— AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Gus Malzahn didn't spend much time at Arkansas State, just enough to win a quick Sun Belt Conference title and land a bigger job in the SEC.
The first-year Auburn coach and much of his staff will have a reunion with their old team Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium, nine months after leaving Jonesboro. Malzahn is businesslike more than sentimental, but speaks fondly of a Red Wolves group he describes as "a lot of winners."
"Personally, I care greatly for a lot of their players," he said Tuesday. "Their administration was great to me while I was there. It was a very good experience, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity they gave me. Professionally, you've got to flip the switch and once the game starts, you do everything in your power to help your team win. And we'll definitely do that."
Maybe Arkansas State will have a little extra motivation. The Red Wolves have won two straight league titles only to lose their coach to the SEC West. First, Hugh Freeze, who stayed one year and was hired at Mississippi. Then, Malzahn, who returned to the school where he spent three seasons as offensive coordinator before taking his first college head coaching job with the Red Wolves.
His Arkansas State successor, Bryan Harsin, figures the relationship between his players and Malzahn and facing a Southeastern Conference team "are very hard to not think about."
"I think our guys will handle that," Harsin said. "They've been in some of those games, but I know that will be an emotional game."
Malzahn took offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, offensive line coach J.B. Grimes and most of his support staff with him to Auburn.