When No. 9 Auburn and Arkansas face off at Jordan-Hare at 6:30 p.m CST, the game will not just be another routine SEC matchup for Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham and head Coach Gus Malzahn.
Both have a special connection to Arkansas' new head coach, Chad Morris. Morris and Malzahn have known each other going back to their days of coaching high school football. Both coaches were highly successful at the high school level, with each winning state championships before moving on to the college level.
Malazan spoke highly of Morris during Auburn's weekly press conference.
"I always knew he had something special about him," Malzahn said. "He’s a great person and one of the good guys in our business, and he’s one of the best coaches that I’ve ever been around.”
The similarities between the two don't end at their high school football success. After Malzahn left the offensive coordinator job at Tulsa, it hired Chad Morris to take over. The Golden Hurricane then became a top-10 offense.
Both coaches were also among the highest-paid assistant coaches in college football during the 2011 season.
After Arkansas fired Bret Bielema last season, many pegged Malzahn as the top candidate to return to his home state and take the job. He signed a 7-year, $49 million contract with Auburn instead, and the Razorbacks landed on Morris, SMU's head coach at the time.
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Regardless of the similarities and the close friendship, Malzahn knows that at the end of the day, continuing Auburn's recent success against the Razorbacks is the No. 1 priority.
“He’s one of my buddies," Malzahn said. "And the challenge we have now is that we are in the same conference and in the past, we’ve shared ideas, and he’s helped me too. But now, we’re in competition, and we both understand that, and he’s a great competitor, and we will shake hands, and everything will be great.”
Stidham also has a close connection to Morris. Before the QB was a 5-star dual-threat prospect at Stephenville High School (Stephenville, Texas) from 2011-14, Morris was the school's head coach from 2003-07 before moving within the state to Lake Travis.
“I know Coach Morris really well," Stidham said. "Grew up going to school with his daughter and, it’s funny, whenever they were moving from Stephenville to Lake Travis, my parents looked at buying their house.
"I’ve known him forever, and I was a big fan of him when he was the head coach at Stephenville and have kept up with him ever since, so I’m a big fan of coach Morris.”
Auburn is 4-1 against Arkansas under Malzahn, with only loss coming in quadruple overtime, 54-46 in 2015. Over the past two seasons, the Tigers have outscored the Razorbacks by a combined 110-23. Auburn is currently a 24-point home favorite for Saturday.
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