War Eagle Extra

Auburn football: Cam Newton benefits from Gus Malzahn's mentoring

QB, coordinator create strong bond, offense

By ANDY BITTER

abitter@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. — In media settings, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn rarely shows emotion, an air of nervousness lying beneath his placid demeanor.

Quarterback Cam Newton said that’s hardly the case on the field.

“He gives me high-fives every now and then when I throw a touchdown or two,” Newton said. “The wrath comes down when I make a wrong decision or throw an interception. You have to take the good and the bad.”

If there’s one player on the roster who has seen the gamut of Malzahn’s emotions, it’s Newton.

Rarely a player-coach connection has been stronger than the quarterback and offensive coordinator, especially in this case, because Malzahn also serves as Newton’s position coach.

The two have spent countless hours together in meetings and doing film work, student and pupil with a similar goal: maximize the efficiency and production of Auburn’s offense.

“During recruiting, he mentioned that me and him have to be very close,” Newton said. “I had to start trusting him. Anything that he tells me, I’m going to try to do it 100 percent.

“He’s not only my position coach and offensive coordinator, he’s my father figure away from home. A person like that, he’s a great leader to look to. I’m striving to be great every single day.”

Tight bonds like that aren’t uncommon. Chris Todd practically lived at the Auburn athletic complex last year, seen warming a cup of soup for dinner before late-night film review on numerous occasions.

Todd spent so much time with Malzahn, he began mimicking some of the coach’s speech, sprinkling the word “execute” into many of his answers and, on at least one occasion, using a Malzahn favorite, saying an opponent would make Auburn’s offense “earn it.”

Newton hasn’t begun talking like Malzahn yet, but he has grown accustomed to Malzahn’s ways, having spent the past 10 months under his tutelage.

The quarterback even has a solid relationship with Malzahn’s wife, Kristi, with whom he exchanges regular text messages.

“Miss Kristi? What doesn’t she do?” Newton said. “She’s one of the most honest people on this earth. She’s always telling me what she thinks I should do, always giving me her opinion.”

“They’re always worrying. If they weren’t always worrying, then that’s when I’d be worrying. I know they have my best interests at heart.”

Newton appears at ease in Malzahn’s offense, which the coordinator has catered to the quarterback’s talents.

Newton leads the team in passing and rushing, on pace to throw for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same season, something nobody in SEC history — not even Tim Tebow — has done.

“Last year, you didn’t have to prepare for the quarterback running the ball,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. “Now, you not only have to prepare for the running back running downhill but then the quarterback running downhill on you.

“They definitely look better, faster, more physical. They’re playing with more confidence. I think a lot of that is the quarterback.”

Despite Auburn’s gaudy numbers (it is first in the SEC and 11th nationally in total offense), Malzahn, true to his nature, remains unsatisfied.

“In his position, you can never be satisfied,” Newton said. “It would be more weird to see Gus Malzahn say: ‘Good job, guys,’ rather than him saying: ‘Get after their butt.’

“That’s Coach Malzahn for you. He’s always wanting to be better. That’s what I want in an offensive coordinator — somebody who’s always going to be relentless in looking for success.”

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