Oct. 28, 2013
You don’t have to be around Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton for long to feel like you’ve known him for years. He has a smile and an encouraging word for anyone who comes his way. And you realize quickly that there’s nothing phony about it.
On the field, Horton teaches running backs to run low and hard and with great purpose. Off the field, he’s there for them whether the matter at hand is football or school or something else. He’ll tell you he’d like to be a head coach one day but, more than that, wants to be a good husband and a good father to his son and daughter.
That’s the Tim Horton those who know him best will describe to you: Honest, hard-working, loyal, compassionate.
That’s why, for him, this week is like no other. Auburn will go to Arkansas on Saturday to put its No. 8 national ranking on the line.
Last January, Horton left Arkansas, where he played wide receiver and later spent six seasons coaching running backs, to join Gus Malzahn’s staff at Auburn.
“It’s going to be different, to be honest, because it is home,” Horton said Sunday. “The thing that is so different to me is that there are a lot of people – say Dameyune (Craig) and Rodney (Garner) – who have played at their school and come back and coach at their school. The thing that is different is I grew up in that program as a coach’s kid. Really, for most of my life, I’ve been around that program. It will be different. It will be interesting.”
For the first 13 years of his life, Horton was around Arkansas football almost every day. His father, Harold, coached linebackers for Frank Broyles and the defensive line for Lou Holtz. He later became executive director of the Razorback Foundation.
"I ran around those practice fields and ran around the stadium," Horton said in an earlier interview. "The players taped me to the goal post, all those kinds of things. I've been around the game, really, my whole life."
It was in Conway, Ark., where his father became head coach at Central Arkansas University, that Horton began the journey that would lead to his life's work, a journey that would lead him back to those Arkansas practice fields and beyond.
From 1986-89, Horton caught passes and returned punts on Arkansas teams coached by Ken Hatfield. He had talent and he understood the game. He made All-SEC in 1989 and was a two-time academic All-SWC selection. Though he majored in business, he soon realized his future was in the game he loved.
Saturday, he will coach against the school he has loved for all of his life for the first time in his life. He’s been around Auburn long enough to know important it is to Auburn people. And he certainly knows how important it is to Arkansas people.
“It’s much like the state of Alabama,” Horton said. “One thing that is true about both states is that the culture is such that when the Razorbacks win in Arkansas or when Auburn wins here, the sky is bluer. Arkansas is a state with no professional teams. You really don’t share the state like you do in Alabama. They are very passionate about Razorback football, as they should be.”
Malzahn and Horton have known each other since Malzahn was securing his legacy as a high school coaching legend in Springdale, Ark. When Malzahn was named Auburn head coach last December, getting Horton to be among those who joined him was a priority.
Now they both are heading back to their home state for a game that will be different than any other they coach this season. And it’s a big one. Auburn, ranked No. 8, has thrust itself into the middle of championship conversation.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, another Auburn coach who came from Arkansas, says he learned quickly why Horton was so highly respected in their home state.
“You see our running backs, and what they do better than anything is finish runs,” Lashlee said. From Tre to Cam to Corey, they finish runs, they have low pad level. I can’t count the number of times this year where there’s a pile and you think they are about to blow the whistle and it moves for four or five more yards. They do a good job on pass protection.
“Tim is extremely concientous and detailed and prepared. He’s going to make sure he knows exactly what the game plan is. He’s prepared his guys for everything they are going to see, probably as much as any coach I’ve been around. “
Horton will, no doubt, face a mixture of feelings when he takes the field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium wearing a color other than Arkansas red. He says he’s not sure what to expect from Arkansas fans, but he knows what needs to happen for Auburn. The Tigers need to win to keep their destiny in their own hands.
Horton will do everything in his power to help Auburn players make it happen.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: