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Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011

Auburn football: Speculation heats up again about Tigers offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn leaving for a head coaching job; he declines to discuss whether he is interested in Ole Miss or North Carolina

- jerickson@ledger-enquirer.com
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AUBURN, Ala. -- Gus Malzahn has been rumored to be a hot name in head coaching searches for the better part of a year.

And speculation that Malzahn could be leaving Auburn after this season is heating up again.

Malzahn already has been mentioned as a possible candidate at North Carolina and Ole Miss. Asked about both jobs, Malzahn has declined to say he is interested or whether he has been contacted by either school.

“The only thing I’ve done, we’ve got two more games, and I’ve got to do the best job I’ve done since I’ve been here,” Malzahn said. “That’s my focus.”

Repeated calls made by the Ledger-Enquirer to the office of Malzahn’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, were not returned Tuesday.

Malzahn’s name has been mentioned at North Carolina since the Tar Heels fired Butch Davis in late July.The Tar Heels are 6-4 under interim head coach Everett Withers, but North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham held the same position at Tulsa during Malzahn’s tenure there.

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt will resign at the end of this season.

The possibility of Malzahn leaving for a head coaching job has been present since the end of last season. Malzahn was reportedly the lead candidate for the Vanderbilt head coaching position last year before withdrawing his name.

Malzahn was also linked to Maryland and Louisiana Tech, but the offensive coordinator decided to stay at Auburn after the Tigers raised his salary to $1.3 million per year, making him the highest-paid assistant coach in the country.

Asked about the possibility of Malzahn leaving Tuesday, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said he is prepared for the possibility of losing assistant coaches to other positions.

Chizik did not mention any possible names.

In the event that Malzahn was hired as a head coach, though, there are several former Malzahn assistants with coordinator experience. Auburn has run Malzahn’s offense ever since Chizik was hired three years ago.

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the Malzahn protégé who followed mentor from the high-school ranks to Tulsa and up to the ACC this season, has been the name mentioned most as a possible Malzahn successor.

Morris is making $450,000, according to the Charleston Post and Courier. In his first year at Clemson, Morris has the Tigers ranked 14th in the country in total offense.

Three other coaches with Malzahn ties have coordinator experience. Herb Hand, Malzahn’s co-offensive coordinator at Tulsa, is now the offensive line coach at Vanderbilt. Mike Norvell, the receivers coach at Tulsa during Malzahn’s time there, is the co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Pittsburgh. Rhett Lashlee, who was a graduate assistant during Auburn’s national title run in 2010, will be back at Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday as Samford’s offensive coordinator.

Chizik has not said whether or not he would be looking for another Malzahn protégé.

But Auburn’s head coach did say he has several possible candidates in mind in case Malzahn leaves in the offseason.

“Always, in my mind, I have several guys,” Chizik said. “You do that kind of thing in the offseason, and you prepare and advance for who those guys might be.”

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