Jan. 15, 2014
By Phillip Marshall
The weariness was in Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s voice as he went to board an airplane for the flight from Houston to Auburn on Wednesday night. There wouldn’t be much time for sleep once he got home. Thursday morning would be time for recruiting.
But this night had been special. Malzahn was named the winner of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year award.
“I still can’t believe it, to be honest with you,” Malzahn said. “It was a little bit of a wow moment to win an award like that. Any of these coach of the year awards, they are all team awards. We are all in it together.”
Malzahn won his fifth national coach of the year award, but there was something different about this one.
“They are all special,” Malzahn said, “but an award named after Coach Bryant, one of the greatest ever to coach the game, is really something special.”
It was, perhaps, the last gasp of the 2013 season, one that will live in Auburn lore.
Malzahn wrote a story of success that no one saw coming when, on Dec. 4, 2012, he took over a program that had finished its worst season in 60 years days earlier. The Tigers won the Southeastern Conference championship and advanced to the BCS Championship Game.
“It’s very humbling and it is a little surreal,” Malzahn said. “It all goes back to being a team thing.”
A gut-wrenching 34-31 loss to Florida State ended it on an unhappy note, but in Malzahn’s second season as a head coach, a team bound for nowhere finished with 12 wins and a No. 2 national ranking.
"We're still hurting over the fact that we were close to winning the national championship and got beat," Malzahn said at the banquet at Houston’s Royal Sonesta Hotel. "But if you can remove yourself from that it was a lot of fun. Our players came a long way, they improved each week and we were 13 seconds away from being the national champion."
The one that got away will be with Malzahn and the players who were there forever, but he said it will drive him and his team harder than ever.
“There is no doubt,” Malzahn said. “Any time you end the season like we did, we are going to be extremely motivated.”
As an Arkansas native, Malzahn said he had admired Bryant since he was young.
"When you're growing up he's the man," Malzahn said. "The fact that I'm from the state of Arkansas and he's from Fordyce, Arkansas, and one of my best friends is coaching high school there makes it even that much more special."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: