A part of Malzahn thought he might stay at Shiloh forever. He won 44 straight games at one point, and back-to-back state championships in 1998 and 1999. His next quarterback, Rhett Lashlee -- now his offensive coordinator at Auburn -- put up statistics even more eye-popping than Floyd. In one memorable playoff game, Lashlee threw for 672 yards to lead Shiloh to a 70-64 win. But Malzahn was too competitive to be truly content. He needed new challenges. When the biggest public school in the state, Springdale High, offered him a job in 2000, he knew he had to take it.
His players cried when he told them he was leaving. Stoic and serious as he was, he says he cried too. "It was the right decision, but probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make as a coach," he said.
At Springdale, he met a young quarterback named Mitch Mustain. Neither man could foresee it at the time, but their partnership put them on a path that would shake up the SEC for years to come.
If the comprehensive history of the SEC were to be written down and bound together, Mitchell Stewart Mustain wouldn't warrant much more than a footnote. He threw just 132 passes during his college career at the University of Arkansas, completed 69 of them, and tossed 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But his story will likely go down as one of the great "what ifs?" in league history. Because at Springdale, under Malzahn, Mitch Mustain looked as if he was born and bred to play quarterback in the hurry-up no-huddle. "He's one of the most talented quarterbacks I've ever coached," Malzahn said. "In terms of throwing the ball on time, I've never had one better. He was like a machine in practice."
Malzahn's success at Shiloh may have turned heads within the state of Arkansas, but it still looked like a gimmick to the larger football world. Malzahn wrote a book detailing his ideas on how other high schools could revolutionize their programs the way he did at Shiloh -- "The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy" -- and it led to a handful of prep converts. It even caught the eye of a few NFL teams, who incorporated some of Malzahn's ideas. But in the cliquish fraternity of college football coaches, the larger philosophy barely made a ripple. (One notable exception: Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who read Malzahn's book and incorporated some of the ideas into his own no-huddle attack.)
Mustain's powerful arm and his rifle-scope accuracy became the magnet that drew the larger world into Springdale. By the time he was a senior, Mustain was the top recruit in the country. Two of Springdale's games that year would be broadcast on ESPN. A reporter followed the team around all year to write a book about its quest to win a state title. Springdale had a wealth of talent that season. Wide receiver Damian Williams, tight end Ben Cleveland, lineman Bartley Webb and receiver Andrew Norman were all coveted Division I prospects. But Mustain -- the first kid from Arkansas ever to be named the National Gatorade Player of the Year -- was clearly the crown jewel.
"He was a madman in practice," Mustain said of Malzahn. "We'd run a play 25 times if he thought we needed to. But I loved that style. It was a grind, but I loved it. I laugh sometimes when I hear people talk about how simple his offense is. It works out on game day because he coaches the crap out of the rest of the week."