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Niziolek: Say hello to Auburn’s version of the Odd Couple

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn works with the offensive lineman at spring practice on March 29, 2016.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn works with the offensive lineman at spring practice on March 29, 2016. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Gus Malzahn probably doesn’t know the difference between old school and new school hip-hop. He’s probably the last person on earth who would lay down a freestyle rap or have interest in appearing on a Food Network show.

Herb Hand is far more eccentric.

The easy-going offensive line coach Malzahn hired in January is willing to drop a beat with recruits and has an appeareance on the reality series “Chopped” under his belt.

Felix and Oscar have come to Auburn.

“We're kinda like the Odd Couple in a way,” Hand said. “He's a lot like Felix and I'm a lot like Oscar, I guess. Some of the young people in the crowd may not even get that reference.”

As dated as the reference to a play turned film and television sitcom from the 60's and 70's might be, it’s one that will resonate with Auburn fans that have come to know Malzahn’s buttoned-up personality. "The Odd Couple" centers around a pair of mismatched roommates with the neat, neurotic Felix constantly butting heads with the laid-back Oscar.

Malzahn is aware of the character he is in Hand’s metaphor.

“Me and Herb? (chuckles) He’s on one end and I’m on the other,” Malzahn said. “I’ll tell you he’s got a personality. He’s got a good personality, but we’re different.”

The two coaches have a long history together going back to their time at Tulsa under Todd Graham. Malzahn was the Golden Hurricane’s offensive coordinator for two seasons (2007-08) while Hand coached the team’s offensive line.

The two established a quick friendship despite their divergent personalities and Hand’s willingness to poke fun at Malzahn’s focused demeanor with a series of nicknames including Jimmy Neutron.

“At the end of our time at Tulsa I just started calling him G-unit,” Hand said.

Hand has retired the nicknames, but his jovial personality has arrived on the Plains intact.

“This is a serious business, football at Auburn is a serious business I get and respect that, if you talk to any of the offensive lineman they are going to tell you that every day we are going to approach our job with the seriousness it deserves,” Hand said. “But if you can’t bring a little brevity to this situation, if you can’t laugh at yourself, if you can’t laugh at and with each other, this can be a tough gig.”

Hand spent much of his time Tuesday meeting with local reporters for the first time fielding questions about his relationship about Malzahn. His genuine admiration for his new boss as a person and coach was easy to see.

“I've always said that Gus is a special person in that is greatest ability is that he brings out the best in people, he really does,” Hand said. “He's brought out the best in me as a coach and as a person and that what he has an uncanny ability to do.”

If Malzahn is on the hot seat after back-to-back disappointing seasons, Hands isn’t concerned. In this case, Hand sees Malzahn getting the last laugh.

“I firmly believe that the best is ahead for us,” Hand said.