Did Gus Malzahn hire his next offensive coordinator today?
On Monday, FootballScoop reported that Byrnes High School (Duncan, S.C.) head coach Bobby Bentley has accepted a position as an offensive analyst at Auburn working with the Tigers' quarterbacks. But it appears this may be Gus Malzahn's first move to prepare for the eventual departure of current quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
To be clear, Malzahn is in no way pushing Lashlee out. Quite the opposite, in fact. Lashlee has been under Malzahn's wing for literally half his life, and Lashlee is the one guy Malzahn has by his side for every key decision. Their relationship stretches well beyond the typical head coach-coordinator duo, and Malzahn presumably would like to keep that in place for as long as possible. That said, Malzahn still must prepare for the future, and that future likely includes some program dangling the keys in front of the SEC's hottest young offensive coordinator sooner rather than later.
When that day arrives, Malzahn has to have a plan in place. Which is why he circled back to Bentley.
Malzahn first offered Bentley a position on his original Auburn staff in 2012. Bentley turned it down. “I’m staying at Byrnes and I want to be here and that’s what I’m going to do,” Bentley said at the time. “Gus and I are good friends. … I’m just going to leave it at that.”
Nearly a year to the day later, Malzahn began dealing with the reality that Lashlee may have a short shelf life at Auburn. Fresh off a completely unprecedented run to the SEC championship, his 30-year-old offensive coordinator was now in demand. "He'll be a head coach at this level," Malzahn said of Lashlee. "It's just a matter of when and he's doing a great job for us right now."
Two months later, Malzahn's second attempt to hook Bentley has landed. Bentley went 119-54 in two separate stints at Byrnes, with a run of four straight state championships from 2002-05. He was named Nike's national coach of the year in 2005. His departure is simultaneously surprising and inevitable. On one hand, he has a son that's a rising sophomore and figured to be Byrnes' starting quarterback for the next three seasons. On the other, coaches twice offered a position on Gus Malzahn's staff don't stick around and hold out for a third job offer.
Let's take a moment to consider who Malzahn is and what it truly means to be his offensive coordinator. A former high school coach, Malzahn has championed the idea of hiring high school coaches directly into major college football. If any coach were to go from high school, to an off-the-field role to offensive coordinator in an extraordinarily short amount of time, Malzahn would be the one head coach where such an ascension would be possible. That's in large part because Malzahn is the brains behind his own operation. To be an offensive coordinator under him is to be a sounding board and a chief lieutenant, first and foremost.
Now let's juxtapose the previous paragraph with this tweet from Greenville News (S.C.) sports reporter Willie Smith:
Bobby Bentley once told me he would only leave for a coordinator’s position. Will be interesting to see what his role with Auburn will be.— Willie Smith (@willie_t_smith) February 24, 2014
Could Malzahn have tapped Bentley for on-the-job training to be Auburn's next offensive coordinator?
We don't possess any inside information as to Malzahn's thinking with this hire, but there are enough dots here that bear connecting.