AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn made two major announcements Saturday — one expected, the other unexpected. First, he hired Arizona State’s Chip Lindsey to be his new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Second, Malzahn said he’s retired the offensive clipboard that is as linked with his identity as a college coach as his sweater vests, visors and mounds of Dubble Bubble on the sidelines.
“I’m not going to carry that anymore,” Malzahn said Saturday. “I’ve retired that officially. So that should tell you where I’m at and what kind of confidence I have in this guy right here.”
Malzahn punctuated his clipboard retirement announcement with a head nod toward Lindsey, who returns to Auburn after being an offensive analyst during the Tigers’ 2013 run to the national championship game.
Lindsey left after that SEC Championship campaign to become the offensive coordinator at struggling Southern Miss. In his second year there, the Golden Eagles ranked 9th nationally in yards per game and played in the Conference USA title game.
After a brief, injury-impacted stop as the offensive coordinator at Arizona State, Lindsey is back on the Plains. This time, Malzahn said he is giving Lindsey complete control of his offense.
“Chip is going to call the plays,” Malzahn said. “This is going to be Chip’s offense. This is going to be his responsibility. I have a lot of trust in him. He’s going to do a great job.”
Malzahn’s words comprised the answer to the multi-million dollar question floating around the Auburn fan base following Rhett Lashlee’s abrupt departure to UConn.
Malzahn, who had called offensive plays during his entire coaching career, gave Lashlee that responsibility ahead of a Week 4 matchup in 2016 against LSU. The Tigers won six straight games after Lashlee took over play-calling duties.
But hiring a former Malzahn assistant — albeit one who served on a support staff role for less than a full year — raised concerns about the Auburn head coach potentially taking back the controls.
Lindsey said Malzahn made it clear during the search he wasn’t going to do that. If Lindsey came back to the staff, he’d be in charge of the offense.
“That’s something that he and I talked about at length,” Lindsey said. “I’m very confident that this is going to be a great situation. He’s given me every opportunity to be successful, and this is my responsibility. He hired me to do a job and I’m looking forward to doing it.”
Malzahn entered the search with three criteria for Lashlee’s replacement.
“I just felt like I needed to find somebody that could develop and evaluate quarterbacks,” Malzahn said. “Felt like I needed somebody that I would feel comfortable turning over the offense to. I felt like I needed somebody that had a fit within the same philosophy: no huddle, run/play-action.”
Lindsey fit all three categories in Malzahn’s eyes, and the middle one could be the most important. Malzahn said he “talked to numerous people” during his search — those inside his coaching tree and those who would be outsiders.
Hiring Lindsey, someone he could trust with his offense, was crucial.
“It just came back to Chip,” Malzahn said. “I’ve got a lot of trust. He’s ready for the job.”
Malzahn will task Lindsey with resurrecting Auburn’s struggling pass offense and bringing more balance to the Tigers’ attack.
Lindsey comes from more of an Air Raid background in terms of passing trees and play design, but he knows what Auburn’s strengths are from years past. He had previous success with the ground game at Southern Miss, where he coached two 1,000-yard rushers in 2015.
“I know what Auburn is made of,” Lindsey said. “Auburn is made up of hard work, blue-collar football and that’s what we’re going to continue to do — with maybe some little wrinkles in twists in our passing game.”
Malzahn also trusts Lindsey with the high level of talent on offense in 2017. The Tigers return roughly 82 percent of their 2016 offensive production and added several instant-impact players, including Baylor transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
“I told him we’re in great shape offensively with talent,” Malzahn said. “I’m kind of jealous, really.”
But not jealous enough to take back his offense. Malzahn will delegate those duties once again and get the Tigers ready for what he believes will be a strong 2017.
“I think we’re in as good a spot offensively as any other time I’ve been at Auburn, as far as the guys we have coming back, the talent,” Malzahn said. “I think we’re in a great spot. Then we add Chip Lindsey to run the offense. I’m very excited about next year.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun.”