To those coaches who have ridden against Gus Malzahn for more than a decade during his time calling games in the SEC, a sense of tactical arrogance from his best team is always imbued.
When Gus Malzahn first trained and coordinated at Auburn, he wanted to do things the way he knew how – the pace swayed, trends were cursed, and this predictability empowered as a fierce hit as opposed to a responsibility. You knew that Gus Malzahn would only oppose one direction and power to another. Good luck stopping it. You knew he would run the same black mush with the pin and pull. Have fun coaching the antidote against it in practice all week.
So that’s why there is any skepticism Gus Malzahn’s ability to adapt to his new job as a coach at UCF, a job that long permeates with potential, must be met with a hearty laugh. He has taken a job where a majority in the league – perhaps all but Cincinnati – have to blame Malzahn for coming into play with a talent advantage.
“They want better players 90 percent of the time,” said a veteran SEC assistant familiar with Malzahn. “I think he worked much better when he was a play call. Part of what made them good was that he did not get lost. This is what we do. This is how we do it. The years they had good staff, they were hard to stop. ”
That sums up why Malzahn’s hiring is a wise move by new athletic instructor Terry Mohajir. Gus Malzahn will always have good staff at UCF. Malzahn certainly read the talking points at his press conference on Monday as he delivered the predictable ploy for fans by declaring UCF will be “in the Final Four in no time.”
But cut through the pep rally, and the real value of Malzahn for UCF is that he has a great chance of continuing the football program and the athletic department’s path into a new paradigm. And it is Malzahn who brings consistency and credibility to help place the school for the next round of conference reshuffle.
While UCF’s two undefeated regular seasons are often celebrated, it has also had a winless season and another losing season in the last six years. Malzahn brings sophistication with a program, recruiting contacts and staffing experience to provide a stable ship. Think about what Gary Patterson did for TCU and what Kyle Whittingham did for Utah by taking their entire universities to the next level. This is where Gus Bus should be able to take them in the next decade, as any coach good enough to beat Nick Saban three times will be able to take advantage of something he did not have at his last stop – one of the best jobs in his league.
Patterson and Whittingham brought their programs to a place where annual bowls were a given, double-digit wins were the expectation, and the occasional moonlight in the top 10 happened often enough where it was not shocking.
In the case of UCF, the bonus is that Malzahn’s brand magnifies any success. “I do not care if you’re in Sacramento, California or Syracuse, New York, you know who Gus Malzahn is,” Mohajir said of Malzahn. “You can not say that about every candidate I interviewed.”
And the best news for UCF fans is that they seem to be getting a better version of Malzahn. He spoke as passionately and emotionally as at any time during his Auburn era, when the old high school coach’s heartbeat jumped through a public figure who had often proved more public as a reticent tin man. There was energy, there was passion and a bit of the soul of the maverick that UCF is proud of. (That included going through lengths not to mention the word Auburn.)
Sometimes a new audience helps, so the stories of the mail game Waffle House tripping, chewing through 40 pieces of chewing gum when his offense is in rhythm and his high-flying high school training days in Arkansas land differently.
Perhaps most importantly, Malzahn said Monday that he continues to call acting. He answered the question faster than his offense moves after an initial decline, the conviction a result of an eight-week break in which he made a deep self-analysis. “I definitely want to call acting,” Malzahn said. “I want to call acting the rest of my career. That’s what I’m good at. That’s what got me here. ”
Malzahn called the players as coordinators on Auburn’s national team title team in 2010 and through his first four seasons as head coach, including when Auburn was 13 seconds from the national title in 2013. Malzahn did not call into play in 2017 and 2018 when Chip Lindsey coordinated and Malzahn famously famous its clipboard. But Malzahn took over the play again in 2019 before returning to Chad Morris last season when he was sacked after a 6-4 regular season.
The results through that time were uneven. This flip-flopping led to a loss of identity, as one coach pointed out.
“When they fought this year, I was convinced we should see more of his offense because they fought,” the opposing assistant coach said. “But we did not see it. You could tell it was discomboblated. ”
So what happened to Malzahn in the end? Two opposing assistants pointed to a sharp drop in offensive line play that cost Auburn his first identity. Combine that with the lack of a quarterback who had the zone-read dynamics of Cam Newton or Nick Marshall, and Auburn could never recreate that defiant Malzahn flair.
Malzahn did not dive into too many specific details about his two-month reflection after being fired. But his tenor and enthusiasm for play calling indicates that he will bet big on what has worked. Bet big on yourself.
At UCF, the talent structure of the American Athletic Conference would indicate that it is working fine. Malzahn called the UCF a top-20 job nationally and indicated he wants to stay to help promote it to a national power.
Perhaps the best reference points for this job come from times when Malzahn was not in the SEC fishing dish. As coordinator for Todd Graham in Tulsa, Malzahn’s team led the nation in offense in 2007 and 2008. In Arkansas State, he inherited a strong list from Hugh Freeze, went 9-3 and won a Sun Belt title.
Can this type of success be replicated consistently enough to help UCF break through the group of five glass ceilings?
Let’s just say the safest bet is for local Waffle House owners to leave a corner booth open in the evening with UCF home games.
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