AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn learned a lot about himself during the 2015 season.
He was more CEO than football coach, he recalls, and for that reason he’s changing his approach this upcoming season. Malzahn’s explanation for the changes have been chronicled throughout the offseason, but are those filtering down to his right-hand man?
Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee may know Malzahn better than anyone else on this planet. He played quarterback for Malzahn in the late 1990s, coached alongside him as a graduate assistant and full-time coach, and has served as his offensive coordinator for each of the last four seasons (three at Auburn, one at Arkansas State).
So, what has Lashlee, 32, learned about himself heading into the 2016 season?
“One thing is you can’t ever take anything for granted,” Lashlee told SEC Country. “When you feel like you have a lot of guys coming back, you can’t take that for granted. When you feel like you have a young team, you can’t take anything for granted then, obviously, because there’s a lot of experience. You’ve got to be the same every day, you have to be the same every season. You have to demand the best from your players.”
Auburn’s pre-season ranking of No. 6 in the nation last August seems like a distant memory. A near-loss to FCS foe Jacksonville State, along with six losses, derailed a promising season. The struggles at quarterback — primarily Jeremy Johnson failing to live up to the hype — defined a season that seems now more like a learning experience than a memorable journey as a coach.
RELATED: What is Gus Malzahn good at?
Despite it all, however, Malzahn and Lashlee are not lowering expectations. Malzahn speaks often of contending for SEC titles every single season at Auburn. His entire life has been filled with winning seasons, championships, Heisman Trophy ceremonies and exceeding expectations.
That lone stumble last season, a 7-6 record, nearly gave the head coach his first losing season since 1992.
Losing is also not something Lashlee has been familiar with throughout his playing and coaching career.
“I’ve also learned expectations are great things and that’s what’s good about being at Auburn,” Lashlee said. “We’ve set a standard here since coach Malzahn got the job that makes it such that when we have a year last year where we didn’t play to our standard, but we were still middle of the pack in a lot of categories, it’s not good enough for us.
“But it’s not good enough because of the previous years when we set such a high bar, such a high standard. That’s a good thing because if you didn’t have expectations, that means you haven’t done anything to establish a standard of excellence. We know what the standard is and we know what we have to play up to and what’s acceptable to us and we’re excited to have an opportunity to play better this season. But when you win 27 games in three years, the foundation has been set and built pretty good.”