CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -- When Gus Malzahn met Chad Morris eight
years ago he was skeptical of his motives.
Now, the offensive coordinators and good friends square off Saturday when Malzahn and No. 21 Auburn play at Clemson. Morris was hired by Clemson in January while Malzahn was helping the Tigers win a national championship.
It's been a long journey for both since meeting as high school coaches. Over the years, they have shared ideas, career advice, and
encouragement. The relationship didn't start that way.
Malzahn was a winning high coach in Arkansas at Springdale High
when Morris, who had struggled and missed the Texas high school
playoffs that season, sought a new offensive style. Malzahn wasn't
interested in helping Morris, and wondered if he was a just scouting for Texas high school coaches hoping to gain an edge should they face Malzahn down the road.
"I think any time you don't know someone and they're trying to find out things, they just come up out of the blue," it's hard to trust their intentions, Malzahn said.
Morris won over the cautious Malzahn by practically showing up at his doorstep unannounced. He and his staff were on hand for Springdale playoff games.
Malzahn told Morris he wouldn't open the playbook, but agreed to
share ideas about offense with the eager coach. "That was
something I appreciated," said Morris, who used the fast-paced,
no-huddle attack to go 75-6 and win two state championships over
the next six seasons.
The system also has served them well at the collegiate level. Malzahn left Springdale to become Arkansas' offensive coordinator in 2006 and moved to Tulsa with head coach Todd Graham the next two seasons before joining Auburn.
When Graham needed an offensive coordinator in 2010, Malzahn
recommended Morris, who did not disappoint. The Golden Hurricane
improved to fifth nationally in total offense from 35th a year earlier.
That caught the attention of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after the Tigers offensive production had declined last fall from its ACC
Atlantic Division winning season of 2009. Malzahn remembers Swinney calling him several times about Morris as Auburn got ready for its BCS title game with Oregon last January.
"I told (Swinney), `Hey, I've got to coach the game so I'll talk to you afterwards,"' said Malzahn, who eventually gave Morris another rave review.
Morris was given a four-year, $450,000 contract and the task of firing up Clemson's offense. And the deal is paying early dividends for the Tigers.
Clemson (2-0) has averaged 472 yards a game in wins over Troy
and Wofford, an improvement of about 140 yards over last year's
offensive totals. Morris understands the true test starts with the defending national champions, who are 2-0 this year and bring a 17-game win streak into Death Valley.
Morris and Malzahn have texted each other a few times this week.
Morris said he got one on Sunday from his friend, saying, "You're
not going to give away all my secrets now, are you?"
Morris responded: "`No, I won't if you won't."'
Despite the vailed promises by the coaches, come Saturday, everyone playing should know what to expect. Both Auburn and
Clemson defenses practice against the system daily.
"We'll always use every resource we have to help any phase of our game," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
Auburn has continued its wild, winning ways even with last year's stars -- Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton and
defensive lineman Nick Fairley -- gone to the NFL. The Tigers scored
two touchdowns in the final three minutes to beat Utah State 42-38,
then stopped Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf just shy of
the goal line on the final play of their 41-34 victory last week.
Morris knew when he took the Clemson job that facing Auburn and
his old friend Malzahn would be a highlight. The two spoke recently
about a couple of high school coaches squaring off in a big-time
Morris knows that wouldn't have happened without Malzahn.
"I think it's neat to be going up against a guy that really helped me out along the way," Morris said.