I am not great at interviewing. I don’t have much experience and I am a slave to pre-written lists of questions. Often, when transcribing interviews, I think, “Ben, you’re an idiot. Why didn’t you ask him/her [blatantly obvious question]?”
So it went with Gus Malzahn.
During our 17 minute phone interview I was unable to breach the invisible barrier between random college kid writing for the campus newspaper and intense and private coach who drinks eight cups of coffee a day and listens to Top 40 Christian music. Things stayed impersonal, no matter how many “Do you listen to the Wu-Tang Clan?” and “What is your power animal?” type questions I asked.
Not to say Gus (first name basis) was unhelpful. Far from it. He answered every question I asked and would’ve probably talked to me for another 15-20 minutes.
But I ran out of questions and my mind froze. It’s like talking to a beautiful woman — as soon as you walk away, every clever, witty, and funny thought you’ve ever had comes rushing forth.
So I guess I am apologizing. This was a grand opportunity. And I (kinda) blew it. I got my story for The Plainsman. You can read it here. It’s a short profile piece and if you’re a serious Auburn fan you probably already know everything it presents. Regardless, support The Plainsman by clicking on the link; it’s an Auburn tradition. [Ed. – and support TWER by buying this Simply Amalzahn shirt]
But I could have asked deeper and more probing questions and gotten a better feel for who Gus Malzahn is as a person, father, coach, man. Maybe there will be a next time.
Here’s the stuff that didn’t make it into The Plainsman article.
Could your offense work in the NFL?
“Well, I think as long as you can run the football, and also throw it if you’re a balanced offense; it’s about executing. So there’s no doubt. The SEC is just a level right below the NFL. I believe that if something can be successful in the SEC, it can be successful in the NFL.”
Are you pleased with this recruiting class?
“Definitely. We definitely took care of some needs we had. Depth was an issue last year. But we feel like we got some real quality people. Not just big-time players, but quality people — the type of character that Coach Chizik expects. We got lineman. We addressed that need. We needed more depth on the line. And of course, Cameron Newton the quarterback and Michael Dyer the top running back in the country. Then, of course, you look at our receivers. Coach Taylor’s got some receivers that he feels very good about. It was overall a success from our side of the football we felt like.”
Sideline coaching vs. coaching from the pressbox?
“I’ve been coaching from the sideline for 20 years. That’s where I feel very comfortable. I like looking those players in the eyes, getting a feel for how they’re feeling. That’s just what I’m comfortable with.”
“We can’t watch them workout now until we get to spring practice, but I do know a lot about him from recruiting him and watching him in junior college and even watching him at Florida. He is a big physical guy. He can do a lot of different things. It’s just going to be a matter of how quick he can pick up the offense.”
Tyrik Rollinsons’ status?
“He’s working on that.” [pauses, stops himself from saying something else] “Yeah, he’s working on that.”
Did you do well in school?
“Yes, in high school I did. In college, I finished strong. Put it that way.”
Do you listen to much rap music?
“Really the only rap I listen to is in the locker room before the game. That’s cause I have to.”
Do you know who the Wu-Tang Clan is?
“Say that again?”
The Wu-Tang Clan?
“I have no idea.”
What’s your power animal?
If you had to be an animal what animal would you be?
[Laughs.] “I don’t have a clue.”
Maybe something fast? Like a cheetah?
“It makes no difference.”
What offensive statistic do you measure success by?
[Laughs.] “Turnovers, lack of turnovers.”
Is that something you stressed last year?
Were you pleased with the way Chris Todd played?
“Tell you what, coming into a new system with new coaches, I felt like he did a very good job. And he did a very good job overall protecting the football. He had one of the highest in the league, if not the highest, touchdown/ interception ratio.”
Did you teach him the pump-fake?
“He was already pretty good with the pump-fake. The only thing I had to get onto with the pump-fake is he wouldn’t keep two hands on the ball. When he did it, he liked to do it with one hand. He’s pretty natural.”
Were you surprised by the play of Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery?
“We know in the spring when we got here both those guys had the chance to be very good. They’re both great competitors. They both take coaching. They’re both tough, physically and mentally tough. They believed in what we were doing. I really think both those guys will be better next year.”
What’s your favorite play to call?
“I like a lot of them. I love running the power. That’s a downhill play. That’s probably my favorite play. But probably the best play to call is the victory play at the end of a game.”
Do you have a good relationship with Huston Nutt?
“I don’t get a chance to talk to him much.”
What’s your role in recruiting?
“Our approach is a team recruiting effort. I definitely like to recruit our main offensive guys. This year our offensive staff did a lot of team recruiting. I think that’s what gives us an advantage. I really enjoy it. We’ve got a great product to sell. We’ve got a great head coach to sell.”
What’s your favorite Star Wars movie?
“I think the only one I’ve watched is the first one. I really enjoyed that one.” [said in a way that makes me believe he didn’t enjoy it at all]
Do you promise to stay at least two more seasons?
“That is the plan.”
No promises though?
[Laughs.] “That’s the plan.”
Ben writes The Win Column, among other things. He is a student at Auburn University. Most of his time is spent doing as little as possible, eating and controlling manageable vices. He will one day graduate with a degree in journalism and maybe find a job. Fingers crossed. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.