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December 4, 2012

Malzahn is the man

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AUBURN -- Gus Malzahn has been named the Tigers' new head coach, AuburnSports.com has learned.

Malzahn burst onto the national scene as Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010 before moving the Arkansas State after the 2011 season. With the Red Wolves, he inherited a strong team and managed to add allure to the program, winning seven consecutive games to win the Sun Belt Conference championship last weekend.

He won the title in style with a shutout win against Middle Tennessee State.

He made the decision a year ago to break out into the head-coach business after three largely successful seasons on the Plains. He seemed to have the inside tracks on jobs at North Carolina and Kansas, though both opportunities failed to materialize.

Malzahn later landed in Jonesboro.

It was a coup for the Sun Belt school, which seemed destined for regression after Freeze left for Oxford. Yet Malzahn, employing three graduate assistants who worked under him at Auburn, managed to keep the Red Wolves in the hunt for a Sun Belt Conference championship.

Malzahn make it happen by taking a good offense and making it even better. Quarterback Ryan Aplin was a flashy player for Freeze as a junior in 2011, leading the team in rushing and passing. Malzahn changed that dynamic, asking Aplin to run just enough to make defense respect him as a rushing threat during the read-option exchange.

A renewed emphasis on passing allowed Aplin to make much better decisions with the ball. He was intercepted 16 times in 2011. He's been intercepted just four times this season. Aplin threw approximately five fewer passes per game this season, which exposed him to fewer interception situations, but Malzahn found a perfect balance for Aplin between the run and the pass.

Malzahn also uncovered a hidden gem in freshman scatback Rocky Hayes from Cleburne County, who averaged 11 yards per carry this season as a complementary piece. He's 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds.

Sound familiar? Yes, just like Onterio McCalebb.

It helps that Malzahn picked up David Oku, whom Auburn lost to Tennessee during the 2009 recruiting derby, to handle his heavy lifting on the ground. Simply getting Oku in gear is a credit to Malzahn's ability to shape behavior without making authoritarian demands.

Malzahn's time at Auburn was a mostly upbeat story. He successfully blended a misdirection running game with elements of a spread attack, created situations where his quarterback didn't have to over-analyze things and demonstrated a firm grasp of play sequencing.

Everything he did made sense.

That is ... until October 2011. Auburn suddenly dumped the system that yielded 400+ yards per game and tried to re-invent itself as a ball-control offense. That all was done to help mask some remarkable defensive problems -- the Tigers conceded 1,603 yards during its first three games this season -- and forced Malzahn away from what he wanted to accomplish.

At Auburn, he'll be permitted to run his offense on his terms.

BIOGRAPHY

Malzahn led Arkansas State to a 9-3 record and the Sun Belt title in 2012.

Malzahn, 47, is one of the nation's most high-profile proponents of run-based variations of the spread offense. He fused elements of standard spread attacks and misdirection rushing attacks into a consolidated scheme during his days as a high-school coach in Arkansas. He brought those ideas to the college scene at Tulsa and later at Auburn, where his offense carried the team to the 2010 national championship by averaging 499 yards per game in 2010. He left for Jonesboro after a lackluster finale as offensive coordinator in 2011.

Malzahn was a popular figure at Auburn and enjoyed the best moments of his career here. His offense, in its unbridled form, is extremely productive and fun to watch. Malzahn coaches with an aggressive attitude. He also believes in a strong running game, which has been an Auburn staple through the years. His attention to detail is second to none.

Malzahn's background before Arkansas State was assistant coach at Auburn (2009-11), Tulsa (2007-08), Arkansas (2006), head coach at Springdale High School (2001-05), Shiloh Christian High School (1996-2000), Hughes High School (1992-95).



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