In 2005, he was football coach at Springdale (Ark.) High. Six years later, Malzahn is the hottest college football assistant in the nation.
In his second season on the Plains, Malzahn developed Cam Newton into a Heisman-winning quarterback and helped the Tigers win the national championship with his hurry-up, no-huddle attack. Malzahn developed the offense as a prep coach before taking it to Arkansas, Tulsa and then Auburn.
Vanderbilt made a run at Malzahn, but he ultimately rebuffed the Commodores' overtures and a reported offer of $3 million per season to stay at Auburn, which in turn made him the highest-paid assistant in the nation. Auburn bumped Malzahn's salary from $500,000 to $1.3 million annually.
Malzahn isn't the only assistant who will be a wanted man when head-coaching jobs open after the 2011 season.
The buzz: Malzahn, 45, is fresh off producing a Heisman winner and a national championship offense. Vanderbilt made a hard run at Malzahn, but he opted to stay at Auburn and now is the highest-paid assistant in the nation.
The buzz: The youngest Stoops brother, Mark had a profound impact on the Seminoles' defense last season, his first in Tallahassee. Stoops, 43, improved an FSU defense from last in the ACC (434.6 ypg) to No. 7 (353.7 ypg). And that was a big reason FSU went from 7-6 to 10-4. The defense is filled with veterans and should be one of the best in the ACC this season.
The buzz: He pushed the buttons on one of the best Big Ten offenses ever last season, his seventh in Madison. Chryst, 45, interviewed for the Texas offensive coordinator job. But he rejected an offer of close to $1 million per season to remain with the Badgers.
The buzz: Smart, 35, a former Georgia player, won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant after the 2009 season. That's because he had done a terrific job orchestrating what annually has been one of the nation's top defenses.
The buzz: Someone should make a movie about this guy. Diaz, 37, is the son of a former mayor of Miami; he didn't play college football and began his post-college career at ESPN before joining Florida State's staff as a graduate assistant in 1998. Now, he's running the defense at one of the nation's most prestigious programs. In 2009, he was at Middle Tennessee, then moved to Mississippi State in 2010 and to Texas this offseason.
The buzz: One of the game's top offensive minds, McElwain has made the Crimson Tide attack more diverse since arriving from Fresno State before the 2008 season. McElwain, 48, is a protege of John L. Smith and was quarterback coach with the Oakland Raiders in 2006.
The buzz: When will Foster, 51, get the call to be a coach? He has interviewed for a few jobs in the past -- most notably the Kentucky post -- but things haven't worked for one reason or another. Regardless, Foster remains a hot commodity because of his reputation as one of the top defensive coordinators in the nation. Perhaps he'll be Frank Beamer's successor in Blacksburg.
The buzz: He arrived from Air Force and had a profound impact in one season. DeRuyter, 48, improved an Aggies defense from last in the Big 12 (426.3 ypg) to fifth (364.3 ypg). If Troy Calhoun ever leaves Air Force, look for the Academy to make a run at DeRuyter.
The buzz: Yes, this is Ducks coach Chip Kelly's attack, but Helfrich, 37, plays a big role in pushing the buttons and making things happen. He has a gregarious personality and an ability to relate to players.
The buzz: He has been at Bob Stoops' side every season in Norman, annually producing and building one of the nation's premier defenses. Venables, 40, also is a strong recruiter and motivator who has come close to landing some jobs. His day will come.
The buzz: Mike Leach, Mark Mangino, Kevin Sumlin and Kevin Wilson have jumped from this position to a coaching job. Heupel, 33, will be next. He has developed quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Landry Jones as their position coach. Now, Heupel will push the buttons on the Sooners' attack. Could Heupel be Stoops' successor?
The buzz: Bright and articulate, Warinner, 49, formerly oversaw a Kansas offense that averaged 445.5 yards, 302.1 passing yards and 35.3 points from 2007-09. If the Irish bust through to a BCS bowl, Warinner, whose 2007 attack helped the Jayhawks win the Orange Bowl, figures to land a job. He also has worked at Army, Air Force and Illinois.
The buzz: He's the guy who sprinkled the magic into those explosive Boise State attacks of recent vintage. That's why Mack Brown hired him. If Harsin, 34, who coached at Boise State for 10 seasons, can pump life into the Longhorns' attack, he will write his ticket to a big-time coaching job.
The buzz: In one season, Petrino --Bobby Petrino's little brother -- revived the Fighting Illini's offense. The younger Petrino, 44, is a master of the passing game who coaches like his hair is on fire.
The buzz: Norvell, 48, has an impressive resume that has seen him coordinate offenses at Nebraska and UCLA as well as serve as an assistant in the NFL with the Colts and Raiders. Norvell has interviewed for numerous jobs, and perhaps this offseason, he will get one.
The buzz: The passionate Grantham arrived in Athens in 2010 and turned up the heat after installing a 3-4 scheme. Grantham, 44, has an extensive NFL resume that saw him coordinate the Browns' defense from 2005-07. The Bulldogs ranked 23rd nationally in total defense and 35th in scoring defense last season, when his defense forced 26 takeaways, more than twice as many as Georgia had in 2009 (12).
The buzz: A 31, he's a wunderkind who is the youngest guy on this list. He became the youngest OC in the FBS ranks in 2008 when he was promoted to the post at Troy. Brown directed the No. 15 offense in the nation in 2010 in his first season in Lubbock. While being an adroit passing game tactician, Brown also injected some oomph into Tech's ground game.
The buzz: Nussmeier, 40, has an intriguing mix of NFL and college coaching experience that makes him desirable. Nussmeier played five seasons in the NFL and is a cerebral coach who an extensive knowledge of Xs and Os.
The buzz: Borges, 55, has overseen offenses at Boise State, Oregon, UCLA, California, Indiana, Auburn and San Diego State. And some of his West Coast-style attacks have been among the nation's best. Remember his 2004 Auburn offense with Jason Campbell, Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown? How he handles QB Denard Robinson this season will go a long way toward determining if Michigan gets back to a bowl.