Gus Malzahn is one of the major reasons that a resurgent 9-1 Arkansas Razorbacks football team is ranked in the top 10 in the nation. He calls the plays for the Razorbacks and shows what good playcalling is all about.
As Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt is quoted as saying: "I’m going to let Gus go. I’m going to turn him loose."
He not only has designed many unusual plays, but, as one of his former assistant coaches is quoted as saying, bread and butter plays can also clearly be a part of strategy: "when something's working, he'll stick with that...." We wrote about this here as a sign of good coaching (and investing).
Malzahn also echoes the philosophy of Larry Kehres when Malzahn states:
"You've got to build your offense around your best players."
Malzahn is the author of The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy, which is described at amazon.com as follows:
"An exciting, "fast and furious" offensive system that allows coaches at any level to speed up the game and lengthen the amount of actual playing time, while mentally and physically wearing down the opponent. Explains the philosophy of the Hurry-Up, No-Huddle, building a well-organized offensive system with the Hurry-Up, No-Huddle, communication, practice, and the Hurry-Up, No-Huddle running game and passing game. Also includes 14 special tips for running the system. Features dozens of photographs and illustrations. ."
Malzahn had a remarkably successful record as a high school coach. In 2005, before being hired by Arkansas:
"Malzahn ... completed his fifth season at Springdale High School with a perfect 14-0 season and a state championship in the state’s largest classification."
Based upon what we read about Malzahn, he is to be ranked in the same class of coaches as Larry Kehres of Mount Union - REAL coaches, who, either by instinct or learning, really know what they are doing, a rare breed.
The remarkable thing is that many people thought that a high school football coach could not be successful at the college level, much as some people think that a coach like Larry Kehres would not be successful at an NCAA Division I-A school. Others were less charitable:
"Some college football purists were appalled when Malzahn was hired directly from Springdale High School, a few miles outside of Fayetteville, to serve as offensive coordinator for the University of Arkansas football team."
Interesting also was the comparison of the University of Arkansas situation to that at the University of Nebraska at Sports Overload Sports Blog:
"Gus Malzahn has been criticized and analyzed every way from Sunday. The radio shows and newspapers have been all over the issue. Some would say he is the answer because he brings a spread offense to the table, not to mention a pipeline to northwest Arkansas recruits. I think it would be interesting for Arkansas to run a spread-oriented offense, but there are a few problems there. Arkansas runs the football religiously and making a drastic change could take a lot of time. Nebraska went from the option attack to the west coast offense. They are about to begin year three of the transition period and, other than a big win over Michigan to finish the season, still haven’t gotten back to where the program was before. Houston Nutt has to win this year or he is gone. "
Nebraska this year is still not back on track (8-3 with no wins over a top opponent). Arkansas in the space of a season is 9-1 and ranked in the top 5 nationally with several wins over top opponents (they were a mere 4-7 last year).
People who criticize Malzahn understand next to nothing about coaching, probably have never coached themselves, and certainly have never themselves been coaches of "winners" capable of what Wooden calls "competitive greatness". Malzahn's is not a "gadget offense", as some people claim, but rather an offense designed to exploit weaknesses in a given defense, which in fact is just what an offense should be. Tom Osborne used to have a bag of so-called trick plays at the University of Nebraska which he used in the right situations quite effectively. There was nothing "gadgety" about them. It was just smart football playcalling.
If Malzahn were calling the plays at the University of Nebraska this year, I would imagine that the Cornhuskers would be undefeated, but as it is, the Huskers have forged an 8-3 record with some of the worst playcalling (and worst defensive formations in the 2nd half) we have ever seen.
Football playcalling is a bit like games of strategy, poker and chess combined, and for that, you need someone having a particular kind of strategic mind. We do not mean to slight the intellect of those who major at college in the study physical education, but most football teams do not have anyone with that kind of a mind calling plays. Hence, we definitely have the opinion that the best football coaches are generally also the smartest football coaches.
We note that Malzahn, just like Larry Kehres, sees his coaching job as a form of "teaching". One example is his video Teaching Routes with Quarterback and Receiver Responsibilities, described as follows:
"What the coach should expect of his quarterbacks and receivers concerning how wide receivers should run their routes. In a straightforward manner, two-time state champion coach Gus Malzahn explains and demonstrates the responsibilities of the quarterbacks and his wide receivers on seven of the most commonly run routes: Stop, quick slant, comeback, speed out, out and up, post/flag, and go. Includes coaching pointers and more. 2002, 36 min. "
The smarter football coach in America, regardless of his level of coaching, will have and study that video. I imagine that the University of Nebraska football coaching staff has never even heard of Malzahn's video.
D. Laurant at Real Football 365 in Razorbacks' new coordinator happier than a Hog in slop has a wonderful posting about Malzahn's success at Arkansas, and we quote:
"If nothing else, Gus Malzahn is proving that football is football, wherever it's played.
Or as William Shakespeare once pointed out, the play's the thing -- whether it's hatched by 12-year-old kids in a vacant lot or guys wearing headsets in professional stadiums.
You take into consideration your personnel, the other team's defense, and the possible element of surprise. Shake well and serve."
The result is that Malzahn was for example named National Coordinator of the Week (after the convincing win over Auburn).
As concerns the most recent game, the convincing 31-14 Arkansas win over Tennessee, College Football News staff columnist Matt Zemek's posting at Scout.com writes:
"Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English will likely win the award named after legendary Arkansas head coach Frank Broyles, given to the best assistant coach in college football. English's transformation of the Wolverines' defense has enabled him to become the best defensive coordinator in America. But if anyone in the United States should come in second for the Broyles Award, it's Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who--like English--has produced strategic brilliance in his first season as a coordinator at the Division I-A level. Malzahn called plays with the boldness and confidence of a man who knows his team can handle a complex and daring playbook. With uncertain or inconsistent teams, the play sheet isn't likely to feature aggressive offerings on every single snap. Malzahn, however, knew that he had the punchers in this Fayetteville football fight, and McFadden provided the ultimate knockout blows to Phil Fulmer's crew. McFadden was used by Malzahn as a quarterback, a receiver, a rusher, a handoff man, an I-formation power source, a shotgun spread field general, and as a nuclear physicist. Well, not the last one, but you get the point: Gus Malzahn gave touches to Darren McFadden in many ways, and the diversity of looks--not to mention the plays that came from those formations--flummoxed Tennessee all night long. Malzahn played a mean game of chess with Darren McFadden against the Children of the Checkerboard, and that was more than half the battle." [emphasis added, we have taken "Children of the Checkerboard" in our blog title from Zemek's posting]
Actually, since offense is half the game and defense the other half, this would be the perfect year to split the Broyles Award 50-50 to Malzahn and English, no questions asked. Nearly EVERYONE would applaud such wisdom and it would bring more attention to the Broyles Award than it normally gets.
In the Cards
Arkansas Razorbacks Sports Network