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

terms.

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

position.

”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,

is discipline.”

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

two titles.

”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

football.”

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.