Joe Medley: Frazier's grace checks yet another box for Malzahn

August 13, 2013 

There's no "H" at the end of Gus Malzahn's first name. His offense will huddle before he ever gushes.

Still, he has to feel good about how his first nine months on the job have played out.

His staff hires were promising. His first recruiting class was better than expected, highlighted by the two players who currently lead the now-narrowed quarterback race.

Now, thanks to Kiehl Frazier, Malzahn has a chemistry-building windfall, complete with a script that rings of happier times for Auburn's team and fan base.

Monday saw Frazier pull a Kodi Burns, gracefully accepting a move to safety after Malzahn announced that junior-college transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson now lead the quarterback race.

Frazier walked to a podium and let it be known that he's happy with the move and hopes that history repeats itself. History, of course, led Burns to a place of knighthood at Auburn.

After playing the change-of-pace quarterback in 2007 and starting seven games in 2008, he accepted a move to wide receiver before the 2009 season. This after he battled Chris Todd for the quarterback job.

It was thought to be a contentious battle -- not so much between Burns and Todd, but between factions on the team that supported one or the other. Then-Auburn coach Gene Chizik later acknowledged publicly that he found racial divisions when he arrived at Auburn.

Whatever the behind-the-scenes truth, we know Burns wouldn't let himself be a divider. He stood up in front of his team and became a uniter, and his grace in that situation was widely seen as a crucial chemistry builder for the next two Auburn teams.

That first Auburn team pulled off an 8-5 finish a year after going 5-7. A year later, with quarterback Cam Newton in the fold, the Tigers kept it together well enough to pull-off several comebacks and win close games en route to a national championship.

Burns, appropriately, caught a touchdown pass from Newton in the championship game.

Who knows if Marshall can be the next Newton? They have similar narratives, playing for other SEC teams before their one-year, junior-college stopovers. They can both run and throw.

Who knows if the first Auburn team to call Malzahn head coach can mount a turnaround like the one accomplished in 2009, by the first Auburn team to call Malzahn offensive coordinator? Truth told, the 3-9 Auburn team we saw in 2012 looked farther from a turnaround than the 5-7 team of 2008.

But the 2013 and 2009 Auburn teams have Malzahn in common, and his hiring helped to bring 83,000 fans out for Auburn's A-Day game in April.

Just like in 2009, Auburn has a coaching staff made up of widely acclaimed, solid-to-strong hires.

Malzahn's staff landed a better-than-expected first recruiting class, much like Chizik's staff did in February of 2009, and the intriguing junior-college quarterback came a year ahead of schedule.

Now, thanks to Frazier, the Tigers have that Kodi Burns moment.

"Proud of my brother Kiehl Frazier," former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen tweeted Monday night.

We'll see how things translate on the field this fall, but Malzahn has checked a lot of boxes in his first nine months on the job.

Joe Medley, sports columnist jmedley@annistonstar.com.

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