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Gus Malzahn is a perfect fit for the 49ers head coach position

Gus Malzahn recently entered the rumor mill for the 49ers head coaching vacancy. While it's likely a long shot, the Auburn head coach would be a perfect fit for the San Francisco 49ers.

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

I never thought the San Francisco 49ers would reach out to what can only be described as my Head Coaching crush. But Curt Popejoy, a Bleacher Report draft writer, made my heart go aflutter with just one tweet.

Quite frankly I think that Gus Malzahn is a perfect head coaching candidate for the San Francisco 49ers.

Jed York said he wanted a teacher, and I would agree; any successful head coach must also be a successful teacher. On the Better Rivals Podcast I outlined a few other key criteria for the Head Coach. You can listen to the detailed explanation (start at 58:55), but it boils down to one thing: the new head coach should be able to leverage scheme to maximize a team's talent.

The ability to scheme to your team's talents is one of the key differences between great head coaches and middling head coaches.

Does Malzahn fit this mold?

Offensive Philosophy

A casual football fan might call Malzahn's offense a spread offense, say something like "that offense won't work in the pros" and leave it at that. Calling Malzahn's offense a simple "spread offense" is akin to calling Christopher Nolan just a guy who makes some movies.

Malzahn's offense is flexible and powerful due to a blend of power running and spread concepts. Malzahn's first coaching gig was at Hughes High School in 1992. Malzahn promptly installed the Delaware Wing-T, an offense from the 1950's premised on misdirection, angles, and fakes. Tubby Raymond, the man primarily responsible for the Delaware version of the Wing-T, described the offense as "designed to create defensive player reacts [sic] to stop a particular play, placing himself in jeopardy for a related play."

In 1997 Malzahn, now at Shiloh Christian, was trying to find a way to get a 6-6 team to the State Championship. With the help of his offensive coordinator, Chris Wood, Malzahn decided to take a risk, shelve the Wing-T, and go all in with a no-huddle, hurry-up, spread offense.

On the back of a no-huddle, hurry-up offense (different from Peyton Manning's no-huddle that still uses most of the play clock) Shiloh Christian became an offensive power house. His 1996 team averaged 15.5 points a game and had a total of 3,027 yards. After installing the new offense those numbers jumped up to 30 points per game and 6,713 total yards.

Fast forward to Auburn in 2008. After getting a rep as a pass-happy coach for his high school and collegiate exploits, Malzahn's blending of the Wing-T with his hurry-up, no-huddle offense took college football by storm.

Gus Malzahn's Buck Sweep

(a tip of the hat to @WarRoomEagle for the graphic)

Malzahn's Buck Sweep shows off his philosophy perfectly. The Buck Sweep is staple of the Wing-T. But Malzahn marries the Buck sweep with a shotgun formation and a speed sweep action to hold the backside defender. The beauty of Malzahn's calls are that the base plays set up counters. Just like Seattle's zone run will set up Russell Wilson on the waggle or the zone read, Malzahn has several counters up his sleeve based on one concept.

Malzahn the Teacher

For Jed York, though, being an offensive innovator isn't enough. Jed wants a teacher - someone who can take complex concepts and find a way to communicate these items in a way the student can understand.

In 2003 Gus Malzahn wrote The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy, a book detailing the philosophy that he developed in 1997 while at Shiloh. In the book he details his play calling structure. While it's evolved a little since Shiloh, there is a component where he develops a theme for calling certain concepts. How did he come up with the conceptual theme?

"[Shiloh is] a Christian school and we decided to use Bible verses as our theme. After all, all our kids were already familiar with the Bible and the stories that went with the characters."

Malzahn not only connects items to a player's previous experience (a la Chip Kelly's play calling boards), but he also simplifies play calls for passing concepts.

One of the many reasons Bill Belichick's Patriots have excelled on the offensive side of the ball is his utilization of the Erhardt-Perkins nomenclature. In short, the terminology is premised on the idea that a play call need only let the quarterback and the receivers know what concept to run, regardless of formation.

Prior to the draft, Cam Newton came under fire for not having complicated play calls under his belt. I would argue, though, that taking a passing concept like "Drive" or "Shallow" and calling it "36" means your teams can play fast, efficient, football. It also means you can get production out of rookies, something the 49ers have problems with.

Perhaps the best way to convey Malzahn's skills as a teacher is to listen to the man himself. Here is Coach Malzahn breaking down Nick Saban's Alabama defense. Note that Vic Fangio uses a similar pattern-match scheme with the 49ers.

The San Francisco Fit

The 49ers really are one of the few teams that are in a retool, not reboot mode entering this offseason. They have talent, they have a QB, and they have a championship caliber defense. They just can't get in their own way.

What can sink this team is getting dumb false start penalties at key moments. Malzahn's play calling structure can fix that.

What can sink this team is not fitting an offense to your franchise quarterback's skill set. Malzahn has a proven track record with athletic quarterbacks and can put Colin Kaepernick in a position to succeed.

What can sink this team is trying to take offensive players steeped in power run concepts and throw all of those successful concepts out the window. Malzahn's marriage of the Wing-T with Spread concepts is a perfect fit for the 49ers in an increasingly pass-happy NFL.

While I still think hiring Gus Malzahn is unlikely to happen, I firmly believe he's the perfect candidate for the San Francisco 49ers.