The most successful coaches at any level all possess a common attribute of obtaining the most of their personnel. Gus Malzahn has accomplished this goal at every juncture of his career going back to his days in the high school ranks in the state of Arkansas.
He took all three of his programs to the state championship while compiling a record of 133-26-1 at Hughes High (1992-1995), Shiloh Christian (1996-2000) and Springdale High (2001-2005).
"Coaching is about human interaction and trying to know your players. Any coach would tell you that. I'm no different."--Bill Parcells (New York Giants)
Even during his early years at Hughes High School in the Arkansas Delta region, Malzahn was able to connect and relate with his players, which gave him the ability to obtain the most of his personnel. He challenged and inspired players by utilizing innovative schemes and creative plays in order to make the game fun.
Malzahn pushed his players to reach for the highest goals and to never be satisfied with their performance, convincing them there is always room for improvement. To this day he incorporates the same methods to challenge his collegiate players.
When he returned to Auburn as the new head coach, he told his players before the 2013 season began they could be part of the greatest turnaround in college football history, something that will be a reality with a victory over Florida State in the national championship game.
He changed high school offensive football in the state of Arkansas with his innovative offense built around the Wing-T. Every coaching job he took he initially faced skepticism, but it did not take long to prove his worth and that his concepts were viable.
Malzahn makes a point to the Tigers in a team meeting.
His philosophy in football has always been to play the game in an attacking mode whether on offense, defense and even on special teams, included onside-kicks, fake punts and reverse plays on returns.
Once Malzahn rose to the college ranks he soon became one of the top offensive minds in Division I football and has helped teams reach conference championship games at Arkansas, Tulsa, Arkansas State and Auburn.
"It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen"--John Wooden (UCLA)
Perhaps Malzahn's greatest trait as a coach is his attention to detail. He has always been a compulsive note-taker, making sure to capture thoughts or concepts on paper so that he wouldn't overlook them at a later time. His mental process carries over to his daily routine as a coach because he emphasizes execution and preparation to his assistants and players.
The staff he has put together at Auburn were assistant coaches who share his attention to detail. Having talent is a necessity for success, but making the most of it is critical. Malzahn's attention to the finer points of the game is a big part of his overall plan to obtain the most out of his personnel, which is why the 2013 Auburn Tigers have been so successful.
Very few Auburn fans knew of Coach J.B. Grimes before he joined the AU staff, but Malzahn considered him one of the top offensive line coaches in the country when hiring the veteran assistant for his staff at Arkansas State and later at Auburn. Grimes is the embodiment of the type of teacher Malzahn wants working with his offensive linemen.
Grimes is relentless when it comes to fundamentals and execution. His vast experience and his ability to relate to his players is the perfect fit for what Malzahn wants from his position coaches.
On the other side of the football, Rodney Garner is doing the same thing with the defensive line. Both line coaches have demanded effort and execution from their players and the players responded. All players want to win, but it's up to their coaches to provide direction and structure for them to succeed.
Malzahn hired the best offensive coordinator available to implement and direct his offense in bringing Rhett Lashlee with him from Arkansas State. He hired a veteran defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, a coach with a proven track record of optimizing his level of talent and being a stickler for fundamentals. The assistants under Johnson are veteran SEC coaches with a long history of success.
All of Malzahn's assistant coaches are regarded to be strong recruiters, but more importantly they built their resumes on being sound coaches when it came to discipline and fundamentals.
Dating back to his days as a head football coach at the high school level, Malzahn has compiled an 80-plus winning percentage. He has made programs better after arriving, taking them all to a championship level of play.
During his association with Auburn he has helped the team post a 42-11 record. The Tigers have won two conference titles and a national championship. His current team has a chance to bring home Auburn's second BCS National Championship trophy. He has compiled a head coaching record of 21-4 and the future looks bright for years to come.
Though it's too early to know for sure just how successful Malzahn will be at Auburn in the long run, there are indicators the future is bright. Recruiting has gone extremely well since he returned to Auburn and his initial approach has been one of focusing on winning now and not utilizing the "rebuilding" excuse, something that has paid immediate dividends.
Just as he has evolved as an offensive coordinator at the collegiate level, Malzahn is still growing as a head coach. He is driven and motivated to succeed, which means a high probability Auburn will be highly competitive on a consistent basis. He has yet to face all the degrees of adversity most head coaches combat during their careers, but his methodical personality should allow him to adapt to the challenges.
"Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with than plan."--Tom Landry (Dallas Cowboys)
Before the 2013 season began Malzahn's challenge to his team to make the greatest turnaround in college football history was a goal easily set, but the planning and effort required to achieve it has been anything but easy. Everybody was expected to get on board with the plan--no exceptions. Those who chose to remain and work earned the right to play Florida State in Pasadena in the BCS National Championship Game.
There are many similarities between Malzahn and Landry, who is considered one of the most successful coaches in NFL history. Both hold true to their strong family and Christian beliefs. They are goal driven and task oriented, methodical in their approach to the game.
Neither was afraid of searching for innovative methods to make their teams extremely competitive. Both revolutionized offensive football with championships being the result.
Landry fielded competitive teams year-in and year-out and Malzahn is currently accomplishing the same. Many successful coaches have a system in place, requiring players to fit a certain mold, which focuses more on talent than maximum effort. Malzahn has found success adjusting his schemes to closely match his talent, a formula that allows his players and teams to perform up to their potential.