Sep 3, 2013
Gus Malzahn, from Auburn to Arkansas State and back again (Todd Van Emst photo)
Full Press Conference Transcript (PDF)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn's one year as Arkansas State's head coach taught him what to expect from the Red Wolves this weekend.
"They're going to play hard, they're going to play together, and they'll be disciplined."
And they'll play Malzahn's new team in Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn versus Arkansas State will be a game of emotion, for the new Auburn head coach and the 12 other former Arkansas State staffers who now work in Auburn football; to the players Malzahn left behind in Jonesboro after a 9-3 regular season.
Auburn and Arkansas State each won their season-opener last Saturday. Now, Malzahn calls the Red Wolves "one of the hottest teams in college football."
"The bottom line is," he said, "we're going to have to play better than we did Saturday to beat them."
It was a big deal in late 2011 for Arkansas State when it hired Malzahn. He is a high school coaching legend in Arkansas and had gained plenty of credibility as a college coach after serving as a record-breaking offensive coordinator at Tulsa and Auburn. Arkansas State wanted him so much that it enlisted the help of one of its alums -- Arkansas governor Mike Beebe -- to convince Malzahn to return to his home state.
"This is the right place and the right time," Malzahn said when he was hired there.
Malzahn's offense put up plenty of big numbers at Arkansas State, just like it had at Tulsa and Auburn. That lasted a season. Auburn called back and offered him the head coach last December. He accepted after learning some of the ins and outs of being a college head coach.
There are no hard feelings in his home state. He was inducted into the Arkansas Coaches Hall of Fame over the summer for his work as a high school coach.
Malzahn isn't the only member of the Auburn football operation who was at Arkansas State last season. There's also offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, offensive line coach J.B. Grimes, graduate assistant Kodi Burns, graduate assistant Cam Clark, strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell, assistant athletics director David Gunn, director of football operations Jamie Croley, director of recruiting Brett Whiteside, director of player development Kenny Ingram, director of player personnel Casey Woods, assistant director of player personnel Wes Murphy and analyst Brandon Hall.
Lashlee, Grimes, Gunn, Ingram and Hall were full-time assistant coaches at Arkansas State last season.
Malzahn says he has fond memories of Arkansas State, the school that gave him his first college head coaching job after spending the previous six years as a college assistant.
"I care greatly for a lot of their players. Their administration was great to me while I was there," he said. "It was a very good experience, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity they gave me. Professionally, you've got to flip the switch and once the game starts, you do everything in your power to help your team win. And we'll definitely do that."
Malzahn left behind his hurry-up offense, now meshed with what new head coach Bryan Harsin brought with him from Boise State and Texas. Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Malzahn is helping him digest Arkansas State's offensive players.
"We don't know if it's going to be a lot of theirs or a lot of what we've done in the past, or probably a little mixture. The main thing we were talking through was personnel," Malzahn said.
And what about all those tricky signs that Malzahn uses to signal in plays? They'll be changed for an Arkansas State team that remembers them all too well.
"You've got to think ahead when you're playing somebody and you've got to keep the integrity of your communication system," Malzahn said. "That's always something you're aware of when you got somebody that used to work with you. We thought through that."
So advantage, Malzahn? Or Arkansas State?
"It's a challenge regardless, whether he knows our personnel or not," Harsin said. "They've got a good football team. That's more of what the challenge is, is trying to go against the type of players that they have.
"Our players have watched the film, and they know that the opponent they're going to play against is very good. So we have a big challenge on top of that, along with the knowledge that he knows these players and they know he's been around them and so he understands them."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine