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January 23, 2013

Quiet yet effective

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Nobody was in tears in Mobile Wednesday morning.

Nobody fainted. Nobody mistook Gus Malzahn, Auburn's button-down head football coach, for a childhood teen sensation or Lady Gaga or Elvis Presley or someone from Hollywood.

He simply entered Ladd-Peebles Stadium, home of the Senior Bowl, flanked by trusted offensive assistant Rhett Lashlee and went to work.

No fanfare? That's exactly how he likes it.

Malzahn was in lower Alabama to support tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and mingle with some of football's best minds. He also spoke with former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, and for a moment that spot became the world's epicenter for innovative, no-huddle offense.

Nobody has done it better.

The trip was key for Malzahn, whose reputation among college coaches is outstanding. The next step is to increase his reach throughout the professional ranks.

We're in the midst of a major change in how NFL teams attack each other. The utility of Ronnie Brown in Miami a few years ago infused relevance into the Wildcat package. The rise of Cam Newton in Charlotte made the read option a relevant professional play for the first time in generations. Robert Griffin III made the Redskins a contender as a part-time purveyor of the read-option attack.

Now Kelly is charged with resuscitating the Eagles with an attack that surely will mimic, at least to some degree, what we've all seen from Oregon during the past decade.

There once was a line, a bisector, that kept college offense out of the pro game. That line is now porous. And that means forward-thinking college coaches like Malzahn are more important than they were a generation ago.

Coaches want tips from Malzahn. They want to know what he knows. Everyone knows his ideas regarding the no-huddle, hurry-up offense were among the first to gain anything more than local recognition. His offenses at Tulsa, Auburn (minus 2011) and Arkansas State have allocated serious credibility to Malzahn's ideas.

He's a rock star in certain circles.

They may not be the same circles that fawn over larger-than-life personas and compare football coaches to pop stars, but Malzahn nonetheless is an important element of the football landscape.

The connections he created Wednesday - and the pre-existing ones he enriched - will help future generations of Auburn players get more consideration from NFL franchises. It also will help Malzahn remain on the cutting edge of offensive philosophy.

No aura needed.



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