iconic watches from the last 50 years, and I expect that the Submariner would be on just about every list.  This is the Porsche 911 of the watch world — a beautiful shape when it was introduced in the 1960s, continuously engineered and improved, but still retaining the essence of the original design.  In a word, timeless.

The Rolex Submariner is the antithesis of the Michael Kors chronograph.  Rather than a complicated, busy chronograph with multiple dials and needles, the three hands of the Submariner only tell us the time of day, with the bezel being rotated to time specific events (like scuba dives or parking meters, or maybe the halftime of a football game).  The Submariner has a self-winding (automatic) movement, with 31 jewels, and is an officially certified chronometer (meaning that it has passed tests for accuracy).  The rugged case, crown and crystal ensure that the Submariner is waterproof to 300 meters.

Malzahn’s watch appears to be a very recent version of the Submariner, most likely the one enthusiasts call a “No Date” model with the Reference Number 114060.  This watch retails for around $7,500, with the street price being in the $6,800 range.  You can read interesting reviews of the “No Date” Reference 114060, by Hodinkee and ABlogToWatch.

 Malzahn’s Move from Worst to First

In his first year as Auburn’s head football coach, Gus Malzahn took the team from worst to first, literally.  In 2012, the Tigers lost all nine of their SEC games, with the team’s only wins coming against weak teams outside the conference.  In 2013, Auburn went 7-1 in the SEC, winning the conference championship in a game against Missouri, and then played in the BCS national championship game against Florida State.

In seeking to understand Malzahn’s worst-to-first watch upgrade, perhaps we need look no further than his contracts with Auburn.  After earning a humble $2.3 million for this first season at Auburn (2013), Malzahn signed a six-year, $26.85 million contract that pays him a base salary of $3.85 million for the 2014 season, escalating to $5.1 million for 2019.  [ESPN describes the contract here.]  Indeed, with a contract that guarantees him almost $30 million over his first eight years at Auburn, Gus would not need to think twice about dropping $7,500 on a new watch.

Or perhaps, in making the jump from the Michael Kors chronograph to the Rolex Submariner, Malzahn was expressing the sentiment that many of us feel, when we opt for a nice watch.  We wear a uniform many days, whether it’s the gray suit and white shirt of corporate America or the visor, turtleneck and vest of the college football coach.  We have the good days (like the “Kick Six” to beat BAMA in 2013) and we have the bad days (like the “Butt Snap” against Texas A&M in 2014).  But whatever happens in the office or on the football field, we can enjoy wearing a fine watch.  Most days no one will even notice the watch.  It’s fun when an enthusiast spots it.  We always have the satisfaction of wearing and admiring a beautiful object.

Gus Malzahn has gone from coaching high school football in 2005 to contending for national championships in the 2010s.  So yes, Gus Malzahn deserves a fantastic watch and with this Rolex Submariner he has it!

Jeff Stein
November 30, 2014