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December 4, 2012

Malzahn authoring a new story


AUBURN -- The next chapter of Auburn's football history will be written by the man who made the last one so thrilling.

Gus Malzahn's misdirection offense and affinity for a junior-college quarterback in Texas with a checkered past made the Tigers' 2010 championship a reality. Be real about it. Cam Newton was the perfect player to run an offense perfectly suited to signal a fundamental shift in how college teams attack each other.

Auburn's course forever was changed by that season.

People who said this program couldn't win it all were forced to recant their position. A new expectation was created. High-school prospects with championship intentions could leaf through the Tigers' recruiting guide and believe, without a hint of doubt, that they soon could raise that crystal football into a rain of ticker tape.

Malzahn was the impetus.

Now he's back. And the goals haven't changed.

His journey to Arkansas State was nothing short of affirming. After a slow start, which included losses at Oregon and Nebraska, the Red Wolves reeled off seven consecutive wins to capture the Sun Belt Conference title.

Malzahn tweaked the offense to suit his beliefs. Quarterback Ryan Aplin ran less often, threw more "high-leverage" passes, made fewer checks and guided and offense that averaged 36.4 points per game.

Malzahn was the impetus.

When Gene Chizik was dismissed nine days ago, Malzahn was an obvious target. His work at Arkansas State was impressive. His work on the Plains had been impressive. He likes Auburn. He left the Plains a year ago on great teams with plans on someday parlaying his time at Arkansas State into a Southeastern Conference job.

Here he is.

There will be doubters. Malzahn's career as a head coach spans exactly one college season. He's not known as the kind of recruiter who rolls into a prospect's home and leaves with an unbreakable bond in place. He often comes across as a bore.

Fans love bravado.

Yet Malzahn brings substance where it counts. His first two Auburn offenses averaged 33 and 41 points per game, which gave his team a chance almost every time it took the field. The 2011 season was messy, though problems at quarterback and some unusual issues with play calls being vetoed sapped some of the Tigers' strength.

That won't be a problem any longer.

Auburn isn't in good health. A 3-9 season is unacceptable by any measure and whispers of player dissatisfaction never abated after the loss at Mississippi State. Malzahn's job now involves soothing frayed nerves both inside and outside the program - and finding a way to recreate the unity that made 2010 such a special season.

The mastermind is back in town.

He arrived Tuesday night as a potential star. He can leave a legend.

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