The career of Rhett Lashlee, Auburn’s 30-year-old offensive coordinator, has progressed at double the speed of the typical assistant coach.
In eight seasons of coaching, he has held three different titles at six different schools. He also took an ill-timed hiatus that could have ruined his career, as Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel details in his feature story on the top Auburn assistant.
Tonight, he’ll coach in the national title game against Florida State.
His rapid rise is a testament to the power of having a highly placed mentor who believes in you. It’s also an encouraging lesson that you don’t have to remain in one industry all of your life to be successful.
Here’s his unlikely career arc:
In 2004, he took an assistant coaching job at Springdale High School in Arkansas, where he worked under his old high school head coach, Gus Malzahn.
When Malzhan made the leap from high school coach to college coach — getting hired as Arkansas offensive coordinator in 2006 — Lashlee followed him and worked as a graduate assistant.
After that 2006 season, Malzhan left Arkansas to become the offensive coordinator at Tulsa. He expected Lashlee to come along, but the 23-year-old decided to walk away rather than move his family to Oklahoma.
He told Al.com that “something wasn’t right” about going to Tulsa, so he quit:
“It made no sense, I knew it was crazy, Coach knew it was crazy, my dad knew it was crazy, my Mum knew it was crazy, everybody was like, what’re you thinking. But it was just something, I was praying about it for a couple of days, and something wasn’t right.”
Lashlee ended up running a magazine about high school sports in Arkansas (now called “Vype”). According to Sports Illustrated, he would take meetings at Walmart and drive around to high school games to promote the magazine.
Two years into the magazine business, though, Lashlee decided to get back into coaching, “I don’t want to say we weren’t making any kind of difference, but to me, there was just an emptiness. There was a reason I liked coaching, it wasn’t just because I liked football, and so I knew right then I wanted to get back in.”
During the hiatus, Malzahn’s star had grown. After the 2008 season, he got hired as offensive coordinator of Auburn, and immediately hired Lashlee as a grad assistant.
Auburn won the national championship in 2010, raising the profile of every coach on the staff.
In 2011, Lashlee left Malzahn again. He took the offensive coordinator job at FCS Samford University in Alabama. Samford went 6-5 that year, including a 34-16 loss to Malzahn’s Auburn.
The two reunited in 2012, when Malzahn got his first college head coaching job at Arkansas State. Lashlee was his offensive coordinator, and their offence finished in the top 25 in both yards per game and points per game.
When Malzahn took his dream job at Auburn last winter, Lashlee became the offensive coordinator of one of the biggest programs in the country two years after being a graduate assistant.
Lashlee clearly wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for Malzahn. But in his limited time as an offensive coordinator, he has been incredibly successful, and it’s probably only a matter of time before he splits with Malzahn one more time to become a head coach.
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