Malzahn swiftly hires vet, protege as coordinators
New Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was flanked by his fresh-faced
protege, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, and silver-haired
defensive boss Ellis Johnson on Friday.
He introduced the 29-year-old Lashlee and 60-year-old Johnson at
a news conference three days after his hiring. Lashlee will make
$350,000 a year while Johnson received an $800,000 salary, though
Auburn hasn’t released the lengths of their deals or other
Lashlee’s hire seemed almost a foregone conclusion.
He spent three years as Malzahn’s quarterback at Shiloh
Christian High School in Arkansas and has worked under him in the
prep ranks and at three different colleges, including their initial
stop in Auburn.
”He’s one of the bright, young and up-and-coming offensive
minds in all of college football,” Malzahn said. ”He’s been my
right-hand man at three different stops in college. At Arkansas he
was my right-hand man. I relied on him a lot here at Auburn. He
deserves a lot of the credit for our offensive success that we had
and of course this past year at Arkansas State, just did a
phenomenal job. I know exactly what I’m getting.
”He’s going to give me the flexibility to help with the offense
and at the same time be a head coach and do the things that head
coach has to do.”
Malzahn said the two will collaborate on play calling duties in
an offense built upon a relentlessly fast tempo and a style that is
heavy on the run and play-action passes. It worked well enough in
2010 that the Tigers won a national title and quarterback Cam
Newton took the Heisman Trophy. Lashlee spent last season as
Malzahn’s offensive coordinator at Arkansas State after a year
running the offense for FCS team Samford.
”Our identity as an offense will be to play fast and
physical,” Lashlee said. ”That will be ingrained in our guys from
Day One. You can’t have one without the other. We will play
extremely fast and we want to be very physical at every
”We’ll have a physical downhill running game, we’ll also be
explosive in the passing game and be very aggressive taking
vertical shots down the field and stretching the field
horizontally. That’s our philosophy. We want to make teams defend
the whole field. I think the biggest intangible and thing we’ve got
to instill as an offense, and this has always been our philosophy,
They’ve got an uphill battle. Auburn ranked 115th in total
offense last season. Lashlee and Malzahn are familiar with all
three quarterbacks who started games: Kiehl Frazier, Clint Moseley
and Jonathan Wallace.
Lashlee said that familiarity is a plus but they’ll still
install the offense ”like they’ve never heard it before.”
He broke the national record with 171 career touchdowns passes
under Malzahn and led Shiloh to three state championship games and
”One of the most beneficial things I have is that I played
quarterback in this system and now coach in it,” Lashlee said.
”When I’m coaching quarterbacks, I can identify with them even
moreso than most. I know what they’re seeing. I know what they’re
thinking. I’ve done those drops. I’ve thrown that route. I know all
that. Not only am I telling them, `here’s what you should do,’ but
they know I’ve done it.
”It sometimes adds some credibility and resonates better. I get
what they’re going through.”
Johnson, whose hiring was announced on Thursday, can relate to
the challenge of defenses facing Malzahn’s offense.
His South Carolina defense faced Malzahn and Newton twice in
2010, losing in the regular season and the Southeastern Conference
championship game. Johnson would grumble that the proliferation of
hurry-up styles ”is starting to deteriorate some of college
He’s backtracking now.
”Did I say that? Translated into Latin, that means, `Somebody
help us, we can’t stop this,”’ Johnson said. ”All of us defensive
coordinators complained over the last 5-15 years. Gus wasn’t the
first one but he kind of put it in warp speed.”
His base defense is a four-man front with two inside linebackers
and five defensive backs.
”It will be our foundation,” Johnson said. ”But Coach Malzahn
wants an attacking, multiple defense, and that’s what we’re going
to be. You can only be as multiple as your talent allows you to be.
As we evaluate personnel on this football team, we’ll find ways to
create packages that complement that 4-2-5.”
The coaching change has potentially taken a toll on a recruiting
class that has been ranked among the top 10. Recruiting Web sites
reported Friday that five-star linebacker Reuben Foster of Auburn
High School has decommitted.