When Gus Malzahn first arrived at Auburn as offensive coordinator in 2009, Bart Eddins, an offensive guard for the Tigers at the time, said he remembers thinking, "man, this guy needs to relax. "He's one of those guys who's always thinking about football in some way, shape or form."
That obsession with football hasn't changed.
It helps explain why Malzahn was able to climb rapidly through the coaching ranks, going from head coach at Springdale High School in Northwest Arkansas to head coach at Auburn in seven short years.
Eddins' lone start for the Tigers came at left guard against Tennessee in Knoxville in 2009. Auburn won 26-22 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated. But that didn't stop Malzahn, the offensive coordinator at the time, from revisiting Eddins' performance several weeks later.
"I'll never forget how he called me five or six games after that Tennessee game," Eddins said. "He goes 'Bart, Bart; I was looking while you were pulling, and if you would have taken three steps earlier and turned up with it we would have taken it to the house, man.' I'm thinkin,' 'coach, it's 12-o'clock at night. We've got workouts at six.'"
Malzahn's journey began in 2006, when he and Mitch Mustain, his Rivals.com 5-star quarterback prospect, left Springdale High School for Arkansas, where he took over as offensive coordinator for then-head coach Houston Nutt. But instead of Mustain experiencing a meteoric rise to stardom, it has been Malzahn whose star has shined.
After one successful season with the Hogs and two more as offensive coordinator at Tulsa, Malzahn took over as offensive coordinator at Auburn and was an integral part of Auburn's 2010 BCS national title team.
The high-energy Malzahn and his uptempo offense led by 2010 Heisman Trophy-winner Cam Newton produced a 14-0 record and a 22-19 win over Oregon in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.
After that season several schools, including Vanderbilt, approached him about their head coaching vacancies. But it was after the 2011 season when he ultimately made the jump with Arkansas State. He quickly proved to be up to the task, leading the Red Wolves to a 9-3 regular-season record, and parlayed that into the Auburn head coaching gig.
He's been just as adept at adapting to his new role at Auburn. His first team is off to a 3-1 start and the nightmares of the 2012 season in which the Tigers finished 3-9 seem to be in the rear-view mirror.
No longer is he part of the program—he is the program. That means more media responsibilities, more fundraising responsibilities and more people pulling him in directions other than the film room.
"He realizes he is the face of the program and is in the spotlight the whole time," former tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. "He is setting his own brand of how he wants Auburn Football to be represented and I'm excited to see it going in such a positive direction."
While Malzahn's ability to coordinate successful offenses sent his coaching stock through the roof in a relatively short period of time, he showed during his first stint with the Tigers that he has some of the attributes needed to leap into the head coaching ranks.
"He's a no-nonsense guy, but he's also a very understanding individual," Eddins said. "That helps him in his new role as a head coach. With his personality and attention to detail, that's going to make him a very successful head coach."
But even though Malzahn has moved into the highest-profile role within a program, he's hasn't let go of his roots.
He and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee work together leading the Tiger offense that has topped the 430-yard mark in three of its first four games after topping that mark only twice all of last season.
Everything about Malzahn is fast, from his rise through the collegiate coaching ranks, to his scheme, to his success taking over stagnant offenses. He learned on the job in 2012 at Arkansas State, which has allowed him to hit the ground running in the SEC with Auburn.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.
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