Gus Malzahn handed over the keys and the clipboard.
Auburn didn’t miss a beat.
New offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kenny Dillingham called plays for the Auburn offense in its A-Day scrimmage two weekends ago while Malzahn roamed on the field behind play and watched intently. The scrimmage went off without a hitch for the Tiger offense operating under a new dynamic and a mix of old school and new school at the top of the coaching staff.
Malzahn will be calling plays for Auburn this fall. Dillingham only handled the duty for him in the scrimmage.
The two are already developing their chemistry together, and their working relationship is everything Dillingham hoped for, he said this week.
Dillingham, a studious young coach at 28, was brought on to assist Malzahn when the seventh-year head coach decided to get back to hands-on work with his offense last December.
Their dynamic is different from the one Malzahn had with his last offensive coordinator as Malzahn is taking reins in play-calling. Dillingham, meanwhile, brings a new energy to that position on staff, bouncing around practices and speaking easy with players in their 20’s like him.
They’re different enough to where there’s no visible redundancy. Their roles in shaping the offense have been clear and above board since the hire in December.
So far, it works.
And it works, Dillingham said, because of everything Malzahn has accomplished in his career.
Malzahn built two of the SEC’s most successful offenses ever at Auburn in 2010 and 2013. He’s now the SEC’s second longest-tenured head coach. Only one coach, Nick Saban, has gone to the SEC title game more times than Malzahn in the last seven years.
“When you look at his success, it speaks for itself,” Dillingham said this week. “For me, it’s exactly what I expected, for him to be extremely hands-on, and I like it because he’s the head football coach.
“When your head coach is hands-on, when your head coach is involved, your players feel that and the players feed off it. I think our players fed off that this spring.”
They’ve certainly fed, too, on the boon of energy Dillingham has brought to the staff. He watched and learned and adjusted for much of the build toward the Music City Bowl last December in the weeks after he was hired, before reaching full speed on staff this spring.
“He’s high-octane. He’s energy — a lot of energy,” Tigers receiver Sal Cannella said earlier this spring. “He pipes up the offense every day, making sure we got the energy going.
“You’ve got to respect that,” he added.
Dillingham’s new energy comes as Malzahn works on his personal renaissance. Malzahn is back to play-calling for the first time since 2016 after he gave up those duties to Rhett Lashlee and then Chip Lindsey.
It’s been written before: The new Malzahn is the same as the old Malzahn, and the Tigers had plenty of success in his days as offensive coordinator on the Plains and in his first few seasons as head coach when he held complete control of the Auburn offense.
Dillingham doesn’t know what’s changed or what’s been different. He’s new to Auburn, arriving from Memphis where he worked in a similar system under play-calling head coach Mike Norvell.
But what he had seen from Malzahn is a push and a fire, that goes hand in hand with his own.
“I mean, when people say the ‘old Gus,’ ‘new Gus,’ ‘back to the old Gus’ — I don’t know that. I haven’t been here,” Dillingham said. “I’ve been here from December on, and he’s brought it every day.
“One thing I can say about him is every day he shows up ready to work. And it’s fun to be around because every day you’re going to be on your toes, because he’s going to push you to be better, whether you’re a coach, a player, in recruiting. He’s going to push you, keep you on your toes to make sure you’re the best you can be.”
The two bring their own styles and their own approaches.
Together, they’re convinced they’ll both bring benefits to the Auburn offense this season.