ORLANDO, Fla. - Gus Malzahn just held his first practice with the University of Central Florida Knight Football team. FOX 35 Sports anchor Adam Shadoff sat down with him for a one-on-one interview.
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, with a kickoff at noon. There will be 25% capacity due to coronavirus safety regulations.
Malzahn said his spring debut with the team felt natural and familiar.
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.
Adam: I think we should start with how you're settling into Orlando. I mean, I imagine there are 1,000 things to do when you move, but how are you settling in?
Coach Malzahn: Yeah, I'm enjoying it. I guess I've been here a month. It has been fast, You know, first 10 days hiring new staff, then getting to know our players. The first 10 days we've tried to play catch-up in recruiting. So started spring ball yesterday, a lot of moving parts, but it's a lot of fun.
Adam: What about like the home life stuff, finding a house, and finding your way around?
Coach Malzahn: It took Kristi about three days, so I think she looked at three or four different houses. She found one. I think we're moving in in about a week-and-a-half. She's back in Auburn getting all of her stuff together and, you know, she's got the hard part. I've got the easy part, and I get to do what I love to do. She's back having to move everything with our four dogs. But we're looking forward to moving here.
Adam: What are some of the surprises that you found so far with everything with the entire program, as a whole -- negative or positive?
Coach Malzahn: Just probably, just how big this campus is. You know, I'm staying at a hotel that's about a mile away from the office, and they say it's still on campus. Okay, so that's one. Probably just the response of the student body and the fans and just out and you just kind of sense it and the excitement that goes with it, and that encourages coaches and players.
Adam: When you come in like this, how do you build relationships with your players? Does it just take time? Do you have individual chats? What do you do?
Coach Malzahn: It takes time. I mean, relationships take time. It's about trust. Right now, we're trying to set the standard. We're trying to make these guys uncomfortable and kind of build this thing up the way that we want for the future, and more than anything, it's about getting these guys to be able to trust each other once we get out on that field. So that's what we're in the process now in the spring. We're just building the foundation. We're being very simple. We're being slow with our installs and building the foundation for the future.
Adam: You said at your opening press conference that you're going to recruit like your hair was on fire, and I think everyone kind of thought, "Okay well, this is what every coach says." This is a cliche. But you have come out guns blazing.
Coach Malzahn: Yeah we have to. We have big goals and dreams and we're putting ourselves out there, and to do that, you've gotta have big-time players. And so we're looking for those players that want to be a little different, want to have a chance to build something special that they could have ownership in and not just kind of plug in to keep a big program going to be a part and that people know we're fixing to do something special. And the great thing for me is the foundation's been laid. They've played big-time football here in the past, there's been great players, great coaches, so it's laid -- the foundation is laid and is ready for that next step.
Adam: How important is your relationship with Dillon Gabriel?
Coach Malzahn: Yeah, I think the head coach and the quarterback have to have a great relationship to have a chance to win a championship. That's where it starts. The good thing for us is he's a proven guy -- been there and done that. He's played great, and I think he's ready to take that next step. He's one of those guys, the team looks up to too. So I think that's even more important for not just the head coach, but for really the coaching staff to have great relationships with all the players.
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.