NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (WHNT)- Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn addressed members of the media Sunday morning. This was the final time he’ll face the cameras before Monday’s BCS National Championship Game. Malzahn answered a variety of questions from how Auburn plans to attack Florida State and how many trick plays he plans to call. Malzahn said he hoped to keep FSU off balance and quote, “A lot of people say we run trick plays, but we call them special plays. The bottom line is to score points.”
The next time we’ll see Coach Malzahn will be when the Tigers take the field Monday night.
WHNT Sports’ Ryan Cody and Chase Horn attended the news conference and will have full details tonight on WHNT News 19 at 5:30, 9:00 and 10:00pm. The text version of today’s news conference is below the photo gallery.
It’s been a good week. Our guys since we’ve arrived here have been focused. We’ve tried to keep this as game like and game week like as possible. We’ve had some solid practices, and we’re just ready for the game to get here and play and see what happens.
Gus, all those years ago when you’re driving your little red car and taking players down to Little Rock to know what it’s like to go watch a championship, did you ever think you’d be here and do you ever think about that moment? You know, you always think back at your experiences and the things that helped get you to this point. I was very blessed to coach some outstanding players and teams in high school and had a chance to go to a couple of championship games and win a few. They’re all special in their own right, and a lot of great memories.
You talk about keeping this game week as close to routine as possible. What’s tomorrow going to be like for you? I know you like to wake up early. What will your game day routine be like? It’ll be the same as it has been. I like to get up early. We already have the game plan in, but we’ll hit the film room early, me and Coach Lashlee and Kodi Burns and we’ll try to go over and make sure we’re not missing anything, try to look at each situation that can possibly come up in the game and have an answer, make sure we’re on the same page, and just be as prepared as we can.
Gus, why was it so important to you to work with Adam to get Charlie Patrick here, and what will it mean to you and will you say something to him before the game, to both Charlie, Rob Coleman, Josh Floyd? Yeah, first of all, Charlie Patrick was the athletic director that gave me my first job. I learned a lot from him. When you get to this point, you always think back to the people that helped you get here, and very blessed with Rob Coleman and all the coaches in high school that helped me get to a spot to be able to coach college. Just like to thank all the college coaches that also helped.
I’m a real blessed guy, and I’m not up here on my own.
As far as trick plays go, do you have like a top 100? How many do you put in for a game of this magnitude? Well, a lot of people say we run trick plays, but from our players’ standpoint we call them special plays because we actually work on them and we have certain situations we like to run them, and it’s just all a matter of putting pressure on the defense and really bottom line is scoring points, no matter how you do that.
Each game is very unique. This one also is. We’ll always carry some things that we feel like will have a high chance of being successful if given the right situation.
What is it about your running attack that gets people moving in a way that you can gash them the way you do? One of the players at Florida State talked about smoke and mirrors and the deception that’s involved. Can you explain that? First of all, to have a successful run game you have to be good up front. Our offensive line has gotten better each game. They’re very well, they work well together, and at the same time coaching is about trying to keep people off balance, try to keep them guessing, try to make their keys lie to them and just keep them off balance, and I think that’s what all coaches are trying to do.
I read that after you were hired you told players that Auburn was going to have the biggest turnaround in college football, and I’m wondering is that true, and if so, are even you surprised at what’s happened since then? Well, that was one of our goals. We felt like we had some talent. I was there before so I was familiar with a lot of the guys, and we just told our guys that, hey, we’re not going to think about or worry about what happened last year. We’re going to put everything behind us. Everybody is going to get a fresh start. We told our coaches don’t watch any game film from last year and get any preconceived ideas. We wanted everybody to have a fresh start and just move forward.
Gus, obviously Florida State hasn’t really been pushed by anybody this year. Your defense has given up at least 35 four times. What do you see that you have to do defensively to rattle Jameis Winston, get him out of his rhythm? How do you expect to do that? Well, I think the bottom line is you’ve got to keep them off balance, and that’s a huge challenge. They’ve been machine like on offense. They run it well. They throw it well. They’ve got NFL wide receivers that put people in one on one situations.
Coach Ellis Johnson is one of the best in the business. He’s been in big games before. He’s got a very good plan, and we’ll just have to do our best to try to keep him off balance.
This is your first time being a head coach at this stage. There’s a little bit of a this is your life kind of feel to this situation. Just wonder what you’re feeling emotionally now and how you think you’ll manage things tomorrow night. Well, all year we’ve taken the approach just to take it one game at a time and not let our mind go any farther than that, and that’s been my approach personally. I’m trying my best to enjoy the moment, but the bottom line is we’ve got a job to do, and as a coach your responsibility is to have your team prepared as possible and to stay in that routine, and in this setting this week, obviously that’s a challenge. But our team and our coaches have done that all year, and I feel so far up to this point as a group we’ve done that.
You guys aren’t one dimensionally as good as you are with the run, but if you are playing from behind at any point tomorrow night are you still good enough with the run that you can attack and catch up with the run? You know, every game is different the way it unfolds. We do feel good about our passing game even though we have not passed the football a lot, probably the second half of the year, because we haven’t had to. But we do have a lot of confidence in Nick Marshall to throw it, and we feel like we’ve got some receivers that have gotten better. It just matters how the game unfolds.
Nick has played very well since the LSU game, he’s limited his mistakes, only thrown one interception. Talk about how he’s bounced back from that one loss and how that’s helped the team as a whole? First of all, Nick Marshall didn’t go through spring. You usually learn a lot about your quarterback in the spring with the different scenarios, and we were actually learning about his strengths as we were playing on Saturdays. We started out trying to be balanced and throwing the football, and then after the LSU game we had an off week and we were able to step back and really evaluate his strengths and really our overall offensive strengths and tried not to do things that we weren’t real strong at.
That’s kind of defined who we were moving forward, and I think that really helped.
Gus, Art Briles at the Fiesta Bowl was talking about how he coached high school for a lot of years, you coached high school for a lot of years, Chad Morris, the offensive coordinator at Clemson, high school background. How many high school coaches do you think are out there that could make a jump to college and be really good college coaches? Oh, there’s some great high school coaches out there that just given the opportunity could be doing the exact same things I’m doing here. I’m just one of the few that were blessed to get an opportunity to coach in college because the thing about football, the Xs and Os and dealing with players, they’re exactly the same in high school as they are college. The biggest difference is just dealing with the recruiting part, the media part and the boosters. But some of these big high schools also have some of that.
Just what exactly was that first job as the rag man, and where was it and how did you get it exactly? My first job was actually at Cintas,a uniform company. I graduated in December so I was waiting on a job. At the time I was just happy to have a job and looking forward to coaching, and it was a very good experience for me.
I talked with some of your players yesterday, some of them called you quirky, they said you sometimes make up words to motivate them. Tell me about your special relationship that you have with these players and how it manifests itself into winning games? Well, first of all, even when I was a high school coach, I think it’s extremely important that you develop relationships with your players. I think it’s very important that your players know that you care about them more than what they can do on the football field. I think even more can be said for coaching college because you’ve got to win, the pressures to win and everything that goes with that. I’m just very fortunate that we’ve got some great players. We’re extremely close group. Our coaches have done a great job developing that trust and that relationship with our players, and I think that’s one of the keys to turning this thing around, going from three wins to coming up here in one year.
When you’re on the field tomorrow landmarking, benchmarking, will you take a moment to just take in the scene, or will you be completely focused on everything? I think when you first go out there on the field, you get the environment around you and you’re able to reflect a little bit. And then when you go back out there for real, you’ve got to flip the switch and get your mind on your business and don’t let anything distract you.
I was reading an article about your wife, and she spoke about how she’s tried to encourage you to be more positive, show that different side to your players, and she’d actually mentioned that Cam Newton had come to her at one point and said I don’t really think Coach likes me. Can you talk about the influence that she’s had on you and how that’s helped improve your relationship with your players? Yeah, there’s no doubt. Kristi is a big part of my coaching career, and I wouldn’t be here without her. We do this thing together. She is my accountability because I’m a one track focused mind, and sometimes I need her to – because that situation you’re talking about, that was before the first game, and I was extremely hard on Cam and would push him and push him, and she just noticed that, hey, you need to make sure he knows you care about him. So that night before the game I let him know I’m a real person and that I care about him, and that helped our relationship moving forward.
Jimbo was asked earlier about what it would be like a year from now if this were a semifinal game and there was still one more to come. Can you describe how different it will be a year from now? You know, I really don’t think about tomorrow, much less a year from now. But you just try to keep it as game like as possible. I think you stay in a routine and you just take it week by week.
