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Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010

Auburn football: Tigers return to practice after 14 days of rest, awards and even some drama

- abitter@ledger-enquirer.com
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AUBURN, Ala. -- In the 14 days since Auburn last stepped on a football field, its star players and coaches have jetted across the country for various awards shows, its quarterback won the Heisman Trophy and its offensive coordinator nearly left for a head coaching job at another SEC school.

The focus returns to football this evening when the Tigers resume practice.

No. 1 Auburn (13-0) will have the first of nine on-campus practices before it travels to Glendale, Ariz., a week before the BCS national championship game against No. 2 Oregon on Jan. 10.

The Tigers have four practices before a holiday break from Dec. 23-27. They resume with five more practices before flying to Glendale on Jan. 3, when they will finalize preparations.

Auburn’s schedule starts a week after Oregon, which resumed practice last Saturday, even though running back LaMichael James and coach Chip Kelly were in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

“We have a good plan,” Auburn oach Gene Chizik said last week. “We have a good plan on how we’re going to get everybody back into the fold and progress into practice and get back to normalcy.”

Auburn’s two-week break following a 56-17 SEC title game victory against South Carolina included some drama. Quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley spent substantial time on the awards show circuit.

Newton went on a mini-publicity tour of New York in the days after winning the Heisman a week ago, making appearances on “NFL Today,” “Good Morning America” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

The concern has been burnout.

“I think that’s accurate, I really do,” Chizik said. “There’s a lot of travel. There’s a lot of media attention. If I know Cam, he’s going to probably really relish the thought of slowing down when this is over and just kind of letting everything go back to normal.”

On the coaching front, Gus Malzahn turned down a head coaching offer from Vanderbilt to remain the Tigers’ offensive coordinator. He received an extension and substantial salary raise that will pay him more than $1 million annually, making him the highest-paid assistant coach in the country at a public university.

“My family and I love Auburn,” he said in a news release, “and right now my main focus is helping Auburn win a national championship.”

Auburn did lose graduate assistant Rhett Lashlee, a Malzahn protégé, who will become Samford’s offensive coordinator, according to AuburnSports.com.

Lashlee, who spent the past two years with the Tigers, intends to coach with Auburn through the BCS title game.

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