Gus Malzahn: Coaching 'all about' forging bond with players

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 5, 2014 

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talks to his team following practice Saturday. Auburn BCS day 5 for the BCS Championship on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 in Newport Beach, CA. Todd Van Emst

TODD VAN EMST — Todd J. Van Emst

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Football coaches, by nature, prepare for any situation.

Even the best coaches need reminders at times, though. And in some instances, it has nothing to do with adding a wrinkle to a game plan. Gus Malzahn found himself in such a situation three years ago.

Auburn’s then-offensive coordinator was unceasingly critical of his new starting quarterback, Cam Newton. Malzahn’s wife Kristi picked up on it and expressed her concern.

It was a much-needed wake-up call.

“That was before the first game, and I was extremely hard on Cam and would push him and push him,” Malzahn said Sunday. “She just noticed that, ‘Hey, you need to make sure he knows you care about him.’ So that night before the game I let him know I'm a real person and that I care about him, and that helped our relationship moving forward.”

It’s the same way Malzahn tries to treat every player now. Developing relationships came easily when he was still a high school coach, with less scrutiny on both he and his players. It’s much more difficult to do so in the high-stakes world of Division I college football — especially in the SEC, which has won the last seven BCS championships.

Still, Malzahn said letting his players know he’s invested in them as people is every bit as important as winning games.

“I'm just very fortunate that we've got some great players,” he said. “We're (an) extremely close group. Our coaches have done a great job developing that trust and that relationship with our players, and I think that's one of the keys to turning this thing around.”

How was he able to build that chemistry so quickly?

Just take a look at his background. Moving up from the high school ranks — and dealing with young men on a daily basis — has been a tremendous asset to draw upon.

“In high school kids aren't much different than college kids,” he said. “It's all about relationships and that bond.”

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