By Jeff Shearer
Serving as co-offensive coordinators, Malzahn and Hand's unit led the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008.
"When we first got together, we were both coming from very successful programs, but we checked our egos at the door," said Hand, Auburn's offensive line coach. "And we sat down and put together our offense without saying, `Well, this is the way I do it. This is the way I do it.' You're able to talk. We didn't know each other. I didn't even know if Gus knew who I was. I kind of knew who he was, in terms of the coaching ranks. So I knew of him, but I didn't know him."
Malzahn arrived at Tulsa from Arkansas, where he was the offensive coordinator in 2006 after an epic high school coaching career. Hand came from West Virginia, where he'd coached tight ends for six seasons.
Both coaches left Tulsa for the Southeastern Conference. Malzahn became Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2009. Hand went to Vanderbilt in 2010 as offensive line coach and run game coordinator.
To casual observers, Hand comes across as outgoing and gregarious, while Malzahn is more measured.
"Once we kind of got to know each other, there's a lot about my personality that he appreciates," Hand said. "And there's a lot about his personality that I appreciate.
"We brought synergy to each other. He brought out the best in me as a coach. And I'd like to think I did the same with him."
Both coaches' willingness to be flexible, Hand says, led to an offense that gained more than 15,000 yards in their two-season collaboration.
"What do we have to do moving forward to put together a system that's going to give our guys the best opportunity for success?" Hand recalls discussing with Malzahn.
After four seasons at Vandy, Hand coached the line and coordinated the run game at Penn State for two years before coming to Auburn.
"I love coaching football in the SEC," he said. "This is the pinnacle of college football. I love coaching on the offensive line in this league. You coach on the offensive line in the SEC, there's kind of a badge of honor that comes along with that as well because of the challenges you face week in and week out."
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) August 8, 2016
For Auburn's offensive linemen, those challenges begin in practice.
"That's why I told Robert (Leff) and Austin (Golson), `Be thankful you get to work against Carl Lawson every day in practice, because that's what you're going to see in this league,'" he said.
As a player, Hand was a team captain and three-year starter on the offensive line at Hamilton College in New York.
"When I got into coaching, I did it because I love the game of football, and I wanted to stay involved," he said. "And I love to compete. If I had an addiction, it would be competition.
"As I developed as a coach, I realized this has nothing to do with me. This is about my players and being impactful in their lives, and so that's why I love it."
In his 27th season in the profession, Hand and his wife, Debbie, are planning for an extended stay at Auburn. Their two oldest children, Trey and Bailey, are students at Auburn University.
"The people here have been awesome. This is a special place," he said. "This is a place of destination. You work your whole career as a coach to coach at a place like this."
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) August 16, 2016
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer