Knights open first spring practice under Malzahn

The Gus Malzahn era at Central Florida is officially underway.

The Knights opened up spring practice on Monday. They will have 14 spring practices, wrapping up with the Spring Game on April 10 at Spectrum Stadium.

Malzahn said his spring debut with the team felt natural and familiar.

"It feels like it did the very first practice at Arkansas State in 2012 and then it really feels like the first practice I had in 2013 at Auburn," Malzahn said.  "Here's the deal. Everybody's equal. We're letting all of them play -- each practice they earn what they get -- and we're just trying to set the standard because there are some new things and we do things different than the last group did."

Central Florida hired Malzahn as its coach last month a little more than two months after he was fired by Auburn. He received a five-year deal with an annual salary of $2.3 million.

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The 55-year-old Malzahn was 68-35 in eight years with the Tigers, never having a losing season and going 39-27 in the Southeastern Conference. He led Auburn to the BCS title game in his first season as head coach in 2013, and was the offensive coordinator at Auburn in 2010 when Cam Newton powered the Tigers to the national championship.

Malzahn said UCF can reach those lofty heights, too.

"I love the spirit of this group, I'll tell you that."  he said during a question-and-answer session following the first practice of Spring Football.."We've got some potential and I'm looking forward to working with this group."

Auburn fired Malzahn in December, paying a $21.5 million contract buyout to the coach after the Tigers went 6-4 in 2020. The buyout had no mitigation clause and is not decreased by Malzahn taking another job.

UCF lost both its athletic director (Danny White) and football coach (Josh Heupel) to Tennessee last month. UCF hired Terry Mohajir as AD last week. Mohajir was the athletic director at Arkansas State during Malzahn’s one season at the Sun Belt school. Arkansas State won a conference title that season before Malzahn returned to Auburn as head coach.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.