On Friday when discussing his first season as head coach of the Tigers, Malzahn said he is as encouraged as ever about the state of the program.
"I am extremely proud of our team," he said. "The way they represented us all year, they laid a foundation that the future is very bright. I am really looking forward to the future and building this thing the right way."
The Tigers finished with a 12-2 record and won the SEC Championship in Malzahn's first season as head coach of the team he worked with from 2009 to 2011 as offensive coordinator.
"After having a few days to reflect on the season, a couple of things really stand out to me," he said. "At the first of the year one of our main goals was to get our edge back, to play hard-nosed, blue-collar, smash-mouth football. I really feel like our guys accomplished that.
"The bottom line is we came within 13 seconds of winning the national championship," he said. "At the very first of the year, I think the very first game, we were probably average at best. Our guys found a way to get better each game and found a way to get us to the last game. To come that close to winning, that was very special to be part of."
Malzahn was offensive coordinator on Auburn's senior-dominated 2010 team that won the BCS title. Comparing the current situation with what the Tigers faced in 2011 with major rebuilding to do, Malzahn said, "If you're talking big picture as far as moving forward, we have got a lot of our main players coming back. We feel very good about our overall program and where we are going, and really feel like our best days are ahead of us."
Going into the 2013 season the Tigers were picked to finish in the bottom half of the SEC West. For 2014 the expectations are much higher and the head coach embraces that. "That's a good thing that our program is where we should be as far as expected to be one of the top teams and all that," Malzahn said.
"Our approach will be no different. We will still work just as hard. We'll still have the same philosophy about hard work, about improving and about keeping our edge."
Malzahn said on Friday that any talk about position changes for players is premature, including rumors that Trovon Reed will move from wide receiver to cornerback. "We have not talked about any of that," the coach said. "Once we get to our pre-spring meetings we will talk through things like that."
Starting on Wednesday the coaching staff will turn its attention to finishing the 2014 recruiting class. Recruiting is currently in a dead period, but when they changes the coach said he and his staff will be busy.
"Once contact starts you put the hammer down and it's pretty fast and furious," Malzahn said of recruiting leading up to national signing day on Feb. 5th. "This staff did a wonderful job last year in a short period of time. Now that we've had a year to develop some relationships that's definitely helped."
The head coach noted the program has made major strides since this time last year and said the 2013 team's seniors were a big part in making that happen.
"As a group they were all very impactful, and not just what they did on the field, but what they did off the field," he pointed out. "If you think back to last spring, before we even got out on the practice field, there were a lot of things from a leadership standpoint.
Dee Ford was a senior leader for the 2013 Tigers.
"They took their team and they made sure that we were close. They took a fragmented team and brought it together. We had very few off the field issues. And that is where it started. It started before we even played football. And that is a group that will be remembered.
"There are a lot of great memories that now that the season is over with that you can kind of look back on and there were a couple of wild moments, but it all started with those seniors keeping this team together, keeping this team believing. They represented Auburn very well. They represented their families. It was a fun group to be a part of."