LAGRANGE, Georgia — Gus Malzahn is not a business man.
If you ask the Auburn coach whenever his coaching career ends to run a large company, he’ll likely turn you down. After all, he opened up recently about the mistakes he made during his third year as Auburn’s coach and made similar comments about his personality.
“I’m a football coach, not a CEO,” Malzahn told ESPN.com. “I probably tried to be too much of a CEO last season. My teams have taken on my personality in the past, and I think we sort of had four or five different personalities last year, all the different coaches’ personalities. That’s on me. That’s my fault. You live and learn, and I learned the hard way last year.”
The comment directly ties to Auburn’s changing of the guard on offense and defense. Five coaches, including two on offense, left the program to take different jobs: defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, secondary coach Travaris Robinson, linebackers coach Lance Thompson, receivers coach Dameyune Craig and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes.
Malzahn tried to clarify his comment further when asked about Wednesday outside a Tiger Trek event.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to be a head coach in our league and at my core I’m a football coach,” Malzahn said. “That’s what I do best and so sometimes you can get distracted with other things and I think the easiest way to answer that is I’m not going to be distracted with the other things when the season gets here. And I’m going to coach football.”
Auburn’s struggles through the season, which ended with a 7-6 record and an identity crisis at quarterback, forced Malzahn to look in the mirror and make changes. He hired several familiar faces and friends in the coaching industry. Herb Hand, a co-coordinator alongside Malzahn at Tulsa in 2007 and 2008, was hired to coach the offensive line. Former Auburn quarterback/receiver Kodi Burns was hired to coach receivers. Off the field, the support staff now includes Austin Tucker, a player who performed in Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle system at Shiloh Christian (Springdale, Ark.) and new analyst Rob Coleman was on Malzahn’s first coaching staff at Hughes (Ark.) High School in the early 1990s.
Familiarity, it appears, will breed a singular personality for the team rather than the “four or five” personalities last season.
But how will Malzahn shield himself from the distractions? He does run the entire football program and things happen all the time away from the football field (four players were arrested Saturday, after all).
“Well, I think we’re going to run it and we’re going to run it very well,” he said. “I think as a coach at a big place, you learn and obviously that was a learning experience. Obviously, last year wasn’t up to our standards and you evaluate things as a head coach and you try to not make the mistakes twice and we’re not going to do that and I’m not going to do that. We’re going to be better next year.”
Malzahn was visibly much more active on the football field this spring. He spent one-on-one time with quarterback John Franklin III at every open viewing session of practice made available to the media, and even coached the offensive line a time or two.
Auburn has lost nine of its last 11 SEC games, failed to win a conference game at home last season and nearly lost to FCS foe Jacksonville State when the Tigers were ranked No. 6 in the country. Auburn’s offense dropped from one of the top in the SEC to 10th at 370 yards per game. Two years after becoming the first SEC team in history to lead the country in rushing, the Tigers had problems scoring and consistently moving the football.
“He’s not any different than anybody else I’ve worked for in terms of, we let him know what we’re doing, but he’s, for all practical purposes, and I think he would tell you this, he’s heavily involved with the offense,” first-year Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “He knows what we’re doing.”
Running backs coach Tim Horton said he hasn’t seen much of a difference from Malzahn since the end of the 2015 season.
“Coach has always been very involved, and he should be, he’s a great offensive coach, a great offensive play caller,” Horton said. “That’s probably more applicable to the fall than maybe the spring, but he’s obviously a great offensive coach and I think those changes you’ll see more in the fall than you will in the spring.”
Asked specifically what he will do differently from the 2015 season, Malzahn said: “Just really the main thing is be a football coach and do what I’m good at.”
And what is Malzahn good at?
“I’d like to think coaching football,” he said.