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Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee leaving Auburn for same position at UConn

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee on the sidelines with the team playing Vanderbilt Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium
Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee on the sidelines with the team playing Vanderbilt Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium mniziolek@ledger-enquir.eromc

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is leaving the Plains.

Coach Gus Malzahn’s protégé is joining recently rehired UConn coach Randy Edsall to run the Huskies offense.

The Journal Inquirer’s Neill Ostrout reported Lashlee received a 3-year deal with an annual salary of $350,000.

Lashlee’s most recent extension at Auburn signed in March, 2015 called for the assistant to make $600,000 a year through the 2018 season.

The offensive coordinator received a previous raise from $250,000 to $350,000 after the Tigers made a run to the National Title game in January 2014.

UConn’s current athletic director David Benedict provides an Auburn connection to the hire. Benedict left his position as the Auburn athletic department’s chief operating officer in February to join the Huskies athletic administration.

When Auburn arrived in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, Malzahn was asked if UConn requested permission to talk with Lashlee about the football team’s head coaching vacancy. The coach denied any knowledge of an interview taking place.

“I don’t know,” Malzahn said. “Nobody’s said anything to me.”

Lashlee discussed his departure with Auburn’s official website Wednesday night.

“It’s probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve made, definitely in my professional career,” Lashlee said. “Auburn’s very dear to us. I’ve spent a total of six years here, two different times. All four of our kids were born here. We just love everything about Auburn. The Auburn family is always going to be very dear to us and a part of us.”

“The opportunity to work for Randy Edsall, who has had success at a high level and success at UConn, and just have the opportunity to run the offense, and that’s something he’s given me to do. I’m grateful for that.”

Ostrout also reported Lashlee’s coaching duties at UConn will include working with the program’s quarterbacks.

Last year, Connecticut had the worst scoring offense out of 128 FBS schools, averaging a paltry 14.8 points per game while finishing 122nd in total offense with 320 yards of total offense a game.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn issued a statement after the Huskies made their official announcement.

“Rhett has been a valuable asset to our program, helping Auburn to a national championship as a graduate assistant and another national championship appearance in 2013,” Malzahn said. “Our offenses have achieved great success and he has been a big part of that. This is a great opportunity for Rhett to implement and run his own offense. I’ve known Rhett for two decades, and he’s a man of great character and integrity, and this is another step toward his goal to become a head coach. I want to thank Rhett for all of his contributions and his friendship. I want to wish he and his wife Lauren all the best in this new endeavor.”

The 33-year-old spent much of the previous decade working with Malzahn, first as a player at Shiloh Christian High School in Springdale, Arkansas then as a coach. Lashlee’s first job was as a graduate assistant at Arkansas when Malzahn was the program’s offensive coordinator in 2006.

The pair reunited at Auburn in 2009, where Lashlee spent two seasons as a graduate assistant.

When Malzahn accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas State, he brought Lashlee on as the team’s new offensive coordinator.

When they returned to the Plains a year later, they earned national recognition by turning Auburn into an offensive juggernaut. The Tigers averaged 39.5 points per game on the way to the BCS Title game behind the best rushing attack in the country (328 yards per game).

Lashlee was nominated for the Broyles Award as the nation’s best assistant.

“I’m obviously very close with Coach Malzahn,” Lashlee told Auburn’s website. “Our relationship will always be good. He’s been very supportive. I’m very appreciative to him for the opportunity he gave me at Auburn.”

While the offense never reached the same heights, it came close during a six-game win streak in 2016 with Lashlee calling the plays.

Malzahn decided it wasn’t “realistic” to call plays given the demands of a head coach in the SEC.

“My plan in the offseason, was to be more involved like I talked about,” Malzahn said in late September. “Sometimes reality hits you. In this day and time in this league, to be the head coach and call an offense is not realistic, at least for me.”

Auburn averaged 576 yards per game during October, good for second in the nation.

Injuries eventually slowed down the Tigers, but the coaching staff remained optimistic about the future.

The program added high-profile Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham in December with the expectation he would compete with Sean White for the starting job this spring.

Lashlee was an integral part of Auburn’s intense recruiting to land Stidham. Stidham participated in a pair of bowl practices on campus in December as an early enrollee.

“Didn’t end the season the way we wanted, but I think things are set up as good as they can be moving forward,” Lashlee said. “I feel really good about the staff, and really just the offensive personnel that’s in place going into next year. I think it’s set up for Auburn to have a big year.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra

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