Ryan Black commentary: The more Gus Malzahn wins, the better it gets for high school coaches

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 28, 2014 

AUBURN, Ala. — Don’t tell Jay Jacobs winning is anything other than a positive.

Repeat: In his long career as a player, coach and administrator, Auburn’s athletic director said he hasn’t “found a downside to winning yet.” If “downside” isn’t the right word, perhaps “risk” is. As in, the more success a team has, the likelier it is prospective suitors will come calling to whisk coaches away.

The Tigers already have a lot of experience handling these matters, after all. Thanks to his incredible debut season on the Plains, Gus Malzahn became a hot commodity. Whether it was the Texas job or the Cleveland Browns opening, Malzahn’s name seemed to crop up in rumors whenever a top-tier college or NFL position became available. And the speculation didn’t cease even after he agreed to a new contract with Auburn, which is set to pay him $3.85 million per season starting this fall and increasing by $250,000 in each subsequent year.

Even Jacobs didn’t expect he’d be renegotiating Malzahn’s contract after just one season — and honestly, who can blame him? No one could have predicted Auburn would go from 3-9 overall (and 0-8 in the SEC) in 2012 to within 13 seconds of capturing the national championship one year later.

Yes, Malzahn netted a nice, hefty raise thanks to the turnaround campaign. But his golden touch has extended far beyond himself. In the month following the BCS championship game, five members of Auburn’s support staff left for other jobs.

Jacobs was quick to point out the quintet all “moved up into a bigger role.”

“If they can’t reach their full potential as far as a title goes here because it’s not available, we’re just so glad they’re able to go somewhere and impact student-athlete’s lives in a positive way because of their experiences they’ve had here at Auburn,” he said.

The one thread linking the five departed coaches together?

Each one of them was once in the high school ranks.

That’s no coincidence.

“If you want to be at a place that can help promote your professional expertise, than you come to Auburn, because that’s obviously what happened this past year,” Jacobs said. “Certainly winning has a lot to do with it, but Gus having been a high school coach, bringing in high school coaches, he knows how to talk to and prepare them because he went along the way himself. … He’s a great teacher for those former high school coaches so it gives them a chance.”

It’s a role Malzahn takes seriously. Time and again over the course of the season, he spoke of being “blessed” to be in such a position. Deflecting credit, Malzahn believes countless other high school coaches could do the same if given the opportunity. That’s why he’s so close with Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris; the tight-knit trio represents three of the flag bearers for “high school coaches done good” at the collegiate level.

And as long as Malzahn is in charge, he’s going to see to it that those numbers continue to grow. He wants to give other high school coaches the same chance he was given in 2006, when then-Arkansas coach Houston Nutt hired him away from Springdale (Ark.) High School to become the Razorbacks’ offensive coordinator. Those support staff spots allow him the flexibility to do just that; even if they’re not always on-field coaching roles, it’s still a job in the SEC.

Is there a higher form of credibility in college football today?

Saying you worked at an SEC school in this era — which has seen the conference play in eight straight BCS title games, walking away victorious in seven of those matchups — is akin to getting a giant stamp of approval placed on your resume.

With the five openings on his support staff, it should come as no surprise that Malzahn has already dipped into the high school ranks, hiring Byrnes (S.C) High School coach Bobby Bentley on Monday as an offensive analyst. Despite the fact Bentley was at the one of the Palmetto State’s most dominant programs, no one could reasonably expect he would pass up the chance to work at Auburn.

But that’s what winning does: Coaches land higher-profile positions, which in turn leads to others moving up and getting their chance to shine.

It’s unlikely Jacobs will change his stance that winning is flawless, plain and simple.

As long as Malzahn keeps doing that, the only worry he’ll have is keeping his staff intact.

Take note, high school coaches.

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