Auburn football: Why Malzahn wants players to have fun after a win

November 16, 2017 GMT

AUBURN — Marlon Davidson described the second half of Auburn’s blowout win over Georgia perfectly.

“It was a party,” the sophomore defensive said with a smile.

And what does one do at a party? You dance. Several Auburn players certainly showed off dance moves as the game against the team previously No. 1 in the playoff rankings.

In the second half while Auburn had Saturday’s game clearly under control, CBS television cameras showed Davidson, defensive tackle Derrick Brown, defensive back Tray Matthews and even defensive line coach Rodney Garner dancing on the field and on the sidelines. Jeff Holland, who leads the Southeastern Conference with nine sacks, was seen in the student section following the game dancing with a sombrero on.

“Our guys have worked extremely hard and I want our guys to have fun playing the game,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said.

Auburn’s defensive line had reason to dance a bit after forcing Georgia’s powerful offense into five tackles for loss and four sacks that showed the dance skills of Holland, Davidson and linebacker Deshaun Davis.

“Everybody kind of counted us out when we took that loss to LSU, but one thing about our unit is that we always stick together,” Davis said after the win. “We never let an outside group of people come in and break up what we got. We know we have a good team on the offensive side of the ball and defensive side of the ball.”

That “fun” mentality has been a noticeable change to the attitude of Malzahn, an admittedly paranoid worrier, and his staff. But one of the changes Malzahn has acknowledged to following the second-half collapse at LSU was finding a newfound enjoyment of the game to replace a sense of nervousness.

With the talk surrounding what a fourth straight loss to Georgia would do for the Auburn program, its head coach and potentially the rest of their college careers, it was admittedly hard for the Auburn players to express much joy in what they were doing week by week.

“Whenever you have a team that’s enjoying themselves, it’ll show in the way that we play,” redshirt freshman defensive lineman Nick Coe said. “We’ve been playing good all year because we’re enjoying ourselves. It’s not really a task, we’re just having fun and enjoying ourselves.”

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who has been a coach in college or the NFL for 38 years, said Sunday he was even taken a little aback by the outward emotion his unit showed throughout the Georgia win.

“You talk about the dancing, now, in 38 years, that’s changed,” Steele said. “That’s a little bit different. Now, you can’t get so involved in that that you lose your edge. Because you’re not at the club, you’ve got to go back out there and play. I think they were having fun, they enjoyed it. You know when you’re doing your job, and you know when you’re affecting things in a positive way. That gives you confidence, and that breeds confidence.”

Auburn (8-2, 6-1 SEC) is arguably one of the most confident squads in the Southeastern Conference as it approaches a winner-take-all Iron Bowl matchup against No. 1 Alabama (10-0, 7-0) for the West Division title. Malzahn, who would still be considered an old-school coach, has tried to promote a more enjoyable and pleasurable attitude in practices and games. And if that means dancing, so be it.

“That was kind of one of those things I wanted them to do is have more fun,” Malzahn said. “Obviously, when you win it’s (more fun), OK. But I wanted our guys to be a little looser and really, I wanted to be a little looser and have fun myself. That was one of our messages.”