Gus, you speak with such reference about high school football and coaches and your background. When you decided to make the leap to college ball, why did you do it, and were you at all reluctant to do it? Well, I was very blessed, I was at three different high schools for five years, and as a goal setter you set goals. In 2005 we won the state championship, we were one of the top teams in the country, and we’d reached our goals. Our school was actually splitting, so it was kind of a transition period at that time, and then I got the opportunity to go to University of Arkansas. It was a really easy transition time as far as that’s concerned, and I was given a great opportunity to go straight to the SEC and be a coordinator, so the timing was very good.
You coached Cam Newton a couple years ago and the team won the National Championship. Now you’re facing Jameis Winston, a guy in a similar situation. Can you compare Cam Newton to Jameis Winston and what you’ve seen in preparation? Well, Jameis is an outstanding player. I actually recruited him myself and know him personally. You could tell in high school he was a special player, and what he’s done this year has been amazing. Any time you win the Heisman Trophy, there’s a lot of good things that happen.
How do you find the rhythm offensively that you had at the end of the season after the layoff, and does the experience of being the offensive coordinator a couple years ago, do you draw on that to try to find that rhythm? I think that’s the big challenge. You’re playing really good football and then you have a 30 day layoff, and there’s a lot of challenges that go with that. We saw some of that in 2010.
Hopefully I can use that experience to get us off to a faster start. When a defensive coordinator has 30 days to break everything down, there’s a lot of things that go with that, and you’ve just got to predict on the adjustments and what they’re going to take away. There’s a feeling out period when you have a 30 day layoff that is a little bit not normal. So there will be a feeling out period I’m sure on both sides, and after the first quarter things will probably settle down.
Gus, talking about your transition from high school to the SEC, were there any moments that you remember that you recall where you thought, this is a little tougher than I bargained for, and on the flipside, was there a moment or a particular setting where you thought, I know I can do this, I’m ready for this? I think any time you go into a new situation, there’s questions. You just try to work as hard as you possibly can. But there wasn’t any situation I felt like that I was uncomfortable or anything like that. But any time you have a new situation, until you do it, you really don’t know.
With Jameis being from Alabama, do you have a little bit better of a book on him than some other teams that may have played him had? Like I said, I got a chance to recruit him. I know his family. He’s a very talented player. But really the bottom line is as a coach you go by the year, that year, and what you see on film. Like I said, he’s found a lot of different ways to beat people.
When is the last time you called a defensive play? The last time I called a defensive play? I’ve given advice, but it’s been a while.
What’s that like with Ellis? He says that you really kind of sit down there and watch games with him, go over things. What kind of feedback do you give him? Well, I think any time you have a veteran coach, we share ideas what he sees from a defensive coordinator standpoint, what I see from an offensive standpoint, and you put your heads together. Ellis is one of the best in the business. I have a lot of confidence in him. He is very good at in game adjustments. He’s a veteran guy. He doesn’t get too high or too low, and that’s been very good for our defense.
Jimbo said he’s got so many notes and scouting reports on you guys, he feels like he’d have to play you five times in order to use it all. I wonder if there’s a sense of information overload on your staff as far as how much time you’ve had to gather and prepare stuff on Florida State. Yeah, I think any time you have 30 days you’re going to have all the information and then some, and then as a coach you’ve just got to filter all that and predict the best you can on what they’re going to do offensively, defensively and special teams, and then I think it’s very important that you self scout yourself. So we’ve tried to do a great job of that, even like we’re our own opponent just to see what they’re seeing, and then you match up.
Like I said, the first quarter is a feeling out time, and then after that things usually settle down and then you can actually get in a rhythm.
I know you’ve been asked a lot about your high school days. How much do you think you having that experience of high school kids has helped you with these young men as opposed to some of the guys that come from the NFL and are used to dealing with older men? Yeah, I think it’s the relationships, there’s no doubt. In high school kids aren’t much different than college kids. It’s all about relationships and that bond. I know that’s given me an advantage.
At what point when you came back to Auburn did you think you were going to be able to turn this program around, and how successfully did you think you were going to be able to do it? Well, Auburn is a great program and used to winning championships, so I knew that we were going to get it turned around. I didn’t know how quick. There was a lot of questions when we first got there. We did a lot of Dr. Phil ing early, and our guys came together and they believed. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to our seniors. They’ve kept our team together, and this is truly a team. We’re not a group of individuals, and each week somebody different has stepped up and they’ve just been a joy to coach.