Why Gus Malzahn is the Chris Paul of college football coaches

They are closer than you think.

Gus Malzahn. Chris Paul.

The two names shall not, it is safe to say, be forever linked in the annals of history.

But last week, these two accomplished team leaders – one a college football coach, the other a pro basketball player – shared headlines across national news outlets as they changed teams.

On closer examination, they actually share much more.

Here’s why:

1) Both specialize in quarterbacking teams to outstanding offensive success.

Malzahn, a former high school quarterback, developed into a high school head coach and offensive coordinator who specialized in turning quarterbacks into record-book smashing Godzillas. At each level – whether Springdale High, Tulsa University or Auburn – he helped that program’s offense set numerous records.

Paul plays point guard, the hardcourt’s quarterback equivalent, and he’s done it at extremely well.Toward the end of his senior year in high school, Paul averaged nearly 31 points and 10 assists a game. In five NBA seasons, Paul has put up numbers as impressive as  any point guard in league history. Sure, he scores 20+ points but consider that his 9.9 assists per game average is third-highest all-time. Or that he’s the only player to lead the NBA in steals and assists in two consecutive seasons.

2) Their abilities burst into the national spotlight at Baptist schools.

Malzahn’s second head coaching job (1996-2000) was at the private Shiloh Christian School, which is closely tied to the First Baptist Church of Springdale. In 1998, the Saints set a national record with 66 passing touchdowns and would win 1998 and 1999 state titles.

Paul attended the private Wake Forest University, which was originally founded by the North Carolina Baptist State Convention. The school opened in 1834, with a focus on teaching Baptist ministers and laymen. In 2005, Paul left Winston-Salem, N.C. after a sophomore year in which he had earned first team All-America honors.

3) Their first jobs outside of their native states were in Oklahoma.

In 2005, Malzahn was hired as the Arkansas Razorbacks’ offensive coordinator and wide receiver coach. It seemed like a dream gig for Malzahn, who 20 years before had been a walk-on receiver at UA. But relations with then-head coach Houston Nutt soured and Malzahn left after one season. He landed at Tulsa University, and as O.C. helped  the Hurricane lead the nation in offense for consecutive years.

The New Orleans Hornets selected Paul in the 2005 NBA draft, but the devastation of Hurricane Katrina that summer meant the Hornets had to find another home. They eventually found their arena in Oklahoma City.

4) In December 2011, both headed west to make their marks with teams that have been historically overshadowed.

Malzahn became the head coach of Arkansas State University, and is the biggest signing in the history of that program. In Arkansas, ASU has always been the like the grubby little brother who just can’t seem to catch the faster, bigger, older UA. In the 1980s, UA was clashing with the likes of Texas and the rest of the Soutwest Conference while ASU was beating up on Division I-AA foes. These days, the Razorbacks play in the powerful SEC, while ASU plays in the mid-major Sun Belt.

But after a 10-2 season and bowl berth, ASU is on the cusp of the Top 25 and has never looked more primed to snare more local followers. The program’s fans all look to Malzahn to take it to the proverbial next level.

If it weren’t for the Nutt incident, Malzahn probably would have liked to stay at the UA for longer than he did. Similarly, while Paul ended up with the Clippers, he originally wanted  to play for the Lakers. But the NBA itself nixed that trade, and Paul ended up with possibly the most-ridiculed team in all major sports.

The Lakers, like the Razorbacks, have a deeper, more decorated tradition than the Clipper/Red Wolves. The ASU football program started in 1911, 17 years after the UA program started. The Clippers franchise started in 1970, 24 years after the Lakers franchise. The Clips have never won a title, even for their division.

But with Paul on board, the Clippers’ fortunes are changing. The team now has a nice blend of talent, size and experience, and should be more exciting than the much older Lakers. and there is a fair chance they will be better this season. Which means, for the first time in L.A.’s history, the Clippers could be a hotter ticket than the Lake Show. Their growing number of fans trust Paul, the biggest signing in franchise history, will take them to that proverbial next level.

5) I don’t what to go here.

But my love of clunky, potentially ridiculous metaphors won’t let me. I cannot resist:

Ryan Aplin is the Blake Griffin of Sun Belt quarterbacks.

Last year, Griffin put together  the most dominant rookie season since Tim Duncan, one filled with so many highlight dunks as to warrant his very own “Occupy YouTube” movement. This year, as the recipient of numerous Paul passes, look for the ridiculously springy Griffin to raise his stats and highlight reel to new levels.

Aplin’s no physical freak like Griffin. He doesn’t project to being a #1 pick, as Griffin was in 2009. But the junior (a two-time first team All-SBC selection) is starting to rack up freakishly potent stats as he establishes himself as possibly the best quarterback in Sun Belt history. Consider his school-record 3,840 yards of total offense this season ranks as the second-most in Sun Belt history and he is just the second player in league history break 3,000 yards of total offense in two seperate seasons. Next year, as the recipient of Malzahn’s expertise knowledge, look for Aplin to throw and run for more than 4,000 yards.

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