July 8, 2013
For some coaches at the highest level of college football, it might not mean so much. But you can rest assured it means a lot to Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.
On Friday, Malzahn will be inducted into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame. And if I understand the man as well as I believe I do, it will mean as much to him as any individual honor he could receive.
Malzahn, you see, will always be a high school coach at heart.
Malzahn, when he was Auburn’s offensive coordinator, put it this way before Auburn beat Oregon to win the 2010 national championship.
"I'm a high school coach who just happens to be coaching in college and coaching in the national championship game,” Malzahn said.
Malzahn’s rise from legendary Arkansas high school coach to the highest level of the college happened with shocking speed. Just eight years ago, he was getting ready to win a state championship at Springdale High School.
It was at Hughes High School in Arkansas that Malzahn began putting together the hurryup, no-huddle offense that earned him acclaim that eventually would spread beyond the state of Arkansas. He broke records at Shiloh Christian School and at Springdale High School before moving to Arkansas, then to Tulsa, then to Auburn, then to Arkansas State as head coach and back to Auburn as head coach.
In those days, most high schools were still run-oriented, throwing only when necessary or for the element of surprise. Malzahn’s offense would still rely often on the run, but there would be plenty of passes, too. And most of all, it would play at a furious pace.
“We started running two-minute offense the entire game,” Malzahn said. “Our players loved it. Of course, back then it was stealing. They didn’t know how to line up (on defense).”
And now his home state will honor him the best way it can.
Malzahn was so successful as a high school coach that even coaches from other states began to look his way. One was Chad Morris, who was coaching in the west Texas city of Springville. When Morris failed to make the playoffs in his first season at tradition-rich Stephenville High School, the locals weren’t happy.
Morris reached out to Malzahn, who was not enthusiastic at first. But Morris persisted, and finally Malzahn agreed to show him the details of his offense. Morris’ program took off. He got his chance at Tulsa and is now headed toward his third season as Clemson’s ultra-successful offensive coordinator. He interviewed with the Auburn search committee that eventually chose Malzahn last December.
"Just knowing the path that he took to get where he is and the path that has led me to where I am today, I think is unique," Morris said before Auburn played at Clemson in 2011. "It gives every high school coach out there in this country hope. 'Yes, if you work hard, if I win and produce, this can happen for me, too.'"
Malzahn did all those things. That’s why he’s the head coach at Auburn, and that’s why he’ll go triumphantly home Friday night.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: