Evaluation And Development Key For Malzahn's System
By Dan Harralson
Gus Malzahn returns to Auburn to first and foremost win football games. Winning football games obviously is the top priority when running a SEC program, but for Coach Malzahn, evaluation may be the just as important to establish his offensive system's identity.
Winning ways first need to be centered around having an identity and knowing what your team is primarily going to be about year in and year out. The downfall to Auburn's two previous head coaches, Gene Chizik and Tommy Tuberville, resulted in not having an identity at the end. Chizik went from Malzahn's spread offense to wanting to run an I-formation attack. Losing control of the team and lack of player development ultimately resulted in Chizik's firing after just one season without Malzahn. Tuberville had an identity of having a running game along with playing defense at the highest level, but Tuberville lost that identity and it cost him his job as well. Tuberville tried implementing the spread attack in 2008, but it did not work and was something he was not accustomed to as a coach.
Successful coaches will keep what they want their program to be known for each year even with different players coming and going. Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Chris Peterson, Bob Stoops and David Shaw are some of the current successful head coaches that have stuck with their identity and continue to be employed to teach their system. Lane Kiffin could be added to this list and probably should, but USC's probation has created a lack of depth to ensure that his system works at a championship level.
Malzahn is back at Auburn to re-install his offensive system and to get Auburn back to their winning ways. Some of the players Malzahn recruited when he was the offensive coordinator are still there, which helps him in year number one.
I talked to Rod Bramblett, radio announcer and the voice of the Auburn Tigers, about Coach Malzahn imparting his identity on the Auburn program and getting his players to run this system; no matter a player's recruiting ranking.
"There's no question, you've got to develop these guys. Of the many reasons that Gene Chizik is no longer head coach at Auburn, that is one of them. Out of all the guys getting around the cameras on signing day, making a show and announcing where they're going to school and signing letters of intent, 50 percent you'll probably never hear from again (as) a major factor. It's just the nature of the beast," Bramblett said.
"You have to be able to evaluate on the front, but then on the back end — it's an obvious statement, but you've got to develop these players. We'll just have to wait and see because Auburn has brought in some players that weren't on the radar of previous coaching staffs. Peyton Barber, Elijah Daniels, it's just a matter of how this staff has evaluated these guys as compared to the previous staff."
Everyone knows in order to win in the SEC, a team has to field a good defense. Malzahn cannot and is not shying away from recruiting some of best defensive players nationally.
"The guys that they were able to get in here from an offensive standpoint, almost every single one of them have already been in contact from when Gus was here previously. I think looking at the offensive guys, not a whole lot of surprise Auburn was able to bring in highly-skilled offensive players, but Coach Malzahn is really, really proud of his defensive coaches that he brought in here. Lets face it, from a defensive side he did not have those connections and they really had to start from scratch with guys that were already committed and had to go out and fill some holes and revaluate some guys that weren't really looking at Auburn," Bramblett said.
"I think what Auburn did on the defensive line was phenomenal. Guys like Ellis Johnson, Rodney Gardner, and Charlie Harbison on the defesnive side have really done a great job coming in and cultivating relationships and maintaining relationships. Someone like Carl Lawson could have easily jumped ship, but he stuck with Auburn and now has a chance to have a really good career here."
Stanford is a prime example of developing players of maybe a lesser magnitude per recruiting services, but careful evaluation and teaching can get them playing to the best of their abilities. Players maximizing their talent within the system a coach believes in leads to winning games.
Bramblett tends to agree: "It's a wait and see approach, but the Stanford example is a great one. Stanford is a school that is hard to get into. You better have a coach, you better have a staff that can take so called three-stars and turn them into five-stars because the standards to get into to that school are so high, so the pool of kids are not as big."
When you are a private school like Stanford or Vanderbilt, the three-stars are just as important if you develop them and they flourish in your system. The same case goes for coaches that are at traditional football schools trying to live by their identity of how they feel certain players can always systematically win football games. Top 10 recruiting classes are nice to have, but for certain teams filling systematic needs is just as good.
"Any coach that tells you that rankings are important in recruiting, I have a hard time buying into that. Unless you are Alabama, and lets face it, they are at a different level right now. They're just filling in depth right now, but the whole deal is needs. I think that is why you see Auburn signing five defensive lineman, four defensive backs, four wide receivers, three running backs, three quarterbacks. Every one of these positions were needs for Auburn," Bramblett said.
All of these positions were needs as soon as Malzahn took over and were necessities to build Malzahn's offensive identity along with cultivating an SEC-caliber defense.