"We could tell right away he was such a driven guy," said Josh Floyd, who was Malzahn's first quarterback at Shiloh. "He doesn't mess around much. He wants to get things done and get it done quick. He'd see you in the hallway and he'd chase you down to quiz you about a play. You could tell he just never stopped thinking about football."
He fell in love with routine. Most days he'd get up around 6 a.m., but he'd be in the office until midnight. He felt like he didn't need a lot of sleep once he had a schedule mapped out. He wanted to know exactly what he was supposed to be doing at 9 a.m. on Monday, at 10 on Monday, etc. He knew it drove his staff crazy sometimes, and that it was hard on his family, but as long as he stayed in a routine, he wouldn't feel like he'd missed something.
It was at Shiloh, over the course of several years, that the quirky architect began to emerge. Malzahn realized he was almost too impatient for traditional football. He wanted the strategy of football with the speed of basketball. At times, the 40 seconds allotted between plays felt like an eternity. He and his coaching staff experimented with running a script of hurry-up no-huddle plays at the start of every game, and the team seemed to feed off the adrenaline rush, but as soon as he reverted back to a more traditional offense, his teams regressed. His first year, Shiloh started the year 0-4 and finished 6-6.
One night during the offseason, he threw a series of hypothetical questions at his staff: What if we sped things up the entire game? What if we embraced risk, shrugged at conventional wisdom, ignored time of possession and tried to lengthen the game, not shorten it? What if we tried to get a play off every five seconds and gave ourselves 10 possessions a game instead of six?
At first, it sounded like madness. His friends in the coaching profession warned him that if it didn't work, he'd almost certainly be fired. His kids would be exhausted, they predicted, and he'd never hold onto a fourth-quarter lead.
But the more Malzahn thought about it, and talked about it with Chris Wood, a young assistant coach on his staff who had run the hurry-up no-huddle in college, he wanted to take a leap of faith. He found the enduring cliché of "defense wins championships!" to be trite and frequently false. His team didn't have a lot of speed, but Floyd could throw a beautiful ball, and he had plenty of receivers who could catch. Shiloh's players would have to be in the best shape of their lives, so conditioning would be brutal, but if it worked, the advantages would be enormous: His team would control the tempo, no one could pick up their tendencies, the quarterback would be able to see the defensive alignment before every play, the players would have more fun (meaning more kids would come out for football), and opposing defenses would forever struggle to simulate in practice the week leading up to a game.
"We didn't know what to expect," Malzahn said. "But we knew we were changing the whole dynamic of the game."