By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Herb Hand was hired to be the offensive coordinator at Tulsa on a Thursday in 2007. A couple of days later, the phone rang.
His head coach, Todd Graham, was on the other end of the line with some news.
"He called and said, 'Hey, I've got a chance to hire a guy, Gus Malzahn. Do you know Gus?' I said I don't know him, but I know of him. He said, 'Well, I've got a chance to hire him and he'd be co-offensive coordinator with you.'"
Herb Hand was OK with that.
"I said, 'If he's a good coach and he's going to help us win, let's get him hired.' Coach Graham hired Gus, and he and I were co-offensive coordinators. We had a great synergy."
It was the beginning of a football relationship, the outgoing Hand and the straightforward Malzahn. They're different, but each brought the idea of fast-paced football to Tulsa and the results were an offense that led the nation two straight years.
Now, the co-offensive coordinators at Tulsa are together again. Malzahn, Auburn's head coach, hired Hand to be his offensive line coach from Penn State in January. They're working together this spring practice. And, no, Malzahn said, he still doesn't get all of Hand's jokes.
"He's on one end and I'm on the other, I'll tell you that," Malzahn said. "We're different. But at the same time, I think our personalities complement each other on the field and off."
Malzahn calls Hand "an energy guy. He's a positive guy. Just the first two days brought back a lot of memories from Tulsa. Sounds, I can hear the same voices."
"One of the reasons I'm so excited to be back working with him," Hand said, "is because I know the synergy that we had we can definitely get that cranked up again."
Malzahn had been a successful high school coach who came to Tulsa via the University of Arkansas. Hand came there from West Virginia. It was a good fit.
"We're cut from the same cloth as far as philosophically being no-huddle, fast tempo," Hand said. "Schematically, we were a little bit different in that the basis of Gus' offensive system. His run game was based on Wing-T football. I'm coming from West Virginia where we were all zone read. What we were able to do at Tulsa was to marry those two. Then we took the play-action and the gadget plays and picked the best from both offenses and married them up and created a system that allowed us to have some great success over the two years we were together. I would say it was a very beneficial relationship for both of us."
Hand is known as one of the best offensive line coaches in college football. But he started out coaching defense, was a defensive coordinator at Glenville State and Concord College, and didn't migrate back to the position he played in college until after eight years into his coaching career.
"Being a defensive coordinator was really the best thing for me from a development standpoint," Hand said. "I played offensive line in college, then I coached defense, then coming back to offense gave me a great perspective on defensive football. That was a real blessing. But when I was coaching defense I never thought I'd coach offense again. I loved defense."
Things change. Hand moved to offense as a graduate assistant at Clemson in 1999, went to West Virginia to coach tight ends in 2001 and moved on to Tulsa, Vanderbilt and Penn State coaching the offensive line. Then Malzahn called after the 2015 season needing an offensive coach to replace J.B. Grimes, who was going to Cincinnati.
"Everything happens fast in college football," Hand said. "We had just played our bowl game at Penn State and we're at the coaches convention. Gus called me and asked if I had a chance to sit down. He told me what was going on. J.B. Grimes and I are great friends. For him to have an opportunity to move and coach with his son was an awesome opportunity for him, and it opened up this opportunity for me."
Hand had said he and Malzahn had spoken about job opportunities before, but "the timing for this one was perfect. It's been a whirlwind. I couldn't be more excited about being here."
Hand knows can explain Malzahn's offense better than most:
"Once the ball is snapped it's physical football," he said. "There is a lot of pre-snap deception because you're trying to get the defender to put his eyes where they shouldn't be. It's like Three Card Monte. Where's the football? There's a lot of sleight of hand in there. But at the end of the day, it's power football. It's still your base football plays, but the presentation of it can really challenge a defense's discipline."
So what did Herb Hand see when he arrived in Auburn? Familiar faces.
"What was nice was walking into the meeting room and seeing guys I knew," Hand said. "I had recruited a number of the guys when I was at Vanderbilt. We were recruiting out of the same pool in the Southeast, so I had some base-line relationships."
Now, they're on the field together.
"The nice part about our experience together is it will be a pretty seamless transition for the players. There may be some terminology that will be a little bit different, but they've had great O-line coaches here and great offensive lines, and I'm just excited to be able to continue build on that foundation and tradition."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine