Gus Malzahn a fun-loving guy underneath his stoic exterior

Malzahn has a different side to him hidden underneath his stoic exterior

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 21, 2013 

Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Auburn coach Gus Malzahn (right) and running back Tre Mason (left) were honored by the Associated Press on Monday. Malzahn was named the SEC's coach of the year while Mason snagged the award for the league's top offensive player.

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AUBURN, Ala.Gus Malzahn is omniscient.

Whether outsiders want to believe that is up to them. But you couldn't convince Auburn's players to the contrary. He sees all.

And it's all thanks to what his players describe as a photographic memory.

C.J. Uzomah recalled one such occasion earlier this season.

"He'll say something about our freshman year with Tre (Mason) and Tre being too early on a motion and messing up the timing of the play," said the tight end, who like Mason, is now a junior. "And he'll just know: Third quarter, nine minutes in, 'Tre, you did this.' And Tre's like, 'I don't even remember this. How do you know?' And he's just like, 'I know everything.' And we'll laugh and just be like, 'All right, cool.' It's just little stuff like that."

Sammie Coates encountered a similar situation at a recent practice, with Malzahn calling upon a miscue the sophomore receiver made in the spring.

"He was like, 'Remember when you went two steps short on that route, and now you're a 10 (out of 10)?'" Coates said. "He helps me remember everything."

Jay Prosch said he hasn't been called out by Malzahn — yet. But the senior fullback has seen it happen to others often.

And it never ceases to amaze him.

"He remembers everything everyone does," Prosch said. "So if somebody has a bad play (during a game), four weeks later he'll be like, 'All right, it's your chance at redemption.'"

Don't let Malzahn's eidetic memory fool you, though. He also has a softer side to his personality that his players enjoy. At times the coach shows this side unintentionally.

"We know that he's genuine in what he's saying, and at the same time, he can make jokes," Uzomah said. "We can relate to him. He's kind of a goofy coach. He doesn't try to be. He makes a joke and we're kind of laughing, and he's like, 'Well, I guess that was kind of funny. Ha ha.'"

Every now and then, the players like to have some fun at their coach's expense, too. Some times that comes in the manner of mimicking the "boom" phrase Malzahn has done after touchdowns this season.

The players also laugh about the lengths Malzahn goes to in order to avoid using vulgar language.

"He'll say like 'crap.' Or he'll call people 'scared,'" Prosch said. "He uses 'butt' instead of the A-word. I don't know, some of the stuff he says, you've never heard before. … But he never cusses and he's very respectful of his players, which is really nice."

And it is that aspect that his players love the most: Even when Malzahn is critical, it's always handled positively. But it goes beyond that, Coates said.

The poignant part is that Malzahn takes special care to lend his insight one-on-one.

"He doesn't do it in front of everybody," Coates said. "He tells you something he needs to tell you to help the other people out and help you out. It makes you think he doesn't really want to chew you out in front of everybody. "

Because of that, his players know they can talk to him about anything. Jonathon Mincy has a special kinship with Malzahn, as they both do daily devotionals, discussing the subject matter later in the day.

His relationship with Malzahn was something the junior corner said he couldn't accurately describe.

"When you have a coach who is always trying to be positive with you, no matter what you're going through — it can be family-wise, it can something on the field where maybe you're not playing much — (you know) he's always going to be supportive," Mincy said. "That's something (where) you know can always go back and talk to your coach about anything. And that's what brings the player-coach relationship to another level."

Mincy couldn't praise Malzahn's forthrightness enough. That's why, cliché as it may sound, players view him as a friend as much as their football mentor. And sure, Malzahn's accomplishments this season — a 12-1 overall record, an SEC title, numerous coaching awards and a shot to win a BCS championship — are a good indicator of his coaching acumen. But it's the day-to-day interactions with his players that can't be measured in wins and losses.

The Tigers wouldn't trade it for the world.

"He has the best interests of his players at heart," Mincy said. "We're just blessed to have him as a coach."

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