Gus Malzahn made his annual appearance at the SEC Media Days in Atlanta this morning
Jarrett Stidham, quarterback of Malzahn and Auburn, and Detavius Russell and linebacker Deshaun Davis
Below is a copy of Malzahns Appeared in The Main Media Room
– "Okay, first of all very honored to be here again at the SEC Media Days to be here again in the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame, a great venue for this event.
Just a quick summary of the last season, you know, I thought we were very close. We won SEC West, which I think is the toughest league in college football. A game away from the college football playoff that you know is the goal of everyone.
We have many of our players who have experienced it. We have most of our coaches, all but one, back, so I feel like we'll have a hungry team taking the next step.
We brought along three of our team leaders. First, our quarterback Jarrett Stidham was the SEC Newcomer of the Year. Just felt as if he had managed our offensive well and led our team. Threw for 3,000 yards. He recently graduated and has recently become engaged. So, he's planning a lot, ready for this season.
Linebacker Deshaun Davis, our leader last year, two-year starter. Probably our defensive leader. He is like a coach in the field. He's a guy who plays so hard with a chip on his shoulder. He also graduated recently.
Dontavius Russell, a three-year-old starter who is about to start, is very rare in Auburn. I really feel like he's one of the underrated players in the league and does not get enough credit for what he does. He is a very selfless player, he is very consistent and he wants to graduate next month.
I am very proud to get these three guys to represent Auburn.
Defensive, I really feel like our strength, will be our front-seven again, as it was last year. And I think figuratively we have the chance to be just as defensive or maybe even better. Attacking is the big thing that strikes me that our quarterback is back, and this is only the second time since I've been in Auburn in nine years that our quarterback is back, so I think that's very positive.
I really believe the key to our attack will be our offensive line and how fast they can come together. We have three guys who started and I think a total of 20 games. So we are very inexperienced. But I will stay that way: we are talented. It will only be a matter of time, and hopefully sooner rather than later, that this group is yelling, and that will be offensive to us and, as far as possible, a big key.
Looking back at our schedule, I feel again that we have the toughest schedule for college football, just like last year. We are opening the season against Washington, a top 1
Then we come to SEC West, the hardest division. It's a men's league. You have to be ready each week. And this year we will finish the season against Georgia and Alabama. Both will be on tour this year.
You know, overall I like our team very much. I like our guides. There is nothing like experience in our league. And we experienced ups and downs, and as we said, we were close. And I really feel the urgency and hunger of this group.
And then staff. I feel very good about our employees. The stability of our employees is one of the best in our league, if not the best. We have all our coaches back, but we got it through J.B. Grimes replaced, a man who had been with us for a long time and was very successful.
So really our employees continuity, our chemistry staff is very strong. And it is a very good feeling this year to have our two coordinators back with the majority of our players. Ask?
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach. If you have a question, please raise your hand. Again, we will ask that you stand and indicate your name and affiliation. We continue and start in the middle.
Q. You mentioned Jarrett Stidham, but the backup quarterback on your roster, how big is the competition for the case?
GUS MALZAHN: Yes. Malik Willis and Joey Gatewood, both got all the reps in the spring when Jarrett recovered with his left shoulder. Coach Lindsey got a lot of good information. And there is nothing better than to come with them. Both guys had the chance to be offensive with them in the spring. Malik had a chance to play last year. I feel very good in Malik and what he can do. I mean, he was a game away from some big games last year. Only the preparation that needs it mentally, you know, is something he can wear this year.
Q. Can you talk about Dontavius? You said he is underrated. In what way is he underestimated, and is he a guy we see playing in the NFL next year?
GUS MALZAHN: I think it's very likely that Dontavius Russell will be in the NFL. I think it's really hard to think of a guy in this league who's been playing for four years. He has a chance to do that this year. He is a very consistent guy. Very selfless. He will pick up double teams to open someone else. He is very good against the run. He is very good when in one-on-one situations. And he is – as I call him, Mr. Consistency. And we are proud to have him.
He would have had a chance – if he wanted to get out early, he would have had a chance. He decided to come back and graduate and help guide this team and help us to take the next step.
Q. Earlier this week, Chad Morris talked about your friendship as it goes back to your coaching days in high school. How do you remember the beginning of this friendship and how it has developed where you are now – both are in the same department now?
GUS MALZAHN: Yes, I'm very proud of Chad, you know that I'm from a high school coach and head coach in this league. Chad is one of the smarter coaches I've ever seen. He's one of the hardest workers I've ever dealt with. I consider him a true friend.
It goes way back. I think I coached a state championship game. I think he called me and asked if he could bring him and the staff. I did not know him at all. Then we teamed up for the next two years and talked only about offensive football.
He did a great job in Tulsa. Obviously, when he was in Clemson, he really got the thing going. When he came to Clemson, there was a bit of instability. I think he was the guy who got them over the top to get them where they are.
Then you're talking about a guy who goes to SMU and he's been in a very, very difficult situation and getting those guys in a bowl was big last year. Now he is in our league. He will be very successful. He is a great coach, but he is an even better person.
Q. There was a time when Auburn and Tennessee played annually. I suppose, how aware are you of the history of this rivalry that goes back, and how aware are your players that it was an annual game between the two?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, you know, I have. I've been here in Auburn for nine years, and I think we played them twice, both times we played them there, once as a coordinator, and I think in the first year I was head coach. This is the first time I have been in Auburn, we played it at home.
Solid team and with a new coach, and they now have a lot of energy.
Q. Coach, can you talk about the new NCSAA Redshirt rule and how do you want to use it?
GUS MALZAHN: First of all, I think it's a positive rule. I think that all coaches would say that. I think it's better for players, and we can help with depth. You know, maybe it can help with some injured guys. We have some guys who got injured this spring. This could possibly contribute towards the end of the year.
So I just like the flexibility that comes with it and I think it's a positive step.
Q. You mentioned Jarrett, who was obviously a little unknown last year. So, where do you think he's making the biggest leap in your offensive this year, as you mentioned as a starter?
GUS MALZAHN: Yes. I think he came to Auburn last year, he started four games at Baylor and he was very successful. He is very talented. You know, we – the way he played mid-year, end of the year was really phenomenal.
I said that before, but from a quarterback standpoint, in this league, there is nothing like it. Because the defense is different than in other leagues, and I just like the way he treated himself.
He is a very tough young man, mentally and physically. And I think our offense is in good hands to go into this second year.
Q. Coach, looking back, you say you were very close last year, you felt that way. What could you take from the end of the season, including the loss of the bowl, to help, perhaps, if you are going into this coming season?
GUS MALZAHN: Yes. The bowl loss was obvious – we did not make it. We laid an egg that day. That does not detract from our opponent, the excellent team, but we were not happy with the end of the season.
That really motivated our team over the summer. I know that our coaches feel the same way, as far as that goes.
When I say that we were close, I look at the big picture. As for our goal of being in the SEC Championship last year, this is also this year, and we have done some very good things to bring us to this point. Winning the West is – it's a men's league, and if you win the West, you're really doing something.
But there is such a fine line in this conference to win the conference championship and get closer. And we are close to you last year. And we have to find a way to take the next step. And that is easier said than done.
But the good thing is, as I said, we have a lot of players who have learned how close we are and we have our employees who have experienced that.
When I say we're hungry, that's really why. And we're about to win the SEC Championship because we're about to be in the final four and we need to find a way to take the next step.
Q. I have a multipartite question. When you met Chad for the first time, were you in Shiloh or Springdale?
GUS MALZAHN: Yes.
Q. J.B. Grimes, it's his second time back with you. What made you bring him back? What does he bring to the table for the O-line? And the trip to Israel, was that your idea? The idea of your wife? How do you come to do that? How was this trip? What did you do?
GUS MALZAHN: Okay. Especially when I met Chad, I was in Springdale. I believe. I'll tell you something, that was maybe the last game in Shiloh, okay, and then he came to Springdale next year, to our complex, bringing along his staff. At that time, we developed our relationship.
J.B. Grimes, a super teacher, probably the best teacher offensive linie coach I'm with. Very successful the last time he was here, we won the SEC Championship, we led the country by storm and he was our offensive linie coach.
He went to train with his son. Have an opportunity to do that in Cincinnati. And when we were able to open our offensive line coaching job, it took me about 30 minutes to make that call because he's the guy we wanted. And he is such a great teacher.
And then you look at our offensive line, we are very inexperienced, but we are talented. And he is the perfect man to take care of this group so far.
And I did not hear the third part of your question.
Q. Whose idea was to go to Israel? Was that you or Kristi? Why did you leave and what did you do? What did you take away?
GUS MALZAHN: Kristi probably wanted to go to Israel for the past five years. And it was our 30th wedding anniversary. And then it happened almost the entire month of July this year, it was a dead time, and so it went ahead and made plans. We went with our old pastor, Ronnie Floyd, in the Cross Church in northwest Arkansas
. It was an incredible experience. Nine days that were just outside my comfort zone were gone for so long. But it was worth it. I would encourage everyone if they were not to leave.
Q. You talked a bit about Jarrett, and he talked about this off-season that you should have a little more freedom in scrimmage, calls, and checks. How much will that play in terms of what you do, taking into account last year's experience?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, he's a second year back and he understands our insult very well. He understands the expectations of Coach Lindsey. He is like a coach in the field. And towards the end of the year, they thought the same thing and talked the same thing.
So this year he will have the freedom to put us in the right game to get us out of a bad game. We have a lot of faith in him and are really looking forward to leading our offense.
Q. Two-part question. First of all, you are well known – you developed thousands of feet of trouble every year in Auburn and you made the football run really well. But the last two years, Kam Pettway and Kerryon Johnson were both beaten up. Could we rather see a committee with many young talents running back? And then the second question, from our community, from the Madison Academy, Kerry Johnson has had much success, but are talking about real Austin Troxell and the spring he had and his development so far?
GUS MALZAHN: At the moment I would say: Run down, if we were to play today, Kam Martin would be the first guy out there. But we have four or five other guys, whom we feel very comfortable about, that is about time. As you said, we had nine straight 1000-yard rushers at Auburn. This is the SEC record of all time. And I am firmly convinced that this trend will continue.
If you look back at our success, we usually try to have two so far. Unfortunately, you know, after the regular season our boys were a bit angry. There is nothing like depth. We are working hard to achieve that. As far as Austin Troxell, we are very excited about him. Maybe he was one of the MVPs of our source from an offensive point of view. He has the chance to be a really good player. I know Coach Grimes and Coach Lindsey are very excited.
Q. Gus, can you talk about the second half of the Ole Miss game last year? Matt Luke, some of the players have called this kind of springboard for them. What did you see differently in your game?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, of course. Wesley McGriff, your defensive coordinator, I think is a close friend. They played extremely hard, which I remembered. Matt Luke, he is a winner.
You are now a talented team. I mean, they have a lot of talent specifically on the offensive side of football.
As far as the second half is concerned, I can not remember the details, but from the point of view of a coach one always knows that the other team is struggling with their nerves, and I felt like they were.
Q. Coach, open this season at Chick-fil-A Kickoff and the final announcement that you will be back in 2020, what attracts you to play at this event, and you can talk about the pros and cons Disadvantages of the opening talk about the season with such a game?
GUS MALZAHN: I think it is very positive from our point of view. We are right on the road from Atlanta.
Many of our alumni are here in Atlanta. Every time you get the chance to play in the same place your conference championship game is played, I find that very positive.
As for Washington, you speak of a top 10 opponent, one of the best quarterbacks in college football, one of the best running backs. Coach Petersen is – his name speaks for itself. He is one of the best coaches there is.
It will be a good challenge for us. As I said, and I say to our employees, this is a good yardstick for the first game in which this team has the chance to return here. And as I said, Gary Stokan and his staff, they are second to none. Has developed into the first classic kickoff game. Three or four years ago we had the opportunity to play Louisville here, and as you said, we will be back in North Carolina in a few years.
So it's a big deal for the Auburn Tigers to play here in Atlanta.
Q. Gus, I do not know if you think about it, but you're the only coach in the league that beat Nick Saban, I mean, Alabama. I think, what do you think about that? And of course there was a lot of coaching sales, six guys at new spots this year. What do you think about being the only coach to beat Nick Saban in Alabama, the coaching turnover? And how is Will Hastings doing in his rehab, and is he still taking the Redshirt this year?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I'm not trapped in other trainers and stuff. All I know is that you are in Auburn and you play Alabama. This is the iron bowl. That's the best rivalry in college football. And to win the West, you have to beat them. Every year, our goal is to win the SEC Championship, and the West is part of it.
And we know what we are getting into. They know what they are getting into. And that's just part of the job description at Auburn.
And what was your question about injuries?
THE MODERATOR: Will Hastings
Q. How is he, is he still –
GUS MALZAHN: Who is that?
Q. Will Hastings
GUS MALZAHN: Will Hastings, our receiver, ripped his ACL in the spring. He has a very good start. His rehab is running excellent. We hope to get it back in the middle of the season. Last year he had a great season. He is one of our boys. He is an impact player.
Eli Stove is another who was a hard hit. We lost him with an ACL. These two hard punches we need to reinforce other recipients until we get them back.
Q. Coach, obviously you played in Georgia and Alabama last year. How similar are these teams defensive, I think, a schematic talent viewpoint of what you saw? And can you make the difference between the two games in the last year with Georgia, the regular season and the SEC Championship game?
GUS MALZAHN: Schematically, obviously with Nick and Kirby being together so long, it will be very similar. You know, there are small improvements that make them different, but they are very similar. Both had very good players. I tell you that. They are both very talented. I will not play here and say who is more talented than the other, but you would take the talent of both teams to the top, if not the top of our league.
And then in the regular season we played extremely well at home. I think we had to play Alabama two weeks later, another number 1 at home, and a week later we had to turn around and play Georgia again.
I think we played champions and defending champions for three out of four weeks. That's a big challenge, there's no doubt about that. But that's part of it. So we talked about our employees, talked about our players; That's a schedule we have and that's what you have to beat to win this league. Hopefully we are better prepared to take the next step.
Q. You were unbeaten at home last year and could have a better home advantage in the league. What do you see as the difference when you tour and why are you so much better at home?
GUS MALZAHN: I would say that probably most teams at home are better. We have a better home advantage in our league, and that's a big deal. And if you're against the top teams in this league, that's a big challenge. If you compete against someone in this league, it's a challenge. The more talented the team, the harder it is of course.
There are some great places in this league. Some of the hardest places to play in college football. And our home advantage is real.
Q. This year, compare the first four on defense with the others you had as head coach and think back to the team of 2010 when you were the offensive coordinator, does this one remind you of this?
GUS MALZAHN: I think so. We had Nick Fairley this year. He was a dominant defensive player all year round, and is really leading the group.
Only from a talent standpoint, front-seven, have I been in Auburn for nine years, and this is a group that is at least as talented or talented as we are. That's the strength of our team.
But as I said, we have to keep getting better. We have to prove further. We did not arrive. Our first seven had not arrived. They know that. But we have a very talented group in front.
Q. Gus, Jarrett Stidham had quite a bit of off-season worrying, as you hinted. He's gone to the Elite 11 camp, the Manning Passing Academy, engaged, he's going to California the next day. You did not have any quarterbacks active in the offseason before. How do you think he handled it, and how do you think your quarterback has such an active offseason?
GUS MALZAHN: As I said, this is just the second quarterback I've had since my arrival in Auburn that came back. He definitely deserves all these awards and the ability to go to the Manning Camps and Elite 11s, it's a great experience for him.
He is a mature young man, you know, and as I said, he has experience. We feel very well in his focus. I know he's picking up on the 3rd of August to come here and go there and lead the offensive to lead the team and see where it's going.
Q. Gus, you guys – the second half of your schedule, you play three teams that are former Saban assistants, and you play Saban. As a coach in the league, how has that, the spread of assistants at other schools, influenced the league, and how are you preparing for that second half of the season?
GUS MALZAHN: Was your question that the other teams have a tough schedule as we end up doing it? Is that what you say?
THE MODERATOR: I say the effect of Nick Saban's assistants training other teams, and the effect of hardness at the end of the season.
GUS MALZAHN: Say that again.
THE MODERATOR: The teams you play at the end of the season –
Q. They have Tennessee, Texas A & M, Georgia, these are all former assistants to Nick Saban –  GUS MALZAHN: Okay, the former assistants.
Q. How did that affect the league, the spread of these assistant coaches, and how are you going to move on to the Nick Saban glove in the second half of the season?
GUS MALZAHN: Yes. I mean, they are all good coaches. All these guys were with him when they won. You know, but when they are alone, when everyone is on their own, it's their own team. Everyone is different. There may be similarities with the scheme, but every coach will have his own personality and everything that goes with it. So I really do not read too much about it.
Q. Since you're the center of attention, so do you have an opinion on Central Florida's claim to be National Champion over Alabama?
GUS MALZAHN: I really have no opinion, other than the fact that they are after us, they played extremely well that day and I thought they were a very talented team. I moved in a few people. Your former coach is an excellent coach and has done a great job. So far I do not enter into this debate.