Believe it or not, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn might be prouder of the honor he received Wednesday than he was of winning the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach. He might be prouder than he will be the first time he is named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year.
Malzahn has been elected to the Arkansas High School Sports Hall of Fame.
Malzahn’s meteoric rise from Arkansas high school coach to national champion offensive coordinator to Auburn head coach has been well-documented. All along the way, Malzahn has made it clear he takes immense pride in his high school roots.
Malzahn put it this way before Auburn beat Oregon to win the 2010 national championship.
"I'm a high school coach,” Malzahn said “who just happens to be coaching in college and coaching in the national championship game."
It was at Hughes High School in Arkansas that Malzahn began putting together the hurryup, no-huddle offense that earned him acclaim that eventually would spread beyond the state of Arkansas. He broke records at Shiloh Christian School and at Springdale High School before moving to Arkansas, then to Tulsa, then to Auburn, then to Arkansas State as head coach and back to Auburn as head coach.
And now his home state will honor him the best way it can.
”It is truly an honor and a blessing to be inducted into the Arkansas High School Hall of Fame,” Malzahn said in a statement Wednesday. “As a native of Arkansas, it is where I learned the game of football, which makes this even more special.
“I’m very appreciative of all of the players and coaches who were a part of the teams we had at Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale. Without them, this honor would not have been possible.”
Malzahn was so successful that even coaches from other states began to look his way. One was Chad Morris, who was coaching in the west Texas city of Springville. When Morris failed to make the playoffs in his first season at tradition-rich Stephenville High School, the locals weren’t happy.
Morris reached out to Malzahn, who was not enthusiastic at first. But Morris persisted, and finally Malzahn agreed to show him the details of his offense. Morris’ program took off. He got his chance at Tulsa and is now headed toward his third season as Clemson’s ultra-successful offensive coordinator.
"Just knowing the path that he took to get where he is and the path that has led me to where I am today, I think is unique," Morris said. "It gives every high school coach out there in this country hope. 'Yes, if you work hard, if I win and produce, this can happen for me, too.'"
Malzahn did all those things. That’s why he’s the head coach at Auburn, and that’s why he’ll go triumphantly home in July.