Six years ago, Gus Malzahn was a high school coach with an innovative system. Now, the Auburn offensive coordinator is one of the hottest coaching commodities in the college game.
While he made progress in establishing himself in that regard his first few years at Arkansas, Tulsa and Auburn, he gained national recognition last year as he helped quarterback Cam Newton set SEC and NCAA records, win the Heisman Trophy and be the No. 1 overall selection in last week’s NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers.
Malzahn was the guest speaker at the Columbus/Phenix City Auburn Club on Thursday at Green Island Country Club. Earlier, he spoke with the Ledger-Enquirer’s Andy Bitter.
What kind of pro will Cam Newton be?
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He’s got a chance to be a great pro. I mean, he’s got everything it takes to be a great quarterback: He’s got the mental aspect; he’s a great competitor; he’s as tough as they come; and he’s a winner.
A lot of people cite the Jon Gruden special on ESPN as saying Newton didn’t call complicated plays in college. Your response?
Here’s the deal: We’re simple with our communication, but that’s the only thing simple with what we do. I know a lot of people made a big deal of that, but that’s not his fault that we’re simple with our communication. What we ask our quarterback to do after the communication is probably as tough as anybody in college football. How fast we go, to process things, to communicate things and our reads. We do a lot of different things.
Why do you think people are so skeptical that his game will translate to the pros?
That’s a great question. I don’t think college football has ever seen anything like him that can be that successful that quick, that can do the things that he can do. And so I think there’s a lot of questions because they haven’t seen anything like him.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said he questions Newton’s motivation once he becomes a millionaire. Your reaction to that?
[Laughs] Cam is one of the most motivated players I’ve ever coached. He hates to lose. Matter of fact, he refuses to lose. And I expect him to carry over that same mentality to the next level. Cam’s the type that if you challenge him, he’ll rise to the occasion. Cam hears all this stuff. He’ll use that to motivate him. I promise you that.
Which skills of his will translate the best to the NFL?
His mechanics are very good. His decision making is very good. He can make every throw that anybody asks. His decision making after things break down, I think that’s one of his strengths. At the next level, you have to have that, because things will break down with the amount of talent on the defensive side. He’s very coachable. He’s one of the most coachable players I’ve ever coached.
What about areas to improve? You mentioned the center exchange.
Yeah, it’s just something he’s never done before. He was in a shotgun system at Florida, a shotgun system at Blinn, a shotgun system here. So it’s just going to be a matter of the transition from under center. But, if you really look at the pro game, it looks to me like about 50 percent of the time most teams are in a shotgun. So I think that’s fairly overrated, to be honest with you.
What do you think about the pressure he’s facing as the No. 1 pick and being the new face of the Panthers’ franchise?
You look at what he went through last year; he deals with pressure unlike anybody I’ve ever seen. He has the ability to use that to motivate him, and he has the unique ability to rise to the occasion. He plays his best football when he’s under the most pressure. And that’s a rarity.
I assume you would have taken him No. 1.
In my opinion, it’s like passing over (Michael) Jordan.
Does he compare to any quarterback you’ve coached or scouted?
Nobody. Nobody. I hear people compare him Naw. They don’t know. They don’t know what I know.
That he’s not like anybody else.