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Tigers’ Malzahn moves quickly, fills out new staff at Auburn

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, center, listens while his newly named defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, right, and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee are introduced at a news conference Friday afternoon in Auburn, Ala.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, center, listens while his newly named defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, right, and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee are introduced at a news conference Friday afternoon in Auburn, Ala.

AUBURN, Ala. — New Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was flanked by his fresh-faced protege, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, and silver-haired defensive boss Ellis Johnson on Friday.

He introduced the 29-year-old Lashlee and 60-year-old Johnson at a news conference three days after his hiring. Lashlee will make $350,000 a year while Johnson received an $800,000 salary, though Auburn hasn’t released the lengths of their deals or other terms.

Lashlee’s hire seemed almost a foregone conclusion.

He spent three years as Malzahn’s quarterback at Shiloh Christian High School in Arkansas and has worked under him in the prep ranks and at three different colleges, including their initial stop in Auburn.

“He’s one of the bright, young and up-and-coming offensive minds in all of college football,” Malzahn said. “He’s been my right-hand man at three different stops in college. At Arkansas he was my right-hand man. I relied on him a lot here at Auburn. He deserves a lot of the credit for our offensive success that we had and of course this past year at Arkansas State, just did a phenomenal job. I know exactly what I’m getting.

“He’s going to give me the flexibility to help with the offense and at the same time be a head coach and do the things that a head coach has to do.”

Malzahn said the two will collaborate on play-calling duties in an offense built upon a relentlessly fast tempo and a style that is heavy on the run and play-action passes. It worked well enough in 2010 that the Tigers won a national title and quarterback Cam Newton took the Heisman Trophy. Lashlee spent last season as Malzahn’s offensive coordinator at Arkansas State after a year running the offense for FCS team Samford.

“Our identity as an offense will be to play fast and physical,” Lashlee said. “That will be ingrained in our guys from Day One. You can’t have one without the other. We will play extremely fast, and we want to be very physical at every position.

“We’ll have a physical downhill running game, we’ll also be explosive in the passing game and be very aggressive taking vertical shots down the field and stretching the field horizontally. That’s our philosophy.”

They’ve got an uphill battle. Auburn ranked 115th in total offense last season.

Johnson, whose hiring was announced Thursday, can relate to the challenge of defenses facing Malzahn’s offense.

His South Carolina defense faced Malzahn and Newton twice in 2010, losing in the regular season and the SEC Championship game.

His base defense is a four-man front with two inside linebackers and five DBs.

“It will be our foundation,” Johnson said. “But Coach Malzahn wants an attacking, multiple defense, and that’s what we’re going to be.”

The coaching change has potentially taken a toll on a recruiting class that has been ranked among the top 10. Recruiting Web sites reported Friday that five-star linebacker Reuben Foster of Auburn High School has decommitted.