Six years ago, Gus Malzahn was still coaching high school football in Arkansas.
He was a very successful high school coach and had some powerhouse teams at Springdale High. It's one of the main reasons he was hired by Houston Nutt at Arkansas to be offensive coordinator. Malzahn had some marquee talent on that team, including quarterback Mitch Mustain, that the Hogs wanted.
It wasn't the first time a high school coach was hired as part of a package deal to get his players, and it won't be the last.
The bottom line for Malzahn was that he got his foot in the college coaching door. And once in, he's been a huge hit.
Granted, it didn't work out at Arkansas the way anyone would have envisioned during that 2006 season, but Malzahn moved on that next year to Tulsa, where his offenses put up staggering numbers the next two seasons. They were first nationally in total offense in both 2007 and 2008.
One of the best decisions Gene Chizik made upon getting the Auburn head job was hiring Malzahn. The only real connection was that Chizik knew Malzahn's offenses were a load and had the guts to hire him when you heard others mumbling that Malzahn's spread attack wouldn't work in the SEC. We all heard the rap ... too gimmicky, too high risk, not physical enough.
Never mind that a downhill running game is and has been the cornerstone of what Malzahn wants to do on offense.
Either way, Malzahn immediately turned around Auburn's offense, and the Tigers set several school records his first season, including points in a season, total yards in a season and passing touchdowns in a season. Most of those records were shattered this season.
For his efforts, Malzahn was presented with the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the country.
He's come a long way in a short period of time, but he's done it the right way. Malzahn is the antithesis of a self-promoter. He's quiet, keeps to himself and does his best to avoid the cameras.
He's more comfortable watching film, coaching his players and drawing up that next play that's going to catch the defense flat-footed.
Malzahn personifies that guy who keeps his head down, does his job well and gets what's coming to him because of substance and not so much style.
That said, maybe his style of offense isn't so gimmicky after all.
And maybe Malzahn isn't driven solely by the almighty dollar. If he were, he would have taken the Vanderbilt head job and the $3 million-per-year salary. In the end, Malzahn simply didn't feel like the timing was right or that this particular head job was right for him.
Rest assured there will be other opportunities.
Besides, he's not going to be starving at Auburn thanks to a new deal on the Plains that will pay him $1.3 million per year, making him the highest paid assistant coach in the SEC.
Something says that's a little bit more than he made at Springdale High School.