AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn inherited a demoralized Auburn team that had just suffered through the program's worst season in decades with a stagnant offense and bullied defense.
Like usual, the coach known for fast-paced offensive play quickly went to work. He led the second-ranked Tigers' transformation into Southeastern Conference champions and has them in the national championship game Jan. 6 against No. 1 Florida State.
Malzahn's quick work made him The Associated Press national coach of the year.
"It's very humbling," he said Monday. "Any time you get awards like this, it's a team thing, as far as our staff and our players. It's been fun to be a part of this year."
Malzahn received 33 votes from AP Top 25 college football poll voters to beat out Duke's David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe received 17 votes after leading Duke (10-3) to its first 10-win season. Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio each received three votes.
Malzahn is the second Auburn coach to win the award since it began in 1998, joining Tommy Tuberville (2004), and the second coach to win it in his first season with a new team. Maryland Ralph Friedgen was AP coach of the year in 2001, his first season with the Terrapins.
It's the fifth time an SEC coach has won AP coach of the year.
Auburn icon Bo Jackson likened Malzahn's task to starting with an empty lot upon his hiring in December 2012.
"He's got to rebuild that house," said Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner.
The foundation was set with confidence and attitude, reinforced with a message that it was "a new day" for Auburn (12-1) after a 3-9 season in 2012 that was the Tigers' worst since 1952. Even more jarring, they had failed to win an SEC game.
It didn't take the team long to adopt a goal of forging the greatest turnaround in college football.
The result was one of the biggest ever. Only Hawaii's 8.5-game turnaround from 1999-2000 matches Auburn's one-year improvement.