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July 17, 2013
KEVIN TRAINOR: We'll continue with Auburn Tigers coach Gus Malzahn.
COACH MALZAHN: I'm blessed to be back at Auburn as the head coach, looking forward to the season. Real excited about our players. We've asked a lot of them since they've been back. They really bought into the 'New Day' theme, putting the past behind them.
They had a very good spring, feel like we improved in the weight room this summer. We've gotten stronger, which we needed to in a big way.
Academically, really proud of our guys. Last semester, we had one of the best academic semesters in the history of Auburn football. That usually carries over to discipline and character on the field.
Off the field, I'm very proud of our guys, too. Back for eight months, no off‑the‑field issues. That's a tribute to our players, real proud of those guys.
The number one thing that our players have to do for us to be successful this year is get our edge back. That is the mental and physical toughness, the blue‑collar, hard‑nosed, hit‑you‑in‑the‑mouth Auburn football that's made Auburn great. Worry about your teammate, not worry about yourself. Lose the entitlement issue.
History shows if Auburn has their edge, they can compete for championships and win games.
Very proud of our staffs. Feel we have one of the top staffs in college football. All men of character, great examples for our players. That's the number one thing for me. All very good coaches.
On most college staffs, you have good coaches, good recruiters. I can honestly say we got nine guys that can flat‑out coach. That will be very good for us in the future.
Offensive coordinator is Rhett Lashlee, a guy I coached in seventh grade. He knows this offense like the back of his hand. I'm going to be a part of the offense, but I have a lot of confidence that he's going to allow me to do what the head coach needs to do in this league.
Offensively, we're a two‑back run play‑action team that will run our offense at a two‑minute pace the entire game. Our goal is to play faster than anybody in college football. We feel like, if you can execute our offense at a fast pace, it's a big advantage. So we'll be striving for that.
Offensively our biggest challenge this year is going to be our quarterback. We don't know who our quarterback is. We have four guys. Going to give them an equal shot. Figure out who gives us the best chance of winning.
Ideally we figure that out sooner rather than later in fall camp, but we won't make a decision until we're a 110% for sure.
The positive offensively is the fact that we actually recruited guys specifically for this offense. We'll just need those guys to step up in an accelerated pace.
Our defensive coordinator is Ellis Johnson, one of the best defensive coordinators in all of college football. Fundamentally sound. We'll be running a 4‑2‑5 defense, which puts three safeties on the field. Allows us to put a little more speed on the field, a little more athleticism and all that.
We do have quite a few seniors on defense that's played a lot of football. I told those guys they need to have their best season. They've got to raise their level for us to be successful.
We also have a lot of young, talented guys. They need to be on the field. I'm telling you, they need to grow up and grow up in a hurry. That's tough to do in this league. That's where we're at defensively.
Really overall we have a lot of question marks going into the season. The big thing from my standpoint is we need to improve each practice and we need to improve each game. If we can do that, we have a chance to have a successful season.
KEVIN TRAINOR: We'll start with questions.
Q. You mentioned Ellis Johnson already. What kind of impact has he brought to the defense and to the team?
COACH MALZAHN: He has a lot of respect from other coaches. He had a lot of respect from our players. Just stability. He's going to line our guys up. They're going to be fundamentally sound. He's going to line 'em up and let 'em play.
Q. You're at a school that made a coaching change two years after a national championship. How much more has the pressure gotten on coaches to win, and win now in the SEC especially?
COACH MALZAHN: Well, I think when you take on a head job, you know exactly what you're getting into. You've got to be prepared. You have to have a plan. The bottom line is you have to be successful.
I think all coaches, especially in this league, understand that.
Q. A lot of people have talked about the strength of the coaching staff you assembled. Can you talk about Rodney Garner from Georgia?
COACH MALZAHN: Rodney Garner is one of the better defensive line coaches in all of college football. I believe the last two head coaches at Auburn have tried to hire him. He's an excellent recruiter. He's an excellent coach on the field.
I really felt strong that, especially coming into this situation, that we went after some successful former Auburn players that knew what it was to play Auburn football, knew the expectations, been there and done that, to be an example for our players. We're very blessed to have him as part of our staff.
Q. Obviously with you hiring Ellis Johnson, an experienced defensive coordinator, but you're talking about getting an edge back. How much hands‑on will you be in that and how much will you let him do what he does?
COACH MALZAHN: I have a lot of confidence in Ellis. He's been very successful. Like I said earlier, probably one of the better defensive coordinators in college football. I coached against him numerous times so I know exactly what I'm getting. The way he schemes, makes in‑game adjustments, he's one of the best. I have a lot of confidence in him to do his job.
Q. Can you talk about your hiring Melvin Smith, what he plans to do with the secondary defense.
COACH MALZAHN: Melvin Smith is one of the better DB coaches in all of college football. Coached a Thorpe Award winner last year. Really developed him. I've known him for a while. I've known him out on the road recruiting. He has a great reputation, not only as a coach but as a person. When we had an opportunity to get him, I thought that was special. The fact he had a relationship with Ellis Johnson already, they worked together, I thought that was big.
Q. You mentioned you want to have the fastest offense in college football. If there are any issues in the first couple games running the offense, would you consider trying to slow it down, huddle up a little bit, or only one way to go with the offense?
COACH MALZAHN: We completely believe in pace. Like I said earlier, if we can execute our offense at a fast pace, it's a big advantage.
As a head coach, you have to understand how the game is going, what gives your team the best chance of being successful. As a head coach, we'll definitely manage each situation to try to give us the best chance of being successful.
Q. Quite a commotion in the lobby when you came in, all the fans were stirring. What is it like being here, doing all the radio row stuff?
COACH MALZAHN: Well, first of all, I feel very blessed to be back at Auburn as the head coach. I feel like we have the best fans in all of college football. If you look at our spring game, we had 83,000‑plus fans. Coming off a year like we did last year, that says everything about them.
It was a special feeling for me to come through and see those guys in the lobby. I'm really looking forward to the first day of practice.
Q. There's been a lot of talk about how you're coming back after a year away, need for a cultural shift.
COACH MALZAHN: A lot of our players, they have background on me. They know a lot about me. They know our expectations. Kind of like I said, our focus is to get our edge back. That's what we're going to continue to focus on.
We did in the spring. We put it on our guys in the spring. We were very tough on them, very demanding. We're going to continue to do that until we do get our edge back.
Q. You've said your focus with recruiting has been getting players that fit your system.
COACH MALZAHN: Yes.
Q. Do you have more of a focus on getting athletes and teaching them your system or getting players that already know the system in high school?
COACH MALZAHN: I think it's a little bit of both. The main thing, of course, you can turn on a film and you can see talent‑wise if they fit what you're doing, if they're talented enough to play at this level on your team.
What I meant by that is do your homework if they're the right type person, the right type character that you're looking for.
We're very specific on what we're looking for offensively and defensively, not just from a talent standpoint, but also from a personal standpoint.
Q. How important is it and what kind of asset is it to have a veteran center like Reese Dismukes with you?
COACH MALZAHN: It's very valuable. A center in our system is almost as important as the quarterback, the fact that he's touching the ball every time. We go fast. He's got a name that calls. He has to ID not only the run game, but pass game. Reese is a guy that had an excellent spring. When we recruited him, we thought he had a chance to be one of the better centers in the country in time. That's starting to happen. His leadership has really stepped up, his work ethic. After spring, I was very proud of Reese.
Q. You have three Arkansas guys on your staff. Can you talk about each one of those guys a little bit, what they bring to the table, why was it important for you to get those guys onboard?
COACH MALZAHN: Of course, Rhett like I talked about, J.B. Grimes is a guy we feel very good about, he's a great teacher. Then Tim Horton has been ultra‑ successful at the University of Arkansas as a coach and recruiter. I know a lot about those three guys and really looking forward to coaching with them.
Q. What kind of spring will Kiehl Frazier have? Talk about how he fits into the quarterback competition.
COACH MALZAHN: Kiehl had a solid spring. The unique thing for us is coming in new with new coaches, it probably took about halfway through spring where we actually got the pieces of the puzzle around him to be in the right spot so we could properly evaluate our quarterback.
The fact that he had a background in this offense, I think it helped. But anytime last year they went to a completely different offense, it takes a little bit of time to get back in a routine. Probably the last five practices, it started to click and you started to see him get more and more comfortable in this offense.
Q. Talk about what getting the Arkansas High School Coaches Hall of Fame was like?
COACH MALZAHN: I'll tell you, that was a real special thing for me. There's a lot of people that helped me get there. Being a former high school coach, getting inducted, that was a special feeling.
I think back of Kevin Johnsons, the Chris Woods, Rod Colemans, those guys that really were beneficial to helping me get there. It was a special feeling and a huge award for me personally.
Q. What attracted you to Dameyune Craig to be your co‑offensive coordinator, and what kind of coach do you think he'll be?
COACH MALZAHN: When I first got the job, like I said earlier, I felt it was important that we got former Auburn players that have been successful as a player, that understood what Auburn was about, had that special passion about it.
Of course, he's known as a great recruiter, which he is. But he is a big‑time football coach. I believe he was the quarterback coach the last two years, had first‑round draft picks.
We talked briefly. We didn't talk for about two more weeks. I went back after him. We're very blessed to have him. He's off to a great start.
He's going to provide a lot of things offensively that will help us, too. A different perspective. Even though he's coaching receivers, he's coached quarterbacks, he understands offenses. He'll be a very big asset to Coach Lashlee.
Q. You developed your hurry up system with high school players. There's coaches in this league that have criticized hurry‑up offenses as being unsafe, having more injuries. Have you talked to those coaches and disputed that with them at all?
COACH MALZAHN: When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke. As far as health or safety issues, that's like saying the defense shouldn't blitz after a first down because they're a little fatigue and there's liable to be a big collision in the backfield.
If you're going to look at rule changes, officials, we need to look at the guys on defense that are faking injuries to slow down these pace teams. That's where college football's going. You see more and more teams using pace. I think you'll see it more and more at the next level also.
Q. How familiar are you with the Washington State offense, the air raid? Have you ever experimented to doing things like that with your offenses throughout your career?
COACH MALZAHN: No. We feel very good about what we do offensively. At the same time we have a lot of respect for what they do offensively. Their head coach is one of the better offensive minds in all of college football. We know we'll have our hands full.
Yes, we have looked at 'em, I believe we play them in 45 days.
Q. Quick fall Auburn took last year. Can the rise back up be as fast? How did you find the attitudes to be after such a tough year last year?
COACH MALZAHN: I told our guys last year is last year. I don't care why, how whatever. We're putting it in our rearview mirror. We're looking to the future. I talked about a new day. When I first got there, we had to do some Dr.Phil‑ing. There were some mental scars.
I feel good about our team. They put it in their rearview mirror and they're looking in the future.
Q. Speaking of Arkansas, they were both open in the off‑season. Compare Auburn and Arkansas, what do you think stands out more with Auburn?
COACH MALZAHN: Say that again.
Q. Speaking of Arkansas, what do you think stands out more with Auburn's football program compared to Arkansas's, since they were both open in the off‑season?
COACH MALZAHN: Really, to be honest with you, all I can do is speak for what we're doing. Really not updated on where they're at. I know they have a new coach and a new philosophy.
Q. With the quarterback situation, do you envision with Nick and Jeremy being added that it may take a while before one of them separates? What is your timetable there when you're talking as many as four?
COACH MALZAHN: Well, that's definitely a challenge. Anytime you're going to properly evaluate four guys, we're going to have to have strategies in place to evaluate them. Put them in different situations as early in fall camp as we can.
Like I said earlier, hopefully one of them will step up and distance theirselves from the others.
Anytime you're going to have four guys, that's definitely a concern. I felt very strong we knew about the two guys in spring, but I wanted to give those two new guys a fair chance. We'll be doing things a little bit different in fall camp early, and hopefully one of those guys will emerge sooner rather than later.
Q. You're playing Arkansas State. What do you think about that game? Arkansas State obviously has had a lot of success, but they're on their third coach. Talk about playing that game.
COACH MALZAHN: First of all, Arkansas State, it was a true blessing for me to be their head coach. They have a great administration, treated me extremely well. We recruited some very good players last year. I know Coach Freeze recruited very good players the year before.
It will be a tough test and they have a very good program.
Q. Talking about the quarterbacks, Jeremy Johnson, you saw him in high school. What is it about him that puts him in that group of four?
COACH MALZAHN: Yeah, of course, I started recruiting Jeremy Johnson in the eighth or ninth grade. I know a lot about him. NFL‑type arm. A lot of ability. Very good athlete. Very good basketball player, too. The future's bright for him. It's just a matter of how quick he can pick everything up.
Q. What would you say about Nick Marshall, what he can bring to the table?
COACH MALZAHN: When he was in high school, of course, a lot of people thought he was unbelievably talented. Of course, he goes to another SEC school and I believe was very successful at other positions. Then he went to junior college last year. He was a guy I was looking at when I was at Arkansas State. Feel like he has a lot of ability to be very effective.
When we got here, we got him on campus. He'll have a chance. He's unbelievably talented. He has a big‑time arm. He's like Jeremy. How quick can he pick up the offense? What we ask our quarterback to do from the sideline, it's tough pre‑snap as far as communication, everything we ask them to do.
But we will give him and Jeremy a fair chance and we'll see what happens.
KEVIN TRAINOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH MALZAHN: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports