Oct. 1, 2013
Gus Malzahn, left, and Hugh Freeze, from high school clinics to the SEC
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. – Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze traveled the same coaching path, from high school to assistant coaching jobs in college, to Arkansas State as the head coach to running an SEC program on their own. They are friends who like to exchange football talk.
But they won't be comparing notes the next few days. Freeze sent Malzahn a text a few days ago saying they'd talk again at the end of the week – after Freeze's Ole Miss plays Malzahn's Auburn at 6 p.m. Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"It's difficult playing your friends," Freeze said Monday.
The two are natural friends, considering their high school backgrounds, their emergence as college coaches and they're desire to run a fast, pace-oriented offense.
Oh, and by the way, don't say they run a spread offense. Bad words.
"Tempo is a good way to describe it," Freeze said.
It's not all football, though. "We've had a relationship for a long time without talking football," Malzahn said. "Last year, we did quite a bit. Now that we're in the same conference, we don't get very specific anymore when it comes to Xs and Os. We know each other pretty well."
Freeze coached Arkansas State in 2011, landing the Ole Miss job in 2012. Malzahn coached Arkansas State in 2012, landing the Auburn job last December.
But their relationship began even before they were coaching high school ball in Arkansas and continued when both were college assistants.
"We kind of traveled in the same circles of clinics and speaking at different places, so we were aware whom each other was and what each other was doing and that we were similar," Freeze said.
They like to talk and text football, maybe once a week during the season. But, "I sent him a text the other day and said, 'You know, I don't enjoy playing my friends. I'll talk to you after it's over.' He sent me one back 'the feeling's mutual.' I don't enjoy it, but we've got to do it," Freeze said.
It's only natural that Auburn and Ole Miss come in with identical 3-1 overall records and 1-1 marks in the Southeastern Conference. Malzahn is following a similar fast start the Freeze enjoyed last season.
"They remind me a lot of us last year: Very, very hungry team that plays with great emotion, great energy and great passion," Freeze said. "That doesn't surprise me at all with Gus' leadership and I know that they're off to a great start for them."
Freeze says, offensively, they are close, too.
"We certainly can look just alike offensively if we wanted to," he said. "We'll be able to simulate their looks very efficiently I would think. But, having said that, both of us can change a lot during the course of a week and he's got two weeks to do whatever he's going to do and I know he'll dress things up and have some wrinkles that we haven't seen.
"We are very, very similar in the things we do offensively, so I think we can help prepare, but you never know exactly what to prepare for. We'll show them everything our defense wants to see, but there will be something we don't cover that we see Saturday night, I'm sure."
Will it be a proud moment for the two former high school and Arkansas State coaches?
"I don't know if 'proud' the word is. I'm proud of what Gus has done," Freeze said. "I try to stay very humbled and I feel very blessed to have the journey, because the reality is there are many high school coaches if given the opportunity that Gus and I had been presented, they could do the same thing."
But Saturday, it'll be Malzahn and Freeze.
"I've got to the point in life where hardly anything is very rare anymore," Freeze said. "There are some ironic things that happen in God's plan with your life that you sit back and kind of laugh at and smile at. I'm sure God was laughing and smiling the whole time. Yeah, it's ironic."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: