Auburn coach Gus Malzahn ended the last hour or so of his first week on the job speaking at the Montgomery Quarterback Club. He reassured the packed room of more than 250 mostly Auburn fans at the Montgomery Country Club on Tuesday night that he was going to turn the program around.
“We are going to get our edge back,” Malzahn said. “We are going to get our toughness back.”
Malzahn’s message focused on familiarity.
The former Auburn offensive coordinator said “this is a very easy transition for me” to come back to Auburn after spending a year at Arkansas State. He said he knows all of the players and spoke of being familiar with the administration, fans, expectations, SEC and the state’s high school football coaches.
“Auburn deserves a hard-nosed, disciplined product we put on the field,” Malzahn said. “That’s what we’re going to do. They also deserve championship level and that’s where we’re going to get to.”
Malzahn is one of four new SEC head coaches as Kentucky hired former Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, Arkansas hired Bret Bielema from Wisconsin and Tennessee hired Butch Jones from Cincinnati.
While Malzahn did not reference any of other coaches by name, in referencing his own familiarity with the SEC he said those without the same experience are at a disadvantage. Stoops, Bielema and Jones do not have any SEC coaching experience.
“These guys that haven’t been in the SEC before and they show up ‘oh I’m ready,’ they ain’t ready,” Malzahn said. “The SEC got great coaches. It is a monster recruiting. Until you’re in the middle of it, you don’t understand it.”
Malzahn spoke of the events of the past hectic week, first with his hiring last Tuesday to replace Gene Chizik, who was fired after a 3-9 season, then his hiring of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee in his first 48 hours on the job.
“That’s what you call hurry-up, no-huddle hiring,” he said, deadpanning about his renowned offensive philosophy.
He said the hiring of Clemson co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison to the same position was well received by his players.
“Our defensive backs — they all called me and (said) ‘coach thanks so much’— because he recruited them and so they’re very excited about that,” Malzahn said of Harbison, who he called a top-25 recruiter.
With six more hires to make Malzahn is seeking “men of character” who are “big-time coaches” and “great recruiters.”
“I really probably will be a little more patient than I was with the coordinators as far as [hiring the other six assistants] goes,” he said.
Asked specifically about Tennessee Titans defensive line coach and former Auburn star Tracy Rocker, who spent two years (2009-10) coaching at Auburn, Malzahn said he knew him well having coached with him at Arkansas and Auburn. There were several reports last week of Malzahn having reached out to Rocker, a Lombardi Trophy winner, about returning to the Plains.
Per NCAA rules, Malzahn avoided talking about any recruiting in detail, simply saying he is getting a “great response.”
He said the past week in particular is an example of how college football coaching is a 24/7 job and he is planning to spend the upcoming Christmas holiday with his wife and daughters.
“I’m going to spend 48 hours or more with them and I’m not going to think about anything but them,” Malzahn said. “I got to be honest, unless a certain recruit calls.”