By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala - The way Kristi Malzahn sees it, she is a mother to two daughters, and 105 sons, the student-athletes her husband coaches on Auburn's football team.
"They come in with their own stories, they all have a story," Kristi says. "It's building relationships. A lot of those relationships are really, really deep."
Those relationships are formed during occasional team meals in the Malzahn's home, a tradition Gus and Kristi started when he coached high school football in Arkansas.
"Coming from the high school ranks, we had our kids over quite often. The guys, they were around our home. They hung out," Kristi says.
One of the goals was to model a healthy family to the young men Malzahn coached.
"It gave me an opportunity to help the boys see Gus in a different light, so he wasn't quite so football-centered and structured," she says. "And let them see him interacting with me. Let them see him interacting with our girls. They're observing. They're watching you do life."
"Kristi's a great mother to our daughters," Gus says. "We do this thing together. This is our ministry."
Kristi agrees that coaching is more than a profession. It's a calling.
"I believe, truly, that whatever you're doing in your life, that's your ministry," she says. "It's your platform. That's what He's given you to bless others with.
"Truthfully, it absorbs about 95 percent of our lives," Kristi says. "If you're not using it for the Lord, what are you using it for? We'd have very little to leave for Him, if we didn't use this portion.
"Once you embrace that, and you realize that this is something that's way bigger than yourself, and even our little relationship," she says. "It's the whole total picture, because it is so much about the kids. And what you're trying to do for a group of young men, and helping them form into that final stage where they become husbands and daddies, and people at the workplace and productive adults."
Married at 19, while she and Gus were college students, Kristi experienced the challenges that come with being a coach's wife. Lessons she's willing to share with the next generation of coaches' spouses.
"Find her identity. Know who she is. And understand that her identity is not wrapped up in what he does, or what people say about what he does. Because that's going to change on an hour to hour basis," Kristi says.
"Staying secure in who and what you are, regardless of the outside noise, whether it be positive or negative," she says. "Because some of the hardest to stay straight with yourself on, is the positive. When they start telling you how great you are, it's really harder to keep perspective, and not get caught up in that. So that when the negative day comes, it's a bigger fall."
Positive days have vastly outnumbered negative ones for the Malzahns, who celebrated state championships in high school, and SEC championships and a national championship at Auburn.
They will celebrate again in two weeks, when their oldest daughter, Kylie, gets married in Nashville, 14 months after younger sister, Kenzie, married in the music city.
The girls, now in their 20s, say one thing that makes their mom special is the way she prays for them.
"It's given me a cause and a purpose," says Kristi of motherhood. "And there was always something bigger than myself in my choices, decisions and actions. It gave me something more than me to be thinking about and concerned about.
"They're definitely my most precious gifts that He's given. I tell them all the time, `I chose your dad, but God gave the gift of you two.' That's something that they probably won't get until they've had their own."
"Mother's Day is real special for me because of her," Gus says. "She's been a great coach's wife over 25 years and really allowed me to do what I love to do. I really appreciate her. She's a great mom and she's a great wife."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer