- Associated Press - Friday, March 21, 2014

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Auburn’s Gus Malzahn is still plumbing the high school coaching ranks for talent eight years after beginning his own rapid rise from the Arkansas prep fields.

Malzahn has added three former high school coaches to his support staff during the offseason after several others moved on to jobs as college assistants. He frequently refers back to his own prep background and desire to offer others opportunities.

“I think that’s what makes him unique and what makes him successful, is there’s not a lot of ego,” said Southern Miss offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who spent last season as an offensive analyst for Auburn.

“He remembers what it’s like to clean the bathroom and cut the grass and line the practice field.”

Those days are long gone for Malzahn, who’s now got a six-year contract worth $26.85 million after leading the Tigers to the national championship game in his first season. A more traditional route for some is to get their foot in the college ranks as graduate assistants but others, like Lindsey, had a family already and needed a steady paycheck as well as experience.

Malzahn isn’t alone in blazing a trail for ambitious high school coaches these days.

Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze, Arizona State’s Todd Graham and Baylor’s Art Briles are among those with high school backgrounds.

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who spent 16 seasons as a high school coach in Texas, has a six-year deal worth $1.3 million annually.

Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was plucked from the high school ranks by Alabama’s Nick Saban. He spent three years with the Crimson Tide before taking over Florida State’s defense for last season’s national title run.

New UAB coach Bill Clark was a successful Alabama prep coach before moving to South Alabama as defensive coordinator, then taking over the program at Jacksonville State for one season and moving on to the Blazers.

Clark matched up with Malzahn when the Auburn coach was at Arkansas State.

“I think all of us former high school coaches pull for each other,” Clark said. “It’s been neat to watch him do a great job and have success. We all feel like we’re representing those other guys.

“I think for a long time there was a stigma that high school coaches couldn’t coach at the next level. I think that was a big misnomer. It doesn’t mean everybody can do it, but I think there’s a lot of high school coaches out there that can sure do it and there’s a lot of high school programs that are run almost just like colleges.”

Malzahn had five support staffers move on to college jobs after last season with Lindsey making the biggest jump.

His new hires include offensive analyst Bobby Bentley, who led Byrne High School to four South Carolina state championships as a head coach and won two more as an assistant. Former Auburn player Travis Williams and ex-Homewood (Ala.) High coach Doug Goodwin also joined Auburn from high school programs.

“There’s a lot of high school coaches out there a lot smarter than me that just hadn’t ever had the opportunity that I had,” Malzahn said. “Any time that I can help provide high school coaches the same opportunity I had, I think that’s a really good thing. The guys that we have are really solid people, and they’re very solid coaches. I think all of them will be successful.”

Malzahn broke into the college ranks at Arkansas for a season after 14 years and three Arkansas state titles as a head coach in the high school ranks.

Then Graham hired him at Tulsa.

Like Clark, Malzahn thinks perception toward hiring high school coaches has changed.

“There’s no doubt when I first got into college there was a lot of questions,” the Auburn coach said. “But I think the more you see the Todd Grahams and the Chad Morrises and the Hugh Freezes and all that, the more popular it’s become. There’s a lot of excellent high school coaches that just need the opportunity.”

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