Nov. 7, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. - Away from football, Gus Malzahn is a fairly ordinary guy. He's a loyal husband and father and is devout in his faith. He likes to play golf. But the game that has been such a force in his life is never far away.
On the practice field, on the recruiting trail, on game day, Malzahn is driven not just to succeed, but to excel. His focus, his attention to detail and his willingness to work long hours are legendary among those who have worked with him and those who know him best.
It was that way when he was a 26-year-old head coach at Hughes High School, back in Arkansas. It was that way when he was winning state championships at Shiloh Christian and Springdale High School. And that drive has led him now to the cusp of a historic first season as head coach at Auburn.
Shortly after he arrived last December, Malzahn told his players they were going to have the biggest turnaround in college football. And they've done just that as they head to Tennessee on Saturday in search of their ninth win.
Malzahn is a no-nonsense guy. The trappings of being an SEC head coach mean little to him. Fiercely competitive, he has little patience for anything that he sees as a distraction. Auburn players have bought in whole-heartedly.
"He has a way of making these kids believe they are going to win, no matter who we are playing," wide receivers Dameyune Craig said. "They believe in him."
If Malzahn has ever uttered a curse word, no one remembers it. He doesn't like for his assistant coaches to curse on the practice field. Though he seldom talks about it, he is deeply committed to his Christian faith. But none of that should be confused with weakness.
"When it comes to football, he is ruthless," said a coach who knows him well. "He'll cut your throat and drink your blood."
Even when Malzahn was making headlines with seemingly unstoppable hurryup, no-huddle high school offenses, nobody could have seen what was to come. And none of it came easily.
In 2006, Malzahn joined Houston Nutt's staff at Arkansas. Their philosophies clashed. Nutt quickly pulled the plug on Malzahn's offense. After the season, Malzahn took off for Tulsa. Left unencumbered, his offense led the nation. Gene Chizik hired him at Auburn in December 2008. But even in winning the national championship and coaching Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton in 2010, Malzahn wasn't always free to run his offense at the pace he wanted.
After turning down a chance to be Vanderbilt's head coach after the 2010 season, Malzahn became head coach at Arkansas State after the 2011 season. He promptly built another dynamic offense, won 10 games and broke offensive records.
When Chizik was fired after a disastrous 3-9 2012 season, Auburn called Malzahn back. And now the high school coach whose new and different offense had drawn snickers from college coaches and college fans has done it again in the game's highest level.
And there is no end in sight.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: