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Phillip Marshall: Remarkable rise continues for Malzahn

Dec. 6, 2013

ATLANTA - Remember those rumors from a few days ago about Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn being interested in Texas and that he had called Texas his dream job?

It would have been wise then to consider the source. It would be wiser now.

Malzahn was never going anywhere, but now he's for sure not going anywhere. He and athletics director Jay Jacobs agreed Thursday night to a six-year contract that starts at $3.85 million per year. He will get an automatic $250,000 raise each year for the life of the contract.

And the remarkable rise of Gus Malzahn continued.

On Dec. 5, 2005, Malzahn's Springdale High School team crushed West Memphis 54-20 to win the Arkansas 5A state championship with a 14-0 record. That was eight years and a day ago.

And look at where Malzahn is now - getting his Auburn team ready to play Missouri in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and maybe even on his way to the BCS Championship Game.

When Malzahn was named Arkansas' offensive coordinator in 2006, heads nodded knowingly. He had one of the nation's top quarterback prospects in Mitch Mustain and a handful of other big-time prospects. They followed him to Arkansas.

Sure enough, head coach Houston Nutt snatched control from Malzahn early in the season and Malzahn was gone after a year. "High school offense," other coaches said derisively behind his back. Nobody was talking about Malzahn becoming a head coach. He had to beat the odds. So it had always been, going back to when he was a walk-on Arkansas wide receiver with more heart than talent.

Malzahn moved to Tulsa and put the nation's most productive offense on the field for two years as offensive coordinator, but hey, that was Tulsa. Try doing that in the SEC or the Big 12 or the Big Ten. So off Malzahn went to be Auburn's offensive coordinator. Lo and behold, Auburn's offense shattered school records in Malzahn's first year. In his second year, Auburn went 14-0 and won the national championship in his second season. And those records were broken in 2009 were broken again.

In 2012, Malzahn got his chance to be a head coach back in his home state at Arkansas State and won a Sun Belt championship. And then the biggest opportunity of all came. He wowed athletics director Jay Jacobs and Auburn's search committee. On Dec. 4 of last year, he became Auburn's head football coach.

Success followed as it always has. The Tigers, 3-9 last season, are 11-1 going into Saturday's game. They beat No. 1 Alabama 34-28 last Saturday. At Arkansas State and Auburn, Malzahn has won 18 of his last 19 games.

And Thursday night Malzahn agreed to the kind of contract most coaches can only dream of. He's a wealthy man, something he never even thought about when he was climbing the high school ladder in Arkansas - from Hughes to Shiloh Christian and finally to Springdale.

Even today, Malzahn's high school days are near and dear to his heart. He said again Friday, as the bright lights shone on his face, that lots of high school coaches, if given the chance, could do what he's done.

I don't know about that. What I know is that it's been fascinating to watch Malzahn work for four seasons at Auburn - three as offensive coordinator and now as head coach. His laser-like focus has shown the way for a team that was in total disarray when he arrived.

On the night he was introduced as Auburn's head coach, Malzahn paused for a moment after he'd answered all the questions the assembled media had.

"It's really kind of surreal," he said as his wife and daughters came with hugs and kisses.

And then he went to work.


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:





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