Auburn’s Reconstruction Is Malzahn’s Reward
Newport Beach, Calif. — When Gus Malzahn returned to Auburn in December 2012, he looked to erase from the team’s collective memory a painful three-win season.
Just more than year after returning to the Tigers, Malzahn, who helped lead Auburn to a national championship in 2010, brought the program back to the BCS national championship game. The turnaround was the biggest of any program in the country.
Bringing the Tigers back to college football’s biggest stage mattered as much, if not more, than anything that took place on it.
It was less a rebuild than a reconstruction, Malzahn said, a return to the Auburn that has long been a national power. But not even Malzahn could have predicted the rapid ascension.
“Auburn is a great program and used to winning championships, so I knew that we were going to get it turned around. I didn’t know how quick,” Malzahn said. “There was a lot of questions when we first got there. We did a lot of Dr. Phil-ing early, and our guys came together and they believed.”
Malzahn told his coaches not to watch any 2012 film or form any preconceived notions on the talent. He wanted to evaluate the roster as a blank slate. Malzahn used the same approach with the players.
“We felt like we had some talent … and we just told our guys that, hey, we’re not going to think about or worry about what happened last year,” Malzahn said this week. “We’re going to put everything behind us. Everybody is going to get a fresh start.”
Auburn built this season on close wins and breathless finishes. The team will be remembered for its two stunning last-minute wins over Georgia and Alabama - the Prayer at Jordan-Hare and the Kick Six.
While the team shied away from the never-ending “Team of Destiny,” talk in the week leading up to the national championship, it was clear that Malzahn had built a confidence in the Tigers over the course of the season. Auburn won six games by eight points or fewer. It downed four top-25 teams, three of which were ranked No. 7 or higher.
“We have to give Coach Malzahn a lot of the credit, because he came in and said it’s a new day and we bought into that and we stayed together,” said Tigers’ senior cornerback Chris Davis, who returned the missed field goal in the stunning win over Alabama. “We overcame adversity, we won a lot of close games and he always told us, if the game is close at the end, we will win.”
Malzahn was largely credited as being the brains behind the Tigers’ run to a national championship in 2010. After leaving to coach Arkansas State for one season, he returned this season and has left little doubt about his impact on the program.
“This has been just a true joy for me to watch the team grow,” Malzahn said. “We had a lot of question marks coming into this season. Our coaches really weren’t for sure what we had. And I think some of our players felt the same way with everything they went through last year, and to watch them grow and improve each game, and college football it’s a huge challenge to improve each game, but our guys found a way to do it, and they’ve just been a blessing to coach.”