AUBURN, Ala. – First-year Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand said he and coach Gus Malzahn are a modern-day odd couple.
“He’s a lot like Felix, I’m a lot like Oscar,” Hand said.
Hand and Malzahn are old friends, having spent time as co-offensive coordinators at Tulsa in 2007 and ’08. Just under a decade later, the two have reunited at Auburn; this time, Malzahn is the boss.
Hand was hired by Auburn in January after two seasons as Penn State’s line coach. Hand has prior SEC experience, having served as Vanderbilt’s line coach under James Franklin from 2010-13.
Hand said Tuesday that working for Malzahn has been positive so far.
“This has been a very refreshing deal for me, personally and professionally, coming here and getting back with Gus,” Hand said. “He’s one of my very good friends, but also, the opportunity to work for him and with him has been awesome. I’m excited about it.”
Scheme-wise, Hand and Malzahn are like-minded individuals, and Hand said that’s been a welcome aspect of his new job.
“We’re cut from the same cloth from a philosophy standpoint,” Hand said. “What I cut my teeth in was under Rich Rodriguez and the tempo stuff. Of course, Gus was coming from more of a gap base, but still the tempo was the big thing. We were kind of zone based at West Virginia. When we got together, we married that up. It took a little time for us to figure each other out. We’ve remained close from our time at Tulsa.
“To get back together now several years later, and to get back into what I like to call my wheelhouse with tempo, spread … it’s exciting for me.”
Since their first stint coaching together, Hand said he’s seen Malzahn grow into someone with a terrific knack for seeing the bigger picture. So much so, that he joked he’s nearly become suspicious of his new boss.
“He sees the big picture,” Hand said. “It’s almost uncanny. There will be times when I feel like my office is bugged because I’ll be talking about something and next thing I know he’ll come in he’ll say, ‘Hey, you know, I was thinking about this,’ and it’s the same thing (offensive coordinator) Rhett (Lashlee) and I had just been talking about. I think I’ve got to get my office traced for bugs.”
On a more serious note, Hand mentioned that Malzahn also has an ability to make those surrounding him better.
“I’ve always said that Gus is a special person in that his greatest ability is that he brings out the best in people,” Hand said. “Certainly, he and I together, he’s brought out the best in me as a coach and as a person. That’s what he has an uncanny ability to do.”
Possibly the biggest challenge facing Hand in his first season under Malzahn is finding viable replacements for departed starting tackles Avery Young and Shon Coleman.
“The thing that you can’t put a price tag on is experience,” Hand said. “You can’t recruit experience, either. You can recruit good players, but you can’t recruit experience. That’s going to be the biggest challenge.
“Having a guy like Robert Leff that has played a considerable amount of football here – that’s going to help with that. Robert has never been a game-in, game-out starter, but the nice thing is having (guard) Braden Smith right next to him, and then if it’s going to be Austin Golson at left tackle, having (guard) Alex Kozan right next to him. Those guys can work in conjunction with one another.”
(You can follow David McKinney on Twitter @AUMcKinney)
(Feature photo COURTESY AUBURN UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS/BY WADE RACKLEY)
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