A legendary high school coach in Arkansas, Gus Malzahn led his teams to three state championships and seven finals appearances in 14 seasons before getting his break in the college ranks at the University of Arkansas for the 2006 season.
That came on the heels of a 2005 season at Springdale High when the Bulldogs posted a 14-0 record and outscored opponents 664-118. As the offensive coordinator for the Razorbacks he coached Heisman runnerup Darren McFadden and led an offense that finished fourth nationally in rushing offense, averaging 228.5 yards per game.
Before moving to Auburn for the 2009 season, Malzahn spent two seasons at Tulsa, coordinating a Golden Hurricane offense that finished first nationally in total offense in 2007 and 2008. Tulsa's offense in 2007 established nine team school records and 12 individual records. The Hurricane also set nine Conference USA team records while Tulsa quarterback Paul Smith broke an NCAA record by throwing for at least 300 yards in 14 consecutive games.
That season Tulsa averaged 543.93 yards of total offense, 371 yards passing, and 172.93 yards rushing per game and finished sixth in scoring offense at 41.14 points per game. In 2008 the Golden Hurricane led the nation in total offense by averaging 569.86 yards per game. They finished fifth in rushing offense, averaging 268 yards per game, and ninth in passing offense at 301.86 yards. Averaging 47.21 points per game was good enough for second in the nation.
Malzahn's arrival in 2009 and style of offense marked a drastic turnaround from the 2008 season when Auburn struggled offensively. In the first season the Tigers improved from a tie for 110th (17.33 points per game) to 17th (33.31) in the nation in scoring offense and from 104th (302.92 yards per game) to 16th (431.77) in total offense. It also took Auburn just six games in 2009 to score more points than it did in all 12 games in 2008.
The biggest improvement came at the quarterback position as Chris Todd completed 198-328 passes for 2,612 yards and 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He threw a touchdown pass in nine of 13 games that season.
That only set the table for what was to come in 2010. With junior college transfer Cam Newton at the helm the Auburn offense exploded on the way to a perfect 14-0 season and the BCS National Championship.
The Auburn offense set nine school records, including points in a season (577), points per game (41.2), total yards (6,989), total offense (499.2), rushing yards (3,987), rushing touchdowns (41) and passing touchdowns (31). Malzahn's record-setting offense in 2010 led the Southeastern Conference and finished in the Top 10 nationally in six statistical categories.
On his way to being the top pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton won the Heisman Trophy as the top college football player in America after throwing for 2,908 yards and 30 touchdowns and adding 1,586 yards and 20 more scores on the ground.
In his final season at Auburn, Malzahn's offense struggled replacing four starters on the offensive line, Newton, and top receivers Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery. Auburn finished 70th in scoring offense, averaging 25.69 points per game, and still managed to average 182 yards per game on the ground. That was good enough for 32nd in the country.
Moving to Arkansas State in his first season as a head coach, Malzahn has picked up where Hugh Freeze and his staff left off and taken the offense even higher. Despite having to replace three starters on the offensive line and several talented skill players, the Red Wolves are averaging 481.5 yards per game this season, up 34.6 yards from 2011. They are also scoring 33.6 points per game as compared to 32.46 last year.
Currently 9-3 on the season with two of the losses coming at Oregon and at Nebraska, Malzahn led the Red Wolves to the Sun Belt Conference championship with a 45-0 victory over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday.
Malzahn is someone who knows Auburn's talent and could easily step in and hit the ground running offensively. Very familiar with the Tigers and what it takes to win in the Southeastern Conference, that familiarity is something that could make the transition much easier for the players and coaches. In his three seasons at Auburn he also helped the Tigers to three bowl wins.
Malzahn has only been a college head coach for one season and it hasn't been in a BCS Conference. That's a big adjustment to make from coordinator to head coach in the toughest conference in college football.