AUBURN, Ala. — When Rhett Lashlee left his job as Auburn football’s offensive coordinator for the same post at UConn on Jan. 11, the prevailing thought was that Gus Malzahn would move quickly to hire his replacement.
Lashlee’s departure came right before Auburn’s two biggest weekends of the 2017 recruiting cycle. With some offensive targets still on the board and early enrollees already on campus, the Tigers could’ve used a short search and hire.
In the end, Malzahn hired one of his former assistants, Arizona State’s Chip Lindsey, to become his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on Saturday. Lindsey was a top name in the search from the moment Lashlee left the Plains. So why did it take so long to seal the deal?
According to Malzahn, the duration of the search was purposeful.
“I wanted to take my time, by design,” Malzahn said Saturday. “And if you look at our defensive coordinator, I did the same thing when we hired Kevin Steele last year. Bottom line is I was looking for the best person for this job that would give us the best chance at being successful.”
Although Malzahn hired someone who could be considered part of his “coaching tree,” he said he wanted a wide scope from the beginning. When he arrived at Auburn in 2013, he brought Lashlee, his protege and offensive coordinator from his year at Arkansas State.
This search was a new ball game for the Auburn head coach.
“Really, this was the first time since I’ve been a head coach that I’ve actively had an offensive coordinator job open,” Malzahn said. “So I really just tried to take a step back. My goal was to find the best person for this job. … I wanted to talk to as many people as I could to get the right guy.”
Malzahn’s search crawled throughout the first weekend with little movement. A couple of reported candidates — Oklahoma State’s Mike Yurcich and Texas A&M’s Noel Mazzone — popped up in the middle of the week and quickly removed themselves from contention.
On Friday night, more than a week after the beginning of the search, a report from James Crepea of AL.com suggested a struggle for power was playing out behind the scenes with Malzahn and “those with influence over the program.”
A little more than 12 hours later, Auburn hired Lindsey — Malzahn’s man, and someone who was reportedly not on the list of candidates from those with influence.
When asked if he felt he had the support of those “power brokers” in the program after the search, Malzahn said “we’re all on the same page.”
Malzahn attributed the longer-than-expected search and the variety of reported candidates to his own decision-making. He said he kept coming back to Lindsey, who fit his three major criteria — quarterback development, trust in running an offense and like-mindedness in terms of style.
“I had a very open mind,” Malzahn said. “I was wanting to hire the best person for this position. … Talked to some very good people, very talented people. At the end of the day, Chip Lindsey is the guy that fit these three that I felt very comfortable with and gives us the best chance of being successful.”
Malzahn’s hire came just in time for the Tigers, who had 11 official visitors on campus this weekend. Lindsey was able to meet several current commitments and uncommitted targets with less than two weeks before National Signing Day.
Now the Tigers have an offensive coordinator in place for the stretch run of recruiting, and the search’s delay didn’t have an adverse effect on their 2017 class.
Although the length may have frustrated some fans, Malzahn said the search all worked out.
“I think the timing for us is good, the fact that it’s our biggest recruiting weekend and the fact that Chip is going to get the chance to meet them face-to-face,” Malzahn said. “A lot of them are already familiar with him, but at the same time I think the timing is good. That worked out pretty well.”