Considering that the 2012 Auburn Tigers didn't win an SEC game and that the team was in disarray when Malzahn took over as head coach in December of 2012, I can't think of a high school, college or pro football turnaround season that was better than what we saw with the 2013 Tigers. Auburn made a good choice in offering him the job as head coach.
One of the reasons for Coach Malzahn's success is that the players seem to really enjoy being a part of his team and they have major respect for him as both a person and a coach. They believe he has their best interest at heart, as well as the best interest of the team as a whole, and those are powerful motivators.
I think a good example of that is the case of Demetruce McNeal, a returning starter going into the 2013 season. Even though the team was very short on depth in the secondary, particularly at safety, Coach Malzahn made the decision to dismiss the senior from the team just weeks before the start of the season after the defensive back got in trouble with the law.
McNeal transferred to West Alabama where he played his senior season, but with Coach Malzahn's blessing he will get to work out at Auburn's Pro Day this week with his Auburn teammates.
An even better part of the story is that the charges against McNeal were dropped and he wants to return to Auburn to finish his degree, and Coach Malzahn is going to help make that happen.
Demetruce obviously made a bad choice that he paid for by missing his team's championship season, but I hope things work out for the defensive back. He is a really good football player and I won't be surprised if he makes somebody's pro team this coming season.
I think Demetruce probably learned a very important lesson that applies to all of us and that is the choices you make about who you associate yourself with have a powerful influence on what you become yourself.
I remember when I was 14 or 15 years old I rode to school every day with a guy who was around 19 or 20 and he had a friend about the same age. I went out with them one night and participated in the same things they participated in, which I had no business doing. The next morning at breakfast my daddy told me, ‘Boy, you are really running with the wrong crowd.' That is all he said. He didn't say stop, but I got the message and that was the last time I ever went off with them.
It had a tremendous impact on my life because from that point on I made sure I didn't hang out with anybody my daddy wouldn't have approved of and I hope Demetruce's choices from now on will be good ones so he will have the opportunity to make use of his talents to become a professional football player.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming.