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What impresses Auburn Lettermen the most about Gus Malzahn’s coaching staff?

Doug Dean asked a Who's Who of high Football-IQ AU lettermen to weigh in on Auburn's coaching staff, and on their hopes and expectations for 2014, in a two-part series for TWER.
Doug Dean asked a Who’s Who of high Football-IQ AU lettermen to weigh in on Auburn’s coaching staff, and on their hopes and expectations for 2014, in a two-part series for TWER.

Let the drumbeat commence, football freaks.  We have breached the 90-day countdown to the college football season.  In the Loveliest Village, the Malzahn brain trust prepares for its season opener against normal American football team, the Arkansas Razorbacks, on what is sure to be a crisp, cool August Saturday in the interest of visiting player safety.

By now, we are weary of the prognosticators’ groupthink on 2014 forecasts, loaded as most appear with marketing bias.  So pour a cold iced Arnold Palmer to beat the June heat, take a knee, pop your chin strap and listen up, as a lineup of Auburn lettermen with SEC battle wounds offer their opinions on the state of the program and make predictions for 2014.

In this two-part series for TWER, we asked thirteen Auburn lettermen of note to weigh in on what they’re seeing with the Tigers.

These former Tigers fought the battles, wore the blue jerseys, gave sweat, blood, and tears in their day, and as a result understand how difficult it is to run the SEC gauntlet to a championship.   Some survived Coach Dye’s indoor bubble crucible in winter and spring – a brutal survival camp which Coach Dye defended to his players with Einstein’s theory of relativity.  “We wanted you to think you were gonna die so that when you got that way in a game, you’d know that you wouldn’t.”

The lineup . . .

Terry Henley, RB, 1970-1972

Takeo Spikes, LB, 1995-1997

Randy Campbell, QB, 1980-1983

Ben Tamburello, C, 1983-1986

Dick Schmalz, WR, 1969-1971

Alvin Bresler, WR/Wingback, 1968-1970

Yann Cowart, C, 1983-1986

Wayne Bylsma, LB, 1988-1990

Anthony Judge, LB, 1988-1991

William Clifton, OL, 1998-1999

Thomas Bailey, WR / KR / PR, 1991-1994

Russ Carreker, LB, 1983-1986

Cody Parkey, K, 2010-2013


Part I:   “What impresses you most about this AU coaching staff and why?”

Terry Henley, RB, 1970-1972

Henley over the top.
Henley over the top.

“The number one thing to me,” says Henley, “is that these coaches are all completely on the same page of the hymnal.  Gus assembled a perfect blend of smart, veteran coaches who know the SEC and younger, driven coaches who bring energy.   The second and equally important thing I see is that the coaches all like each other and are working toward the same common goal – it’s evident in how recruits are connecting with this staff.  The recruits can tell that our staff gets along extremely well, like a family, and that it’s genuine.”

“When Gus hired Ellis Johnson I was ecstatic,” Henley recalls.  “I’ve followed his career.  You are simply NOT gonna fool Ellis Johnson.  A player may BEAT our defensive player on pure ability, but Ellis is gonna have our player in position.  He knows every offensive tendency, and he’s got too many battle scars to be out-schemed.”

Henley sees a big, big problem coming for Auburn opponents this season and beyond.

“I’ve always believed that with Gus’ offensive genius and system, if we can assemble a top 10 defense, we’re going to win lots of championships.  You can mark it.  And this season, I believe Auburn fans may be happier than Richard Simmons at a tank top sale.”

Takeo Spikes, LB, 1995-1997

A7NzmYMCQAEmwiE“I’m impressed with Gus and his staff showing their ability to TEACH the kids what THEY know as coaches,” Spikes says. “I know at times we take this for granted but with over twenty-five years of playing organized football, it continues to baffle me to see the amount of coaches who lack the true gift of teaching.”

Spikes also has a keen eye for what Ellis Johnson is doing defensively, and loves it.

“Looking at Ellis’ system from afar, the defense is predicated on the studs up front.  They are very disruptive and apply pressure in all facets of the game.  Ellis will have a deeper, experienced front this season.  When you have a talented and hungry front as we do, it will help hide any imperfections that may be behind them from the linebacker and secondary positions.  Watching the defense last year, they reminded me somewhat of the 2007 New York Giants.”

Randy Campbell, QB, 1980-1983


“I’m impressed by our coaching staff for many reasons,” says Campbell, trigger man for Dye’s turnaround teams of 1982 and 1983.  “They seem to always be prepared and have a plan for every possible situation – the most obvious and impressive example being the substitution of Davis against Bama on the returned field goal.”

”Gus is also truly a ‘player’s coach,’” Campbell says. “That term gets misused at times, but to me it means that he is a disciplinarian, but is also compassionate and fair minded.”

For obvious reasons, every quarterback grows to appreciate the offensive line.

“From what I’ve seen, J. B. Grimes is the best offensive line coach in the country,” Campbell says.

Ben Tamburello, C, Auburn 1983-1986

Ben_Tamburello_crop_250 “I see an incredible synergy that Gus has built with his entire coaching staff,” says mid-80’s road grader, Ben Tamburello.   “Together, these coaches blend so well together to create an all-star staff combining experience with youth, innovation with sound technique, tireless work ethic, a hunger to recruit every day, and a deep desire to stay on top.  Most importantly, they’re not just building great football players.  I love their ability to relate, motivate and influence AU players on so many levels including academic, athletic and attitude to reach the highest levels of success as young men.”

“Tambo” also loves what Malzahn is doing to give defenses fits.

“Gus Malzahn has the brilliance to assess individuals’ abilities, and implement these abilities in schemes that create an advantageous position for our guys.   I believe the longer he is at Auburn, recruiting his own players, learning their abilities and honing their skills, his offense will stay two steps ahead.  Gus is a master at using angles and leverage at the point of attack.  He exploits defensive weaknesses through favorable matchups, and has such an incredible feel for the game and knowledge of existing personnel that I believe we have not even scratched the surface on offensive innovation.”

Dick Schmalz, WR, 1969-1971

Screenshot 2014-06-03 10.45.22

Dick Schmalz lettered for Auburn in 1969, 1970, and 1971.

“It was not a bad time to be a receiver with Pat Sullivan as your quarterback,” he says.

“I am impressed with every member of this coaching staff, both on-field and off,” Schmalz says. “I think it starts with Coach Malzahn and his vision for what he wants in a staff.  I truly believe he has hit a home run with each and every hire.  Their integrity, enthusiasm, and knowledge of the game is obvious; their ability to connect to and motivate both the players and their families is unparalleled from what I’ve observed.”

Alvin Bresler, two-sport letterman, Track, WR / Wingback, 1968-1970


“What impresses me most about the coaching staff,” Bresler says, “is the cohesion and chemistry that exists among them.  They are top performers and respect one another.  Coach Malzahn hand picked this staff, knowing that this was the most important part of his winning formula.  The team was in the ditch when Gus arrived, and recruiting was suffering.  The end result of year number one proved Gus’s leadership ability – the players believed in this coaching staff and played to win.”

Bresler appreciates brilliant offensive execution, and sees it under Malzahn.

“The beauty of an offense is watching the players execute to perfection,” he says.  “Gus’s triple option, fast paced offense is going to be unstoppable against most teams.  As a result, our players play with confidence, which gives them the belief and edge to win.”

The upside in Bresler’s view?

“Malzahn has the chance to be the most successful coach in Auburn history with this staff and the talent he’s signing.”

Yann Cowart, C, 1983-1986

Cowart with Pat Dye and Bo Jackson during the Bo Bikes Bama event in April.

“I am most impressed with this staff’s ability to fill the needs with the right guy regardless of recruiting rankings,” Cowart says. “And then they get the most out of them by developing them to fit the scheme when they arrive on campus.  That’s where Chizik seemed to have his downfall – great talent, but couldn’t always coach them up.  Gus and his staff seem to be doing an excellent job at that.”

“Take it from this ‘no star’,” Cowart laughs, “you’ve got to want it and love it, but most of all,  you got to have coaches and leaders (players) that push you until you get it.  My biggest fear when I played was letting my teammates down.  That’s where the Family thing comes in.  It may be a cliché, but you go to war for your brother.”

As for Malzahn’s system Cowart sees one straw as vital in stirring the drink.

“In my opinion, this system relies heavily on the center.  He has to control his man, and Dismukes is damn good at it.  He is so strong and he outsmarts opponents as well. The guards hesitate and let the down linemen make the first move and then it’s just keep carrying them that way.  I’d love to see Gus get the tight end involved more, if not catching then hitting people in the mouth.  We had guys like Monk, Middleton, Parks, and Shine who would knock your head off.  Our tight ends need to be able to de-cleat guys from the edge.  However, I hope we throw to them more as well this year.”

Wayne Bylsma, LB, 1988-1990

“What I like about this staff compared to the past one is that they seem to have more humility, not so much ‘look at me’ activity,” Bylsma says. “They work hard and quietly, and I think their sincerity is appealing to recruits and parents.”

“Defensively, I love the 4-2-5 we are running, especially with our new 6’2” 220 lb. safety, but he can’t have the blown assignments he had in the spring.  This defense gives us more flexibility against the growing number of spread teams.  Our weakness last year was linebacker and safety play, and too many assignment break downs.  Frost has to learn to take on blocks against the LSU’s, Alabama, and Georgia’s, and if Monty Adams gets his head straight and plays, he’ll be a top Lombardi award nominee for his junior year.” 

(You can see Wayne Bylsma rap here.)

Anthony Judge, LB, 1988-1991

“I love the ‘Old School’ mentality of this coaching staff,” Judge says  “Playing fast is in with today’s game, but playing physical is ‘old school’ and still wins championships.  What’s remarkable is that this staff has found a way to do both.  The most successful teams in Auburn history played downhill (’83, ’87 – ’90, ’93, ’04, ‘10 to name a few).  I’m biased of course, but I challenge anyone to find a more physical team than the 1988 version – one of the best defenses in AU history, and perhaps in the NCAA in the past 40-50 years with 7.6 points per game surrendered on defense, thre shutouts in a row, and gave up more than 10 points only one  time to North Carolina after the 47-21 game was well in hand.”

Judge is just getting warmed up in his praise for Auburn’s coaching staff.

“This staff doesn’t waiver from what they expect (and what we expect) – excellence,” he says.  “I believe Coach Malzahn and staff never thought about ‘rebuilding’—they only thought about competing at a championship level.  That is and should be an Auburn man’s mentality.  I also love the way they recruit —they go after players that ‘fit’ Auburn. They don’t chase the ridiculous star rating system of today’s game.  The final thing that impresses me the most is how Coach Malzahn put this staff together.  The make-up is incredible – Auburn men (my man Rodney Garner and Dameyune Craig), SEC pedigree with Ellis, Cheese, Smith, and Horton, then Gus infused youth with Lashlee, Fountain and Russell, along with toughness in Grimes, Ellis, and Garner.  Behind the scenes, no one should get more credit than Ryan Russell.”

Judge, too, loves Ellis Johnson’s defensive system.

“As you can see, I’m old school. I think Coach Johnson is a phenomenal coach and knows how to capitalize on our strengths.  In the end, no matter what defense you run, it comes down to one thing – relentless effort and pursuit – getting there with a purpose.  It creates turnovers, it sets the tone, it makes plays when you don’t think you have a chance, it puts you in position to capitalize on opportunities.  Some people call it luck, I call it ballin’!”

William Clifton, OL, 1998-1999

“What most impresses me about this staff is their ability to adapt the scheme and play calling to suit the talents of the players on the field,” Clifton says.  “The coaches remain true to the core of the system while ensuring that the play call sets the team up for success.  Using last year as the example after the LSU game, offensively, they modified the scheme and play calling to suit the talents of Nick Marshall’s ability to run the zone read well and use his arm to stretch the field when needed vertically.  And defensively, they threw out the 5 defensive linemen experiment and utilized the LB’s and DB’s to run the alley and bring pressure when needed.”

Clifton also sees the old school elements of the Malzahn offense.

“The system that Gus runs is a tried and true variation of the Wing T and Veer,” says Clifton.  “Those systems are meant to allow the O-line angles to block and give the QB multiple options on each play. The system also allows for utilization of skill players by getting the ball in their hands from many different locations.”

Thomas Bailey- WR/KR-PR 1991-1994

$(KGrHqR,!lgFIgTdNw84BSI(4ON8Fw~~60_35“What impresses me the most about Auburn’s current coaching staff is that Coach Malzahn has done a great job of assembling great assistant coaches who completely buy into his system,” Bailey says. “In turn, this staff has done an equally strong job getting their position players to buy into the system.  The result is that they ALL appear to be having fun, which is a key component for any team to be successful.  That was one of the main ingredients to our 1993 undefeated team’s success, along with everyone on the team being accountable to do their job.”

Bailey salivates at the dream of playing in an offense like Malzahn’s Hurry Up, No Huddle.

“Man, would I have loved to play for Coach Malzahn,” Bailey says. “And that’s no slight at all to Coach Dye and Coach Bowden.  Gus’s offensive system is a receiver’s dream to play in.  I would like to see Coates be a little more aggressive when he doesn’t have the ball, and become a  beast in the red zone which I believe he will this year.”

Russ Carreker, LB, 1983-1986

“I have not met all of the coaches,” Carreker says, “but having met Gus a few times, there are several things that jump out to me that help explain his success thus far.  First, he is extremely driven, at least when it comes to coaching football.  Secondly, he fears no human challenge.  He believes deep in his being that he/we can be better than anyone else.  He is also far more personable and witty than most might expect.  This is reflected in the success he has in recruiting.  And lastly, obviously, he is something of a savant as things relate to offensive football.  He has the ability to see and understand subtle things that the average coach simply does not catch.”

Carreker thinks having an Auburn flavor on the staff is also important.

“I do not think that we can overestimate the value of having some guys that played at Auburn on the staff,” Carreker says.  “Having a mix of guys that have lived the Auburn life as a student-athlete has got to be beneficial for the entire staff as long as they are all capable coaches.  Just like in any great company, there are people who help maintain the proper culture that you want to have.  Gus has built a brilliant diversity on the staff—the ‘family’ element, the ‘out-work your opponents’ mentality, and the ‘live right or leave’ discipline that has been ingrained.  All of these styles match up with what Auburn people want in our program and therein create a culture that everyone supports.  When that happens, success almost always follows.   Winning is important to us, but it is as important, if not more, that it be done in a way that the Auburn family can be proud of.”

Cody Parkey, K, 2010-2013

Auburn kicker Cody Parkey is in camp at the Indianapolis Colts, competing against NFL legend Adam Vinatieri, but his memory is fresh on this Malzahn staff what makes them special.

“This coaching staff really likes working together, and it was obvious last season,” Parkey says. “What also impressed me is that Coach Malzahn was very hands on with all phases of the game, especially during game week.  This staff not only believes in the kicking game enough to sign kickers to scholarships, but they also care about you as a person.  Coach Malzahn to this day will text me here at the Colts camp to ask how I’m doing.”

Parkey is very upbeat on his successor as kicker, Daniel Carlson.

“Daniel was better as a freshman than I was,  and I think the year to redshirt, work, and see how things work will help him.  Not to put expectations on Daniel, but I think he absolutely has the ability to be the first Lou Groza Award winner at Auburn.  I gave him tips throughout the season last year, and I’m going to continue to do that this year, because I want to see him succeed.”

Stay tuned for Part II: Hopes and expectations for 2014.

Doug Dean (Eagle5 on the InterWebz) is a close observer of Auburn and SEC sports. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanEagle5. Write him at [email protected].

Related: Best Damn Ball Boy in America.

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