Just 10 years ago, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was gearing up for what would be his next-to-last season as the head coach of Springdale High School in Northwest Arkansas. A decade later, he boasts two SEC championship rings, one crystal football as a coordinator and came within 13 seconds of another in his first season as the Tigers' head coach.
Despite the meteoric rise up the coaching ranks, Malzahn hasn't forgotten his roots.
Part of a fraternity of former high school head coaches now succeeding in college along with Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze, Baylor's Art Briles, Arizona State's Todd Graham and others, Malzahn recognizes the talent that remains in the high school coaching ranks and isn't afraid to poach that talent if the time is right.
"There's some great high school coaches that could be doing exactly what I'm doing," Malzahn said in Newport Beach, Calif., prior to the BCS National Championship Game. "They just need to be given the opportunities. I know the former high school coaches that are coaching college now, we've kind of got our own little group, and we're going to do everything in our power to give more opportunities to high school coaches."
He's sticking to his word, because his latest hire is one that is legendary in the high school ranks in South Carolina.
According to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com, Malzahn has hired Bobby Bentley of James F. Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C., as an offensive analyst for the Tigers. Bentley won four consecutive state championships at Byrnes from 2002-05, and he will work with Auburn's quarterbacks in an off-the-field capacity in 2014.
The Spartanburg District Five school district congratulated the new Auburn assistant via its Twitter account.
This is nothing new for Malzahn, who lives up to his word when it comes to giving chances to high school coaches.
He had three high-profile former high school coaches on his staff as analysts last season, according to Erickson—Chip Lindsey (Spain Park/Hoover, Ala.), Brent Dearmon (B.C. Rain/Mobile, Ala.) and Dell McGee (Carver/Columbus, Ga.). Lindsey left after one season to become the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Southern Miss, and McGee became the new running backs coach at Georgia Southern.
Al Pogue, the former head coach at Carver High School in Montgomery, Ala., became the cornerbacks coach at Troy this year. He was hired at Auburn by former Tigers head coach Gene Chizik and retained by Malzahn in an off-the-field capacity.
Risky? Not at all.
Malzahn didn't notice much of a difference between high school and college when he made the jump, and he recognizes that others could share a similar easy transition.
"You know, football is football," he said prior to the BCS National Championship Game. "You play with 11 guys. There's only a few things they can do if they're sound. So the football part and dealing with players is no different at all than high school. The challenge is the recruiting part, the media, the boosters. That's really the only difference."
Malzahn is a man of his word. He knows his roots, thinks fondly of his roots and is giving the opportunity to people with similar backgrounds to follow in his footsteps.
It proved to be a winning equation in Year 1 at Auburn, and he's looking to replicate that success with a similar off-the-field staff in Year 2.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes from the BCS National Championship Game were obtained firsthand.
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