Jan. 10, 2014
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn says he expects bigger and better things for Auburn football (USA Today photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – Four days after the numbing disappointment of a 34-31 loss to Florida State in the BCS Championship Game, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn looked to a future he said is “very bright.”
“There’s no doubt it’s pretty tough when you get that close, but hey, you have to find a way to move on,” Malzahn said Friday. “The future is very bright. That’s what I told our team last night. The groundwork is laid and the future is bright and I’m looking forward. I’m excited.
“Once you get over the feeling when you lose a championship game that close, you put that behind you and move forward. I’m excited. We’ll work extremely hard to try to get back there and redeem ourselves.”
Malzahn touched on numerous topics Friday in a meeting with reporters. He announced former starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier, with one year of eligibility remaining, has decided to transfer. He said tight end/H-back Ricky Parks, dismissed last summer for a violation of team rules, has returned to the team as a walk-on. He said he and athletics director Jay Jacobs are committed to keeping the coaching staff intact and that he will sign his new contract in the “near future.”
Auburn equaled the biggest turnaround in college football history, going 12-2 in Malzahn’s first season after going 3-9 in Gene Chizik’s last. Malzahn said he sees only better days ahead.
“Big picture, as far as moving forward, we have a lot of our main players coming back,” Malzahn said. “We feel very good about our overall program and where we are going.”
Malzahn’s views on the recent past and the future of Auburn football follow:
On the accomplishments of the 2013 season
“After having a few days to reflect on the season, a couple of things really stand out to me. At the first of the year, one of our main goals was to get our edge back, to play hard-nosed, blue-collar, smashmouth football. I really feel like our guys accomplished that. The bottom line is we came within 13 seconds of winning the national championship.
“The very first game, we were probably average at best. Our guys found a way to get better every game and found a way to get us to the last game and come that close to winning. That was very special to be a part of. I’m extremely proud of our team, the way they represented us all year. They laid a foundation that the future is very bright. I am really looking forward to the future and building this thing the right way.”
On plans for returning starting QB Nick Marshall
“We are very excited about the spring with Nick. We got a lot of information throughout the season. We will go back and build around his strengths even more. What he did in one year, no going through spring and not winning the job until two weeks before was really phenomenal. I don’t know if there has ever been a situation similar to that.
“His upside is very high. He’s a natural leader. His teammates have a lot of respect for him, as his coaches do. This will be the first time we’ve actually had a quarterback come back. We are pretty excited about that.”
On Marshall as a passer
“He throws the ball well. I think the big thing is just getting timing down with him and his receivers and then probably giving him a little more freedom now that he knows the offense even better. It was good for him having that 30 days. I think you could see that in the passing game. We are looking forward to spring.”
On dealing with high expectations going into next season
“First of all, I think that’s a good thing. Our program is where it should be as far as being expected to be one of the top teams and all that. Our approach will be no different. We will still work just as hard. We will still have the same philosophy about hard work, about improving and about keeping our edge.”
On Auburn’s departing senior class
“As a group, they were very impactful, and not just what they did on the field but off the field. If you think back to last spring, before we even got out on the practice field, there were a lot of things they did from a leadership standpoint. They made sure we were close. They took a fragmented team and brought it together. We had very few off-field issues.
“That’s where it started. It started before we even played football. That group will be remembered. As you look back at the season, there were a couple of wow moments. But it all started with those seniors keeping this team together and believing. They represented Auburn very well, represented their families. It was a fun group to be a part of.”
On program’s progress in last year
“Where we came from since winter workouts and where we are today, it is really impressive to see our guys coach and come together. All the things it takes to be successful that they did in a short period of time. We had some talent here, but they all came together. Everything it takes off the field to be successful, they did it. That’s a tribute to those guys.”
On winter workouts and S&C coach Ryan Russell
“We are way ahead of schedule right now. Our inseason strength and conditioning program is very progressive. We had some guys have personal gains during the season, which is fairly rare. We are in really good shape there. Our guys are excited to get back to work with Coach Russell. That is very exciting from my standpoint.”
On Auburn’s early enrollees
Three junior college transfers – wide receiver D’haquille Williams, safety Derrick Moncrief and offensive lineman Xavier Dampeer – and two early high school graduates – athlete Stanton Truitt and tight end Chris Laye – are enrolled and attending classes.
“The junior college guys we expect to make an impact right off the bat. The younger guys, the fact that they are here early gives them a semester ahead of the other guys.”
On replacing Greg Robinson at left tackle
Shon Coleman, Patrick Miller, Robert Leff, we are going to open that dude up and see who wins that job. The good thing is we have some depth with a little bit of experience.”
On moving forward after return home
“The fans were unbelievable. We have the best fans in college football, and they prove it time and time again. It was unbelievable in California, and then to come back here. … The next day, I got up the same time, got in the office at the same time. We have recruiting. You have to move on. We are going to keep this thing going, and there’s not much time to rest.”
On dealing with 2014 schedule that includes five road games
“Of course, when we are playing at home we feel like we have a huge advantage. The good thing is we will have a lot of veteran guys. We should be in good shape to be able to travel on the road.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: