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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Coaching Moves

Duplicating the Malzahn Magic

Gus Malzahn took his wares from Tulsa to Auburn. New stage, very similar results.

The only thing that can stop a Gus Malzahn offense is, well, Houston Nutt. Malzahn, currently the offensive coordinator at Auburn, previously spent two successful seasons running the show at Tulsa, leading the Golden Hurricane to the second-highest scoring output in N.C.A.A. history in 2008.

And then he was gone: Gene Chizik called, promising the opportunity to showcase Malzahn’s spread, no-huddle attack on college football’s grandest stage. You can’t blame him for leaving, of course. Auburn’s gain — the Tigers more than doubled their 2008 scoring output under Malzahn’s watch — has been Tulsa’s loss.

Take a look at Tulsa’s numbers over two seasons with Malzahn running the show. In 2007, the Golden Hurricane scored 576 points, then a school-record. Quarterback Paul Smith finished second in the country in both yardage (5,065 yards) and touchdowns (46), throwing at least two touchdowns in each of his team’s 14 games.

A year later, first-year starter David Johnson threw for 4,059 yards and 46 touchdowns. What separated Tulsa from Texas Tech, for instance — another offense that runs a no-huddle, pass-first look — is that the Golden Hurricane maintained a commitment to the run: Tarrion Adams, since departed, rushed for at least 1,225 yards in both 2007 and 2008. The Red Raiders, on the other hand, often utilize their backs as pass-catchers but only glance upon the ground game.

There’s no doubt that a handful of other factors contributed to Tulsa’s offensive decline. The offense was young, particularly at quarterback. While G.J. Kinne has a bright future, he did suffer his occasional bouts with inefficiency, as a first-year starter tends to do. T.U. lost weapons at receiver; Adams in the backfield — the running game was particularly poor; and, most notably, the offensive line was atrocious.

This front deserves much of the blame, such as it is. Remember, while Tulsa saw its scoring output cut nearly in half, the Golden Hurricane still averaged 29.3 points per game, the 43rd-best total in the country. The biggest loss, however, was that of Malzahn.

How will Tulsa attempt to duplicate this Malzahn magic? With the next-closest thing to the man himself: Chad Morris, a highly-successful Texas high school coach whose philosophy meshes well with what Tulsa wants from its offense. The 41-year old Morris has compiled a 169-38 mark over five different high school stops, most recently a two-year stint at Lake Travis; each of those teams won Texas 4A state championship, compiling matching 16-0 marks.

Both do more than preach similar systems: Morris patterned his attack on Malzahn’s, with the friendship between the duo granting Morris full access to the Auburn assistant’s playbook.

It’s worth noting that Texas A&M’s Mike Sherman called upon Morris following the end of last season to discuss ramping up his own team’s no-huddle system. Had Morris not been hired by Tulsa in mid-January, he would have been a heavy contender for the A&M’s coordinator spot left vacant by Nolan Cromwell’s departure less than a month later.

There’s no ignoring the resume: the winning record; the state championships; the five F.B.S. quarterbacks molded under his watch — Garrett Gilbert, Jevan Snead, Kody Spano, Scott Elliott and Andrew Smith, the latter pair at Tulane and North Texas, respectively. His latest signal-caller, rising high school senior Michael Brewer, will shortly join this list.

Tulsa can only hope that Morris, who brings a similar background to the table, can have a similar affect on the offense. If he does — even if he comes close — Tulsa will challenge Houston for the West division crown.

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  1. Burnt Orange says:

    So why does Malzahn not have a heading coaching job? Todd Berry and Stan Parrish get second chances before Malzahn gets his first ? Is there something to the rumors about him being difficult ?

  2. Steve says:

    It’s Tarrion Adams, not Torrian.

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