AUBURN, Ala. – The memory of that crystal-ball run from two years ago is forever ingrained in the minds of every Auburn player, coach and fan.
A chief catalyst of that title glory is coming back to the Plains, to the substantial delight of many Auburn supporters.
Former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who championed Cam Newton and the Tigers to a 14-0 season in 2010, was welcomed back with open arms Tuesday to become Auburn's 26th head coach following a one-year stop at Arkansas State.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to become the head football coach at Auburn. It’s an outstanding institution with a storied football program that I had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand for three years,” Malzahn said in a statement upon his hiring. “I deeply appreciate the confidence that Dr. (Jay) Gogue, (athletic director) Jay Jacobs and the search committee had in my ability to turn this program around and to bring Auburn back to national prominence.
“This is a homecoming for me and I look forward to being reunited with the Auburn family.”
Malzahn replaces his former boss, Gene Chizik, who was fired nine days ago after Auburn's 3-9 season – the first year following Malzahn's departure.
In 2010, Newton won the Heisman Trophy under Malzahn, in an offense which set nine school records. Those included 41.2 points per game, 499.2 yards per game, 41 rushing touchdowns and 31 passing touchdowns.
In his first year as a head coach, Malzahn led the Red Wolves to a 9-3 record and Sun Belt championship, winning his last seven games and leading Arkansas State to a GoDaddy.com Bowl berth.
“Gus Malzahn is a proven winner,” Jacobs said. “He is without question one of the brightest minds in college football and he has won everywhere he has been. He knows our state and region and he understands what it will take to turn our program around.” Upon landing at Auburn University Regional Airport just after 7 p.m. ET Tuesday, Malzahn was greeted by a few hundred visitors. Malzahn told the crowd of fans, “We’re going to get back to winning championships!”
The introductory press conference will be held late Tuesday night in the Auburn Athletic Complex Rane Room, with hundreds of reporters, players and university officials on hand in the same room as that glass case displaying the crystal ball. The search committee of Jacobs, former Heisman winners Bo Jackson and Pat Sullivan and former fullback Mac Crawford, needed a little more than a week to land on Malzahn.
“Coach Malzahn was the clear unanimous choice of our search committee (he) will also be an outstanding ambassador for Auburn University, and that was important to the committee,” Jacobs said. “This is a great day for Auburn football and Auburn University.”
Sophomore offensive lineman Chad Slade tweeted in reaction, “Glad to have Coach Malzahn back already ready for next year!!” Sophomore cornerback Jonathan Mincy added, “Gus Malzahn Is Back! War Eagle Family!”
And sophomore safety Jermaine Whitehead chipped in, “I believe in AUBURN and LOVE IT!”
Auburn selected the 2010 Broyles Award winner over the 2009 honoree – Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was also in the running.
Rumors continued on outside web sites into Tuesday night that Smart did have an offer in place, and a deal was close to being struck. University officials did not immediately disclose the degree to which Smart, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Louisville’s Charlie Strong, former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino or any other candidates were considered.