Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was running coach Gus Malzahn’s system.
That was never going to change on the Plains.
Lashlee took a substantial pay cut to take the same position at UConn where he will work with head coach Randy Edsall, who spent much of his career coaching the defensive side of the ball.
The offensive coordinator cited the ability to “run the offense” for Edsall as a key factor in leaving Auburn. The statement Malzahn released Wednesday night also made reference to Lashlee’s newly found freedom.
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“This is a great opportunity for Rhett to implement and run his own offense,” Malzahn said. “I've known Rhett for two decades and he's a man of great character and integrity and this is another step towards his goal to become a head coach.”
While Malzahn handed over play calling duties to Lashlee three weeks into the season — an arrangement they tested when Auburn played Texas A&M in 2015 — the ownership of the offense never changed hands.
Lashlee said as much discussing the change back in September.
“He’s still the head coach,” Lashlee said. “I think it would be foolish not to have someone where — it’s his offense. He’s the one who, 20-something years ago, put it together. He’s very involved. During the week, not a lot has changed. He’s still a part of our planning and process, and so is the whole staff. We do it together.”
Malzahn didn’t spend as much time breaking opponents down in the film room, but he was always evasive about his specific role in developing the offensive game plan after putting Lashlee and offensive line coach Herb Hand in charge of the offense.
“I'll still be on top of things and involved but it's going to allow me there for my players more,” Malzahn said. “I think that's the biggest thing, and the other coaches more. It was very refreshing last week from my standpoint as far as a preparation standpoint overall. Just being more of a head coach, game manager and everything that goes with it.”
The biggest adjustment Lashlee said he made to Malzahn’s offense was addition by subtraction. To get Auburn’s offense rolling after a sluggish start Lashlee put some of the more complex concepts in the playbook on the shelf.
“We weren't really clicking very well at all,” Lashlee said. “So we were able to kind of step back and try to simplify things. It allowed us to play faster, maybe not quite as many formations and changes. But it allowed our guys to play faster, adjust better on the move, and maybe just play with a little more confidence. And it probably allowed us to start executing better.”
While Malzahn praised Lashlee’s work — “when he started calling the plays we started to get some rhythm and doing some good things” — there were still questions about Malzahn reasserting control of the offense late in the season.
Malzahn dismissed the idea following the Georgia game, but his ever-present shadow over the offense wasn’t going away.