Gene Chizik stated repeatedly throughout his introductory press conference as Auburn’s new head coach 16 days ago that he wanted to return the Tigers back to their smashmouth roots.
He feels like he’s found a kindred spirit in Gus Malzahn.
Malzahn, who was hired away from Tulsa on Sunday, was officially introduced as Auburn’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at a Monday night press conference at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.
Chizik and Malzahn briefly outlined what they envision in the Tigers’ near future on the offensive side of the ball.
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“Philosophically, we’ve got to be on the same page with what I felt is important for Auburn,” Chizik said. “As I said from Day 1 when I took this job, when it comes to our offense, I feel like in this league, we’ve got to start with the running game. And that’s very important to me.”
While Malzahn’s offenses have earned the dreaded “spread” tag — a red flag for an Auburn fan base weary of such schemes after the failed Tony Franklin experiment — the new coordinator spent a good chunk of his time Monday falling in lockstep with Chizik’s vision of a power-based offense.
“We’re going to play smashmouth football,” Malzahn said. “We’re going to set up the pass with the run, and I really think the difference is with most run/play-action teams from what we’re going to do is we’re going to throw the ball vertically down the field and we’re going to do that quite often.”
Malzahn pointed out his history as a college coach as proof. At Arkansas in 2006, the Razorbacks finished fourth in the country in rushing yardage.
While senior quarterback Paul Smith threw for over 5,000 yards in Malzahn’s first season at Tulsa — which ranked first nationally in total offense in 2007 — the running game was not neglected. The Golden Hurricane had a nearly even split in passing plays vs. running plays.
This year, Tulsa ran the ball on 61 percent of its plays and still finished second nationally in total offense.
“We will build around our strengths for next year,” said Malzahn, who spent part of Monday evaluating Auburn’s returning players. “But you will see the same philosophy — the pace, the run play-action, the throwing the ball vertically down the field. That won’t change.”
Malzahn will continue to coach at Tulsa as it prepares for a GMAC Bowl appearance against Ball State in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 6. He’s flying back to Tulsa today for practice but will spend his nights making phone calls to prospective Auburn recruits.
Once the bowl game ends, he’ll join Auburn full time.
In the meantime, Chizik, with Malzahn’s input, will continue to assemble an offensive staff.
“Staff chemistry to me is paramount,” said Chizik, who said he has no timeline for finalizing his coaching staff. “Gus and I have already discussed some different guys, so we’re going to be on the same page on that.”
Chizik said he’ll give Malzahn space to operate freely.
“The bottom line is, when you hire great people, you’ve got to give them the opportunity to run their show,” Chizik said. “I know with Gus what I’m getting. I’ve seen it. I’ve done my homework on this one. I feel very comfortable with Gus running the offense. Period. Working knowledge, absolutely. Micromanaging, absolutely not.”
Although the two had no background together, Chizik said he mentioned Malzahn specifically during his job interview with Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs earlier this month.
“As a defensive coach, (with) a defensive background, when you watch other people on film you’re always looking for offensive philosophies that give defenses problems,” said Chizik, who first made contact with Malzahn around Christmas. “I was very impressed every time that I was able to see some Tulsa film.”
Malzahn, who called Auburn a “dream job,” said he came away impressed from a trip to the Plains in 2006 during his lone season with Arkansas.
“There are certain places that you go away from and say, ‘Man, that’s an awesome place,’ ” Malzahn said. “We actually won that football game that day and the crowd was different. They were classy. The atmosphere was second to none. … And I just knew it was something special.”
Note: Chizik said he’s had conversations with defensive end Antonio Coleman, defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks and cornerback Jerraud Powers, three juniors who could elect to submit their names for the NFL draft. “We would love for all those guys to be a part of Auburn for one more year,” Chizik said. Coleman intends to announce his intentions at a press conference in his native Mobile on Saturday.