Auburn's new offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn talks with reporters during a news conference at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in Auburn, Ala., Monday, Dec. 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
AUBURN, Ala. -- The nation has noticed that Auburn's Gus Malzahn has engineered the biggest turnaround in Southeastern Conference history, the biggest turnaround in college football this season, has led his team to the SEC title game and has the Tigers on every highlight reel on television.
The Maxwell Football Club noticed, too, by naming Malzahn one of three finalists for national coach of the year honors on Tuesday. He's in the running with Missouri's Gary Pinkel, who Malzahn will face Saturday in the SEC Championship Game; and Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who has led the Blue Devils to the ACC title game against Florida State.
The winner will be announced Dec. 19. The national coach of the year will be formally honored at the Maxwell Club banquet in March in Atlantic City, N.J. On Monday, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was named a finalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation's top assistant coach.
Malzahn, in his first year as Auburn's head coach, has flipped the Tigers' fortunes. Auburn was 3-9 last year and did not win an SEC game. Auburn heads to Atlanta for the conference championship game with an 11-1 overall record and a 7-1 SEC mark.
Malzahn, Auburn's former offensive coordinator, brought his offense back to the Tigers, and a better attitude which has shown in four last-minute wins.
"I think it is unique that you have teams that believe they are going to win no matter how bad it looks," Malzahn said this week. "They still have bright eyes and belief in each other and that is what our guys have found a way to do."
Malzahn is 20-3 overall and 14-2 in conference play as a head coach after this year at Auburn and last season at Arkansas State. Before that, he was Auburn's offensive coordinator at Auburn, where he helped the Tigers, and Cam Newton, win the 2010 BCS Championship.
Pinkel, too, has led a turnaround story at Missouri. Like Auburn, Missouri is 11-1 overall and 7-1 in the SEC.
Cutcliffe has led Duke to an unlikely 10-win season, its first in school history, and to the ACC Coastal Division title. The Blue Devils will play Florida State for the ACC title on Saturday.