Bahn: Opportunity Too Much For Arkansas State, Malzahn To Pass Up

by Chris Bahn  on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 7:45 pm  

Gus Malzahn was introduced as the head coach at Arkansas State on Wednesday. (Photo by Ashley George)

JONESBORO — Arkansas State Athletic Director Dean Lee thought little of it when his phone rang last week and Gus Malzahn was on the other end.

Malzahn and Lee have a relationship that stretches back to 1989 when the two were at Henderson State as student and professor. From there they developed a friendship that included Lee calling Malzahn a year ago to get feedback on coaching candidates for an open spot at Arkansas State.

When the Red Wolves job opened a year later, Malzahn was on Lee’s call list. Lee wanted to pick the renowned offensive mind’s, uh, mind about possible candidates. Lee just hadn’t gotten around to making the call yet.

Malzahn made that call for Lee.

And when Lee made a crack about Malzahn being ready to “return home,” he was met with silence on the other end. Malzahn hadn’t called specifically to pitch himself as a candidate, but the off-handed comment gave him pause.

“Initially, I was planning on giving some feedback,” Malzahn told me Wednesday. “Then, I don’t know, the conversation just went the other way.

“In a hurry.”

In a hurry? Of course.

Malzahn, introduced Wednesday as Arkansas State's new head coach, is, after all, the author of the book on the “Hurry-Up, No-Huddle.” He’s made his career on coaching a fast-paced style that led to unprecedented success at the Arkansas high school level and he led some of the nation’s best offenses at Arkansas, Tulsa and Auburn.

Just a year ago, Malzahn was prepping the Tigers and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton for the BCS national championship game. Auburn has struggled this year and ranks No. 104 in total offense entering the Dec. 31 Chick-Fil-A Bowl, but when Malzahn gave Lee indication he’d be interested in taking over at Arkansas State, Lee had no qualms about offering the job to his friend.

Only a year ago, Malzahn was the toast of the college football world. He had worked wonders at Auburn — pre-Cam Newton — and Tulsa, proving that his offense could be made to work without a Heisman Trophy winner or runner up (Darren McFadden at Arkansas in 2006). Malzahn reportedly turned down opportunities to coach at Maryland and Vanderbilt, where his offer was in the $3 million range.

Malzahn passed. Instead he “settled” for being the highest paid offensive coordinator in football at $1.3 million.



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