War Eagle Extra

Gus Malzahn ‘doesn’t blame’ Rhett Lashlee for going out on his own

Coach Gus Malzahn knew offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was seeking out job opportunities going into the Sugar Bowl.

Malzahn, who was in Mobile on Wednesday afternoon visiting Auburn players participating in the Senior Bowl, discussed Lashlee’s departure at length for the first time.

Lashlee left the program in early January to become the offensive coordinator at UConn.

“He applied for a couple head jobs and all that,” Malzahn said. “I knew it was a possibility.”

It was a departure from what Malzahn told the media leading up to the game when he was asked if there would be any additional staff turnover beyond defensive backs coach Wes McGriff.

“Yeah, yeah, I mean, we’re playing in the Sugar Bowl,” Malzahn said.

Lashlee outlined his reasons for leaving in brief statements to his current and former employers’ official websites stressing his desire to run his own offense, he expanded on those comments during an interview with a Arkansas radio station.

“Sometimes you have to make tough decisions to maybe put yourself in position to take the next step,” Lashlee said.

While Malzahn gave Lashlee playcalling duties earlier this season, the coach was reluctant to relinquish complete control of the offense to his longtime protégé.

“He was wanting to do his own thing, and I don’t blame him,” Malzahn said. “We had been together a long time.”

Malzahn has reversed course with recently hired new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, a former Auburn offensive analyst.

Lindsey will call plays, work exclusively with the quarterbacks, make personnel decisions and get to make wholesale changes to the offense’s terminology.

Malzahn even pledged to give up the clipboard as he patrols the sidelines, a decision he isn’t sure he would have made if Lashlee was still Auburn’s offensive coordinator.

“I don’t know,” Malzahn said of giving up the clipboard for Rhett. “I just decided the other day it was about time.”

Malzahn’s hesitation doesn’t mean he sees Lashlee struggling up in the AAC.

“He’s a big-time coach,” Malzahn said. “He’s going to do it on his own. I’m proud of him. I think he’s going to do well.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra