BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
ALBANY, Ga. – Even when Gus Malzahn is “off the clock” – away from his staff, players and facility – the man still lives and breathes Auburn football with a coach’s persona.
A couple hundred loyal fans, alumni and supporters of the Southwest Georgia Auburn Club, gathering to celebrate the fifth annual Cleve Wester Scholarship fundraiser, were treated to a full-on film session with their new head coach Thursday night at Merry Acres Event Center.
Nothing like dinner and a show. As guests finished their supper, and Malzahn opened with a few remarks about the state of the program and his vision for his first season at the helm of Auburn football, he moved into the meat and potatoes of his presentation.
Malzahn had pre-requested a projector in the room, so he left the podium to grab a clicker and take his audience through film session with his 23 newest recruits, as well as photo introductions of his nine full-time assistant coaches.
With his booming voice echoing through the banquet hall – no microphone necessary – Malzahn reiterated his promise to the Auburn fan base, three months into the task of rebuilding, quickly, from a 3-9 football season.
“We’re getting after their tail because we’re going to get our edge back,” Malzahn assured the crowd, indicating 6 a.m. winter workouts are in full form. “We’re going to come together, we’re going to lose the entitlement, and we’re going to worry about the guy next to us and not ourselves.
“Recruiting’s fun, but there’s nothing like getting around your players and being there for them.”
Before he took center stage, Malzahn admitted privately he is itching for spring football to arrive.
Georgia already hits the practice field Saturday and others follow suit soon, but another four weeks remain before the Tigers put on the pads.
“Yeah, I’m ready to get on the field. But at the same time, I want to make sure that we’re 100 percent prepared,” Malzahn said “We need to know, and every coach (needs to) know, our offense and defense inside and out. So I wanted to give them a little extra time, and did not want to start anything before spring break.”
A collateral effect of the condensed schedule? Fifteen practices, concluded by A-Day on April 20, will take place in 25 days – a pace just to the up-tempo Malzahn’s liking.
“Good. We like it,” Malzahn said. “We’ll be prepared. There will be a lot of recall, not a lot of dead time in between, and we feel like it’s a good plan.”
Resistant to living in the past since he return to Auburn, the Tigers’ national championship-winning offensive coordinator isn’t too concerned with the future either.
It hadn’t dawned on Malzahn what he’d be doing precisely six months from Thursday night – which is kicking off against Washington State in his Auburn head coaching debut.
There’s still so much more to accomplish.
“Haven’t got that far,” Malzahn said. “I’m going day by day right now.”
Southwest Georgia Auburn Club president Hank Jester, a 1982 Auburn graduate, was proud to announce more than $100,000 has been donated to the endowment in the name of Wester, an Albany local who played tackle for Auburn’s 1957 national championship team. Only four other Auburn clubs nationwide have raised that much toward scholarships.
“He’s Mr. Auburn in southwest Georgia,” Jester said, adding Wester was instrumental in the hiring of coach Pat Dye more than 30 years ago. “Just a great guy, great Auburn man, loved southwest Georgia, loved Auburn.”
Wester passed away in 2009, shortly after the club’s first benefit dinner in his honor – which featured former head coach Gene Chizik and his entire incoming staff, including Malzahn.
“That’s the fun part for me, is meeting people,” Malzahn said. “There’s a lot of familiar faces here. When I was here in 2009, this was my first Auburn club event. Came with the whole staff, had a chance to meet Cleve. That was a special deal for me. So it’s good to see these people.”