A quick glance at Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and new offensive line coach Herb Hand would lead one to believe that, outside of them being football coaches, they're polar opposites.
Even in the business of college football, however, opposites attract.
Malzahn is reserved and collected while Hand is humorous and charismatic, making for quite the unlikely pair. But the two coaches have a history together, which Auburn hopes will result in a match made in heaven.
Hand and Malzahn first met at Tulsa in what Hand describes as a "perfect storm of circumstances." They served as co-offensive coordinators in 2007 and 2008.
“We were co-coordinators, and we were cut from the same cloth from a philosophy standpoint and from a process standpoint," Hand said. "From a scheme standpoint, we were coming from two different areas, and we checked our egos at the door and said, ‘What do we have to do to put this offense together to give Tulsa the best opportunity for success?’”
The result was the top-ranked offense in college football for two consecutive years, as the Golden Hurricane went 21-7 while averaging approximately 557 yards of total offense and 44 points per game.
In 2009, Malzahn was hired as the offensive coordinator at Auburn, which led to Hand becoming Tulsa's sole offensive coordinator that season before being hired by James Franklin as Vanderbilt's offensive line coach. He took the same job at Penn State when Franklin was hired as the Nittany Lions' head coach in 2014.
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Even after Hand and Malzahn went their separate ways in 2009, the two remained close as friends and as professionals. That's why Malzahn's job offer was one Hand couldn't refuse.
“I was in a great situation at Penn State. We were in the process of building that program back," Hand said. "But to have the opportunity to get back up with Gus (is good). I like coaching in the SEC as well. ... If you coach on the line of scrimmage in the SEC, it’s like a badge of honor, because this is the truest line-of-scrimmage league there is.”
Auburn's prestigious football history was one of the selling points for Hand.
“The football here speaks for itself," Hand said. "You’re talking about one of the greatest programs since they started lacing up footballs.”
However, the main motivation for Hand to return was to reunite with the Hurry-Up-No-Huddle enthusiast.
"This has been a 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 this."
Malzahn echoed Hand's sentiments about the excitement that comes with their reunion.
"He's an energy guy. He's a positive guy," Malzahn said. "Just the first two days brought back a lot of memories from Tulsa. Sounds, I can hear the same voices. He's got the same sayings and everything, but he's doing a great job so far. The offensive line has really connected with him, which I think is really important. We'll see what happens as spring goes, but I like the energy from him and the offensive line."
What makes Hand and Malzahn so different is their approaches to expressing their personalities. Hand seems as giddy on the job as a child on Christmas morning, which contrasts to Malzahn's straight-faced, schematical approach.
"I like to have fun," Hand said. "I like life, you know what I mean? If you can’t have fun and do your job as well, you probably ought to think about changing your profession, because life’s too short to not enjoy yourself. Gus enjoys himself. He has a funny way of showing it at times."
The playful joking between two has toned down thanks partially to the new professional dynamic they now share, but Hand isn't shy about revealing some of his past nicknames for Malzahn, including "Jimmy Neutron."
“There was the ‘Boy Genius’, there was ‘Inspector Gadget’, and then, at the end of our time at Tulsa, I just started calling him ‘G-Unit’," Hand said while laughing. "He’s Coach Malzahn now. He’s the head guy. You’ve got to keep that level of… what’s the word I’m looking for? Professionalism.”
Hand admits that he and Malzahn have "contrasting personalities", but he considers that far from a bad thing.
"At the end of the day, he’s a really good guy," Hand said. "I’ve got nothing but love for the guy. He kind of has a nerdy cool about him that I love. I like working with him and I like working for him.”
While Hand and Malzahn might have different personalities, they are definitely like-minded when it comes to football, to an almost telepathic degree.
“He sees the big picture. It’s almost uncanny, really," Hand said. "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 and he’ll say, ‘Hey, I was thinking about this!’ and it’s the same thing that (offensive coordinator) Rhett (Lashlee) and I were just talking about, so I think I've got to get my office traced for bugs or something.”
Hand has a certain trust in Malzahn that he doesn't have in many other coaches. Malzahn isn't letting last season's 7-6 campaign dictate the tone of his coaching or his program, while Hand didn't let such a disappointing season affect his decision to take the job.
“As coaches, we are all driven. If you aren’t driven, you’re not lasting in this profession," Hand said. "Do you have a little more of a chip on your shoulder? Sure. I get that. I know the way I’m wired, and I know Gus is wired the same way, that it doesn’t matter if you’re coming off of a national championship year or if you’re coming off of a mediocre — for lack of a better word — year.
"You’re still going to be driven to compete and win every game. Every practice we go out there, I want to win every rep.”
While Hand has plenty of praise for Malzahn as a coach, he respects Malzahn even more as a person.
“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. “He’s brought out the best in me as a coach and as a person, and that’s what he has an uncanny ability to do.”
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