Welcome back, Gus: Fans roar support at Auburn University Regional Airport
Almost exactly four years ago, former head coach Gene Chizik was booed off the plane at the Auburn University Regional Airport as he arrived on The Plains following his selection as Auburn's head coach.
On Tuesday, Dec. 4, former Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn, Chizik's offensive coordinator from 2009-11, was named Auburn's head coach, and the reaction could not have been more different.
Malzahn's plane touched down, and as he stepped onto the tarmac, he was greeted by an uproar of support from the Auburn fan base gathered there to greet him.
Malzahn made the rounds, giving high fives and "War Eagles" as he walked along the front of the crowd, and when he addressed the crowd, Malzahn said exactly what the previously subdued fans most wanted to hear.
"I'm proud to be (Auburn's) football coach, and we're going to get back to winning championships," Malzahn said. "I can't wait to get it started. War Eagle, everybody."
The crowd responded with more applause, and Malzahn said in a press conference Tuesday night that he was touched by the show of support.
"It was an unbelievable experience," Malzahn said. "Auburn fans are the best in the country."
John Prestridge, graduate student in administrative education at Auburn, was on hand at the airport Tuesday and said Malzahn is "a great hire" for Auburn.
"I think he's a big part of why we won in 2010, and I think he knows what it takes to win here," Prestridge said.
Despite being on a long list of high-profile candidates to assume the head coaching role at Auburn, Athletics Director Jay Jacobs said in a press release Tuesday Malzahn was the "clear unanimous choice of (the) search committee" comprised of Heisman trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and former Auburn fullback Mac Crawford.
Auburn alumnus and resident Michael Moore also showed up to greet Auburn's new head coach and agreed Malzahn was the best decision for Auburn.
"I think Jay Jacobs and the rest of the committee did a great job," Moore said. "I think he's the perfect person for the job. He's been in Auburn. He knows the culture. He knows what's here and recruited a lot of the guys. He has a system that these guys can ease into probably pretty seamlessly."
As offensive coordinator for Auburn in 2009, Malzahn took an anemic, 104th-ranked offense and transformed it into the 16th best in the nation in Chizik's first year as coach.
In 2010, Auburn rode Malzahn's No. 7 offense, featuring former quarterback Cam Newton and former running back Michael Dyer, to a national championship.
Malzahn left Auburn to take the helm at Arkansas State after a somewhat disappointing 2011 campaign.
The Tigers struggled during the 2012 season, finishing 3-9 and ending the season with an embarrassing 49-0 loss to Alabama.
Prestridge said Malzahn's fast-paced offense is what Auburn needs to beat its biggest rival.
"I think what he brings is the polar opposite of what Alabama has, and I think that's where we need to be," Prestridge said. "He's going to bring in an offense that Saban hates to defend and a lot of other teams hate to defend, so I think it's going to be beneficial to us."
Including his 2006 campaign as Arkansas' offensive coordinator, Malzahn is 2-2 against Alabama.