Dec. 31, 2013
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn at Auburn's welcome press conference at ESPN Zone at Disneyland (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
ANAHEIM, Calif. – From the time he met with Auburn players from the first time last December until they arrived Tuesday at their team hotel in Newport Beach, first-year head coach Gus Malzahn’s message has been the same: Take care of business on and off the field and improve with every practice and every game.
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford says Malzahn made himself clear from the start.
"He came in and told us what to expect,” Ford said. “It was the nicest way I've heard anybody say `Your first screwup you are gone.' You had to believe him, and respect it. He's not joking.”
On Tuesday, Malzahn and his players arrived to for final preparations for the BCS Championship Game. They came back from a 3-9 disaster in 2012 to go 12-1 and finished ranked No. 2. No. 1 Florida State and its 13-0 record waits.
After his appearance at the welcome press conference at the ESPN Zone at Disneyland, Malzahn said Auburn players’ willingness to avoid trouble and work tirelessly to improve were powerful forces in their drive to the Southeastern Conference championship and the BCS Championship Game.
“There’s no doubt it correlates greatly,” Malzahn said. “They’ve taken care of their business on and off the field. They’ve been responsible, and that has definitely helped us get here.”
Auburn’s season didn’t start out looking anything like a championship run. But as time went on, things changed. The Tigers, Malzahn said, made steady progress from the opening 31-24 victory over Washington State through the 59-42 beating of Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.
“This group has really, each game, improved,” Malzahn said. “It is hard to improve each game, but our guys have done it. That’s a tribute to them.”
Nine Auburn players played three years ago when Auburn beat Oregon 22-19 to win the 2010 national championship. Malzahn said they have been valuable to their younger teammates experiencing it for the first time.
The unique thing about our team and our coaches is, no matter how big the win has been, nobody has changed. When we got here, you could tell our players and coaches were excited, but once they get to the hotel they flip the switch.
“They’ve been important all year, especially as the games got bigger,” Malzahn said. “They’ve been through some big games. Anytime you have older guys that can talk to younger guys, it’s good. This is a unique experience.”
The Tigers will go back to practice Wednesday and will deal with the distractions of Los Angeles and the media frenzy that goes with the championship game. Malzahn said he is not concerned that it will deter his players from their mission.
“These guys have found a way to stay focused and get prepared each week,” Malzahn said. “Whether we were playing Alabama or playing a Division I-AA school this group has been extremely focused. They’ve worked hard. They’ve acted exactly the same way in practice. There is no doubt in my mind that we are not going to be distracted.”
Video: Gus Malzahn, Dee Ford and Reese Dismukes talk Auburn football....
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: