Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

December 5, 2012

Auburn hires ex-assistant Malzahn as head coach

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn has turned to Gus Malzahn to restore a program that made an unprecedented fall two years after winning a national title with Cam Newton operating his high-powered offense to perfection.

The school announced that it will introduce the former Arkansas State coach in a news conference Tuesday night.

Malzahn was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator during their 2010 national championship run before heading to Arkansas State for his first college head coaching position.

He led the Red Wolves to a 9-3 record, a Sun Belt Conference title and a berth in the GoDaddy.com Bowl then parlayed that into a job in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference.

“It’s an outstanding institution with a storied football program that I had the pleasure of experiencing firsthand for three years,” Malzahn said in a statement. He thanked school representatives for their confidence “in my ability to turn this program around and to bring Auburn back to national prominence. This is a homecoming for me and I look forward to being reunited with the Auburn family.”

Malzahn, 47, returns with his fast-paced, no-huddle offensive style. He replaces former boss Gene Chizik, who was fired one day after a 49-0 loss to No. 2 Alabama to complete a 3-9 season.

Before his arrival at Auburn in 2009, Malzahn had spent two seasons as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator. He was the offensive coordinator at Arkansas for one year after a successful run in the Arkansas high school ranks.

Auburn had the nation’s 115th-ranked offense last season, averaging 305 yards a game. The Red Wolves were ranked 19th in total yards under Malzahn.

It’s the second straight time Auburn has turned to one of its coordinators from an unbeaten team. Chizik ran the defense for the 13-0 team in 2004 but was hired by the Tigers despite a 5-19 record in two seasons at Iowa State.

“We are tremendously excited that Gus Malzahn will be our next head football coach,” athletic director Jay Jacobs said. “Coach Malzahn was the clear unanimous choice of our search committee, and I am pleased that Dr. Gogue has accepted our recommendation. This is a great day for Auburn football and Auburn University.”

The search committee was comprised of Jacobs, Auburn Heisman Trophy winners Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson and former Tigers player Mac Crawford.

Auburn owes more than $11 million in buyouts to Chizik and his coaching staff. Malzahn’s contract and salary information was not immediately available.

The Tigers are hoping he can return them to success after a winless SEC season.

“Gus Malzahn is a proven winner,” Jacobs said. “He is without question one of the brightest minds in college football and he has won everywhere he has been. Coach Malzahn knows what it takes to build a championship program in the Southeastern Conference. He knows our state and region and he understands what it will take to turn our program around. Coach Malzahn will also be an outstanding ambassador for Auburn University, and that was important to the committee.”

The NCAA has been investigating the recruitment of signee Jovon Robinson, who was ruled ineligible after a guidance counselor admitted to creating a fake transcript.

The Tigers badly struggled in a transition to Scot Loeffler’s pro-style last season, starting three quarterbacks.

Auburn was ranked in the top seven in rushing, total and scoring offense in 2010 and Newton won the Heisman Trophy in his lone season out of the junior college ranks. It was the Tigers’ first national title since 1957.

Without Newton, the Tigers slipped to 100th in total offense in 2011 and then dipped even further.

The hiring reunites Malzahn with the quarterback he recruited out of Arkansas. Kiehl Frazier was benched last season after struggling as the starter. He was USA Today’s national offensive player of the year as a high school senior.

Malzahn had been earning $1.3 million a year for the Tigers after interviewing with Vanderbilt after the national championship season. He took a substantial pay cut to join the head coaching ranks with the Sun Belt Conference team. Malzahn replaced Hugh Freeze, who also left after one season at Arkansas State to take over at Mississippi.

Chizik’s tenure was marred by off-the-field problems, including the arrest of four players from the championship team for armed robbery.

Malzahn also made a couple of decisions with players that didn’t pan out. Tailback Mike Dyer transferred from Auburn — where he was suspended — to Arkansas State. He was then dismissed by Arkansas State in July after a state trooper found marijuana and a gun in a car the national title game MVP was driving.

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